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They say that a smile has the power to heal. Proving that are the many patients suffering from chronic diseases who have been healed with daily doses of humour.


Life has much to offer so smile and make each moment a happy one. Everyone experiences the vicissitudes of life. While some are lelt embittered some emerge as winners. The story of Payal Khemani is one such story. She not only fought cancer with a brave heart but also went through the entire treatment with a smile on her face. When Payal was hospitalised for leukaemia, a lbw weeks into the treatment made her realise that there was only one way she could fight her disease and that was through cheerfulness. “During my treatment a nurse walked in wearing a radiant smile and started our conversation with a joke,” recalls the 46-year-old Mumbai banker. “Before I knew It, her smiling face became essential to my existence.” What was endearing about the nurse was her ability to enliven an otherwise despondent setting with her smiles and jokes. Not only did her jokes immediately relax the mood around her. It also helped Payal to take her mind off the agony. “l me and My family, laughter was inconceivable In my situation,” says rifleman!. “But seeing me de-stress with humour seemed to suggest that I was finally beginning to accept my diagnosis, which the doctors said was the first step to recovery,” she added. While Khemani sailed through her leukemia treatment with lively banter, Karthik Ramasamy, 32, fought chronic fatigue by watching comedy shows.

Ramasamy’s fatigue made him addicted to pain killers and although they gave him momentary relief. It did not solve his problem. For the Bangalore-based IT professional, popping painkillers soon became an addiction. “Coping with exhaustion and irritation was a constant battle.” he says. Ramasamy’s dependency on the pills had reached an alarming level and one day, after discovering the stash of analgesics. Ramasamy’s father urged him to seek help. “I couldn’t believe it when the doctor said I was addicted to painkillers,” he says. On his doctor’s advice Karthik tried something that sounded absurd at that point but today is the only thing that’s keeping him going. “Whenever I fell the urge to pop a pain killer. I distracted myself by watching comedy shows or movies on the TV, DVD or on the internet, depending on where I was. It was an amazing distraction and helped me keep my withdrawal symptoms at bay.” says Ramasamy. Humour and smiles, as many patients have realised, is the perfect antidote for any illness. In fact, today humour is used as a therapy in many hospitals and treatment centres to provide relief to patients. It Is now also known to aid heating, especially in conditions exacerbated by stress. In the West, clowns, humour carts and special moms devoted to comedy movies and books are gradually gaining ground. Some hospitals in India too are following suit. “In Bangalore we have worked across four hospitals.” says Mill Jalan, a therapeutic clown who, along with Sanjay Balsavar heads Doeteur Clown India. “The real challenge is to draw and retain volunteers.” Therapeutic humour, says the Association for Applied and Therapeutic humour, is any intervention that promotes health and healing — physical, emotional, cognitive, social or spiritual — by stimulating a playful discovery, expression or appreciation of the absurdity of life’s situations. By releasing mood enhancing hormones such as serotonin and noradrenallne, humour contributes to feelings of well being and happiness. It enables a greater sense of control over life’s situations, helps release fear and anger and encourages relaxation. That can be immensely therapeutic even in conditions such as cancer. “Humour has the power to make patients put cancer behind them, develop a fighting spirit and smile,” says oncologist Dr. Navin Manjesh. A recent Australian study of older people with dementia shows that humour has the effect of an antipsychotic medication in enhancing positive behaviour and reducing agitation. Re-searchers at the University of Maryland Medical Centre say that watching a funny movie improves the functioning of blood vessels. As American humourisl Henry Wheeler Shaw (a.k.a. Josh Billings) said, ‘There ain’t much fun in medicine, but there’s a heck of a lot of medicine in fun.” “In therapy,” says Dr Adarsh Tripathi, assistant professor and consulting psychiatrist at King Ceorge’s Medical University, Lucknow, “Humour narrows interpersonal gaps, communicates a caring attitude and relieves anxiety associated with medical care, allowing clients to open up.” Senior consultant psychiatrist, Dr Sanjay Chugh adds. “A statement with a ring or humour can sometimes force the client to look at the situation from an alternative perspective, reducing the psychological weight of the situation.” Today many doctors believe that mixing humour with medicine helps patients way more than simple treatment does. Mumbai based veteran dentist Dr Suchetan Pradhan uses his own humour to help patients have a happy frame of mind. “Pain is often heightened by the anticipation of Its arrival and having patients concentrate elsewhere lowers their pain perception,” he says. “Employing humour is about evoking and transferring empathy to make the medical process easier and effective.” Bangalore-based writer Nazneen Tonse also wears the hat of a therapeutic clown. She works independently with senior citizens today, but was earlier associated with Docteur Clown India — an offshoot of the French NGO Docteur. “One of the benefits of humour is that children cooperate better in medical procedures,” she says. When a three-year-old boy suffering from chest infection was loo seared to use a nebuliser, Tonse went up to him and joked, “Look at this, such a small boy and he’s already smoking!” The trick worked—the boy smiled and began imitating Tonse’s deep inhalation and exhalation. Tonse avers that it is the adults more than children who need clowns. “Children can use their imagination and play but as adults we have forgotten to use our imagination.” Some believe that humour is a serious business. After all, it but easy to make people laugh. “Humour must be timed correctly and must not be personal or offensive,” warns Chugh. “The application of humour is more of an art than a science.” avers Tripathi. “Humour cannot be at somebody’s expense,” says Pradhan. “Not all patients appreciate humour. It should not be forced to a point where it becomes counterproductive,” says S Menaka, a Chennai-based counsellor. Another issue that crops up is that doctors often have trouble lightening up. “Most doctors equate a serious disposition with a sense of power. Besides, we as a people have a rather plastic sense of humour,” says Pradhan. Adds Chugh, must lie remembered that using humour does not mean being less serious about work.” If life gives you a reason to cry, it gives you a hundred reasons to smile too. All that is needed is a change in perspective. Look around you and will find a reason to smile just about everywhere. So kick away the blues and smoothen out your frown lines. Brighten up and smile. It is very good for your health.

Source:  The Times of India, Sunday 10th February 2013

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