Nurses make fun of their dying patients. That’s okay.I accept dark humor, or any other kind, when it's kept within the group it's intended for, but let's not pretend that this isn't mockery of people in their care. As the Instapundit said, "Okay, so let me get this straight: It’s okay to make fun of the dying, but not their ethnicity or race. Because racism and stuff."
The laughter of the ER staff echoed down the hall as Lauren, a nurse in Texas, talked about a patient who had ingested “a thousand ears of corn,” requiring her to repeatedly unclog kernels from the oral-suction tubing. The episode had earned Lauren surprise gifts of corn nuggets from a respiratory therapist and a can of corn from an EMS technician. But not everyone found the story so funny. When Lauren entered a patient’s room nearby, the patient said to her: “I hope you’re not that insensitive when you’re telling your friends about me later.”
Although patients typically don’t overhear it, a surprising amount of backstage joking goes on in hospitals — and the humor can be dark. Doctors and nurses may refer to dying patients as “circling the drain,” “heading to the ECU” (the eternal care unit) or “approaching room temperature.” Some staff members call the geriatric ward “the departure lounge.” Gunshot wound? “Acute lead poisoning.” Patient death? “Celestial transfer.”
“Laypeople would think I’m the most awful human being in the world if they could hear my mouth during a Code Blue,” Lauren told me when I was reporting my new book on nursing. (I agreed to use only her first name, so she could speak freely about behind-the-scenes hospital life.)
Indeed, while people may readily excuse gallows humor among, say, soldiers at war, they may have a lower tolerance for it among health-care professionals. “Derogatory and cynical humour as displayed by medical personnel are forms of verbal abuse, disrespect and the dehumanisation of their patients and themselves,” Johns Hopkins University professor emeritus Ronald Berk contended in the journal Medical Education. “Those individuals who are the most vulnerable and powerless in the clinical environment ... have become the targets of the abuse.”
I strongly disagree. The primary objections to gallows and derogatory humor in hospitals are that it indicates a lack of caring, represents an abuse of power and trust, and may compromise medical care. But in my reporting, I found that nurses who use this humor care deeply about their patients and aren’t interested in abusing their power. Their humor serves to rejuvenate them and bond them to their teams, while helping to produce high-quality work. In other words, the benefits to the staff — and to the patients they heal — outweigh occasional wounded feelings...
That’s not to excuse all humor by health-care professionals. For example, mocking disabilities and using racial, ethnic or other cruel epithets go too far.
Can teachers get in on this, too? Can we get an officially-sanctioned Washington Post pass to mock students? Can we be told it's ok, it's entirely good for morale, and the public should accept it because our important work outweights "occasional wounded feelings"?