Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
May 13, 2001

If you can keep laughing, trouble is much easier to handle

Trouble is much easier to handle if you can remember to keep laughing. Maybe that's why God equipped us with the capacity to see humor even when things are going badly for us.

The latest example for my wife and me is her illness, which continues to puzzle some of Opelika's finest physicians. Her difficulty in breathing has taken her back to a bed in East Alabama Medical Center, which is definitely the best motel in town for sick folks.

For three months now my wife has been coughing and sputtering as though she had TB. When friends have asked what is wrong with her, I have sometimes said, "When she coughs, she sounds like she is in the last stages of something but we are not sure what."

Both of us have felt for weeks now that within a few days the problem would go away and she would be well again. We have laughed together about it even though laughing tends to make her cough all the more. Sometimes I have felt guilty about that even though laughter is a good medicine for the body as well as the soul.

Now and then when she has "coughed her head off," so to speak, I would gently say, "Sweetheart, I forget, what color flowers are your favorite?" She would laugh, and coughing some more, say, "Don't do that to me." Or sometimes I have said, "Remind me again, now, what your favorite scripture passages are so I can write then down." And again we both have a good laugh, and she another coughing spell.

We don't want to seem flippant about funerals. But we know that we are going to die one day, and there will be a funeral for each of us. And we are sure that whatever kills us, the cause of death will not be laughter. So we simply look for the funny side of things in everyday life.

As we were getting ready to go check in at the hospital, my wife put all of her medicines in a basket and started laughing as she said, "You are going to get a hernia carrying my medicine to the car!" (We remember snickering years ago about how many bottles of pills our parents were saddled with, assuming that would never happen to us!)

Since my wife lost her voice a couple of weeks ago, she asked me to handle the check-in for her at the hospital. That went well and soon a young man came with a wheelchair to take her to her room. We laughed when, looking at the two of us, he had to ask which of us was the patient.

As we made our way down the hall, the young man was moving the wheelchair a bit faster than I was walking. He looked back a couple of times as though he was thinking, "I should have put that old geezer in the wheelchair instead of his wife." It was easy to restrain myself from hitting him, since I was out of breath anyway. Fortunately for him, he did not tell me what I thought he was thinking so I did not have to re-arrange his face.

Once in her room Dean received immediate attention from the nurse and several other persons, all of whom were professional and friendly. Quickly they began carrying out the doctor's orders. One nurse came to draw blood. She was efficient and kind; she drew blood out of both arms, this I supposed was so that too much blood would not be drained from either arm.

The good nurse then proceeded to take down my wife's medical history. While all of this is necessary, it is funny to observe how increasingly difficult it is to remember your medical history for the past 69 years. Sometimes the questions stumped both of us as I tried to help her recall how many operations she had endured, what diseases were common in the family, and if there were any medicines she was allergic to.

My wife remembered all the medicines to which she is allergic, but had trouble recalling exactly what reaction she had to one of the medicines. For years her stock answer has been, "I am not sure how I reacted, but the doctor told me if I ever had another shot of that medicine, it would kill me." I don't know what the nurse wrote on her pad, but I saw a smile as she scribbled something down.

One thing seems clear: it is helpful to your doctor to know what diseases your parents had. Heredity plays its role in our lives. I think it must be a plus for my wife that her mother lived until she was 99. All that lard and bacon grease she ate finally killed her.

We could not help but laugh when the nurse asked Dean if she had a living will. Here she is, quite anxious about being admitted to the hospital anyway, and the nurse wants to know if she has a living will. Up goes the blood pressure! Imagination runs wild.

Now we both understand that all these questions are routine, simply part of the hospital procedure. Everyone gets asked the same questions. And we all know everyone needs to sign a living will, as a favor to your family when "extreme measures" may have to be considered. But all other things being equal, it helps to have a good sense of humor when you are facing a battery of medical tests to find out God knows what.

So for the time being we will keep laughing and looking for the funny side of things even when breathing is difficult. After all, we have been reminding ourselves, difficult breathing is a whole lot better than no breathing at all.

I try to cheer Dean up with this reminder: Trips to the hospital help her. She always comes out feeling better than when she went in. She laughs. We both laugh. And life is better. Proving once again that if you can keep laughing, trouble is much easier to handle.