Saturday, February 1, 2014

Don't Laugh

For years we have been told (principally by Reader's Digest) that "laughter is the best medicine." However, I recently read about a scientific study in the British Medical Journal which suggests that this may not be true. I tried to read the study, but it was a bit too sciency for me. I suspect that it may in fact be an elaborate joke, but it's difficult to tell. I have the utmost respect for scientists, but they really shouldn't attempt humor. Have you ever heard a science joke? It's usually some variation on the old "walks into a bar" joke, featuring an element, a particle (Higgs boson is popular just now), or Schrödinger's cat. Even if you are able to comprehend it, it is almost never worth the effort, as it is hardly ever funny.

A Typical Science Joke (See what I mean?)

As I was saying, I couldn't quite get through the study itself, but the article I read about the study included the following quote:
[L]aughter is no joke—dangers include syncope, cardiac and oesophageal rupture, and protrusion of abdominal hernias (from side splitting laughter or laughing fit to burst), asthma attacks, interlobular emphysema, cataplexy, headaches, jaw dislocation, and stress incontinence (from laughing like a drain). Infectious laughter can disseminate real infection, which is potentially preventable by laughing up your sleeve. As a side effect of our search for side effects, we also list pathological causes of laughter, among them epilepsy (gelastic seizures), cerebral tumours, Angelman’s syndrome, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or motor neuron disease.
I must confess that I have no idea what some of the above words mean, and I didn't bother to look them up. One of the words I did understand, however, was "syncope." It means "temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure."

I know all about laughter and syncope.

Several years ago we were having dinner with Loretta's brother Rob and our niece Jenny in a very nice restaurant in Paris. (Actually we were at Epcot, but I have been to Paris, and frankly Epcot is just as nice—in many ways nicer.) Jenny is a scientist, and she is an exception to the rule about scientists' sense of humor. She doesn't tell jokes about Higgs boson or Schrödinger's cat. In fact, she often complains that other scientists don't understand her humor, which should give you an idea of how genuinely funny she is. She can always make me laugh—often at the most inappropriate times, such as when I am at a very nice restaurant in Paris (or Epcot) drinking a glass of fine French wine.

I don't remember what Jenny said on this particular occasion, but trust me, it was funny. I began to laugh. Then I began to cough. Fine French wine came out of my nose.

Everything went black.

When I came to, I was being pulled, prodded, and shaken by Loretta one one side and Rob on the other. Convinced that I was choking to death, the two of them were attempting to pull me out of my chair and administer the "hug of life." I was bruised and sore. I was disoriented. There was wine on the front of my shirt. Worst of all, everyone in the restaurant was looking at me.

"Someday," I thought, "this will probably be funny."

I was right, of course. It's funny now. But please don't laugh.

I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself.

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