Dr. Peter Viccellio, a professor of emergency medicine at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, has seen many Covid-19 patients during his hours in the emergency room. A touch of playfulness and kindly humor, he said, has helped to ease an enormously painful situation for both his patients and members of the overburdened hospital staff.
“Genuine levity can make patients believe that they are not going to meet their doom today” Dr. Viccellio said, but he added that it needs to flow naturally. “If you are empathetic with the person, your humor tends to fit them, it’s not forced. If you are not emotionally connected to them and force a joke it can go very wrong.”
A case in point: “A colleague of mine once said casually to a patient whose medical history he did not know, ‘Don’t worry about it, at least it’s not cancer,’” Dr. Viccellio recalled.