I’ve heard all my life that laughter is the best medicine. Turns out there’s some scientific validity to the adage. Something about laughter producing beneficial chemicals in the brain that make us feel better, even while they don’t produce a real cure.
So when I faced the real possibility of having prostate cancer, I was in the mood for a little levity, and I found it in an unlikely place.
After the initial visit to my urologist, I was at the checkout counter when I picked up one of his business cards. It was one of those fancy, heavy-stock, embossed cards that included his name, the name of the doctor’s group to which he belonged, and contact information.
It also was adorned with an artistic rendering. There were two small ovals spaced some distance apart and on the same level. Located below and directly between them was a third oval. Extending downward from the two upper ovals were two lines that tapered toward each other, then ran parallel until they met at the lower oval.
It looked, for all the world, like a rather crude drawing of two testicles and a penis.
I looked at the card and tittered like a teenager. My first thought was that such an image on the business cards of a urology practice was a good omen. Here were a bunch of professionals who could laugh at themselves and were comfortable with a slightly off-color view of the world.
“OK, so maybe you have prostate cancer,” they seemed to be saying. “Smile and relax. We’ve got this.”
I remember thinking, “I’ll fit right in with these guys.”
On my next visit, my doctor and I discussed PSA results and how unreliable such tests could be in detecting cancer. And he assured me that high PSA levels could be caused by stress and other factors, reassurance that only increased my anxiety level.
As we were winding things up, and in an attempt, I guess, at relieving the stress I was feeling, I brought up his business card.
“I imagine you get a lot of jokes about the design,” I said with a chuckle.
My doctor looked at me blankly and said, “What do you mean?”
“The card. The design on your card,” I said, but he remained stone-faced. “The card. The penis and the testicles (full disclosure: I used more graphic terms). I think it’s funny, but I’m sure some old sourpusses must get offended.”
Then he frowned. “That drawing does not represent testicles and a penis,” he said with lofty distain. “They are the kidneys and the prostate gland.”
“Well, Doctor, when you look at it, that may be what you see, but guys like me see something entirely different.”
Thus ended our session.
Oh, well, I said to myself, turns out he’s just another medical stiff. And all you’ve succeeded in doing is offending the man who will be shoving a rod up your backside to collect biopsy samples.
Turns out, it took two separate biopsies to collect enough samples to confirm that I had cancer, causing me to wonder idly if the god of ill-timed humor was punishing me. After the business-card fiasco, I had kept things strictly professional between my doctor and me.
But when he called with results from the first test, he told me, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
I had been waiting anxiously for the results, and I was a little irked at his lighthearted manner. “OK, give me the good news first.”
“The samples we were able to test came out negative, but samples from one entire side of the prostate were spoiled, and we couldn’t test them,” he said.
“So the bad news is ...” I began.
“We’re going to have to retest,” he replied.
I groaned miserably. Then I had a thought. Perhaps my clumsy card joke had made an impact, and he was trying to lighten up a bit. If so, he needed to work on his material and his delivery.
But I didn’t tell him that. I kept my damned mouth shut.
Photo Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision via Getty Images
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