I had the pleasure of listening recently to Sir Kenneth Calman, who is Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, among many other things.
His subject was “How can I enhance your day?” He spoke with sincerity and conviction: he spoke with knowledge and sensitivity. He quite obviously, cared; cared about people, his country, and medicine. Cared about what made us tick; what helped us; the use of humour and communication; the gentleness required when handling delicate topics. His touch was as light as a feather. His ability to captivate his audience, and hold them entranced, was quite palpable. It was a wonderful, inspiring experience.
At the end, we were asked for questions or comments. I hesitated. It was a very grand hall, and the height of the ceiling would have put a cathedral to shame. The acoustics were not the best for a shy retiring lady such as I. However, once one or two had gone before, I eventually mustered the courage to stand up and be counted. Yes, I stood. I understood from sitting listening, that those who sat and asked questions that they could not be heard by the audience, so I reckoned if I had something to say, I might as well be heard.
I told my story briefly. I explained that I had been a Staff Nurse in Glasgow in the 1970’s and that I had introduced a “Happy Hour” for the patients. I told of how we got together after visiting and with the convalescent patients, we asked those recovering to tell of a funny incident that happened. I said that it had been very successful, and appeared to be helpful. Sir Kenneth was interested.
I didn’t explain WHY I had done it – which was perhaps an oversight. As a young nurse, I had been astonished that when we left the ward at break times, some sort of metamorphosis occurred. Somehow, even the most difficult and stressful of mornings for my colleagues, could be transformed in minutes, merely by the reciting the events in a humorous vein. We might all have dragged ourselves to the canteen, disheartened and depressed; but once we had experienced the relief of laughter, we all went back to our tasks with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. It altered mood instantly.
As a qualified Nurse I began to realise that each patient went through a journey. Each went from being acutely ill, and depending on skilled nursing, to recovering, and wanting to go home. It was at this point – being better but not quite well – that they became just a bit impatient and grumpy. Maladies and concerns were the topic of conversation. Drip sites, investigations, blood results: every illness was debated thoroughly and incessantly. With the confidence of youth, I decided that this was not healthy, that it WAS NOT A GOOD THING. There should be an opportunity to be light-hearted. As I thought of my early student days, I felt that something simple could be introduced to cheer? I was now In Charge in the evenings, so I could make some rules too, couldn’t I? As long as the work was done……..
And so the introduction of story telling and humour or the “Happy Hour” came about. I didn’t think a lot about it. I just approached some of the more able patients and asked if they’d like to swap stories. I started off to give them the idea. I told them of something that they would all understand – one of my more comic experiences as a first year nurse. Those who have worked in the field will know how common these stories are.
My story was successful, and someone else chipped in – then someone else, and soon they were in tears with laughter. They begged me to do it again, the next evening. And I did. This time it was more interesting, because patients began to think about what story they could tell at night. I know this, because I saw one or two patients lost in thought during the day, and when I asked if they were alright, there would be a sudden mischievous grin and the response – “Oh, yes, I was just thinking of a story for tonight!”
This meant that they appeared less anxious and fractious: less absorbed in self. I certainly couldn’t stop it once it started, and the stories improved in quality remarkably quickly. The patients developed a different relationship with each other – as anecdotes were shared, lives and problems revealed. I left soon after to work in Edinburgh, but I still look back on that period as one of my more perceptive moments in Nursing.
And after all, the role of the Nurse, was described very well by Florence Nightingale.
“Nature alone cures…..And what nursing has to do is put he patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.”
If that includes freedom from stress and anxiety, if laughter provides a relaxed and pleasant mindset, and if that puts the patient in the optimum position, the question must be asked:
We all know the answer to that. Unless it was a Research Project, could Management be persuaded?
© Linda Jane McLean
 Calman, K.(2001) “A Study of Storytelling, Humour and Learning in Medicine” Clinical Medicine, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians, Volume 1, Number 3, 1 May 2001 , pp. 227-229 (3)Publisher: Royal College of Physicians
 Royal College of Nursing (2003) “Defining Nursing” p6. Publication code 001 998