Is there a doctor or a nurse in the house? If so, I offer what follows with my full permission to re-jig it for submission to their professional journals.
Seven years ago I had open heart surgery, which involved my sternum being divided by a circular saw, and my torso then opened like a Gladstone bag. So, when consciousness resumed, the most painful part of my recovery, through tears and near-fainting, was coughing, for every little muscle and nerve in my rib-cage had been violated, and screamed at its own pitch. The worst bit of every cough was knowing that the pain was coming, and that I had to start it myself. I was told to hug a rolled-up towel to ease the agony. It didn’t work.
Fortunately, my sister-in-law had given me a box set of Curb Your Enthusiasm, for my money still the best television comedy of this century, maybe because it was something Larry David did for fun, with no pressure, after he’d netted an imponderable stack from writing Seinfeld.
The debate about the influence of laughter and morale on recovery will rumble on forever, and the complex relationship between psychology and physiology is not my patch. All I can tell you is that I sat up in my bed with headphones and chained all 50 episodes in four days, laughing like a madman, and felt much better for it. Every laugh induced a cough. But the whole point of a joke is that it is something you don’t see coming, so the pain of coughing was always a surprise quickly passed, the dread of the torture replaced by having fun.
So, if you have a friend or relative undergoing surgery before the festive period – well, of course they can now watch episodes of their favourite comedies back to back on their laptops, so you don’t have pay for DVDs. But the advice, if taken, will be a priceless gift, and ease the post-operative trauma considerably. It will certainly do them more good than watching Casualty’s Christmas special.
This article first appeared in The Catholic Herald magazine (12/12/14)