Some years ago I was asked to attend an older person's health check by my local surgery. It involved a blood test and a meeting with my GP. He asked questions, reading from a computer screen. Everything went well until he asked, "How is your memory and have you fallen over recently?" Too good to miss! I replied, "I don't remember." He started typing furiously. "It's a joke," I said. He was cross. I could have explained that asking two questions as one invited a response like mine, but I'd obviously spoiled part of his day and let it go.
I think annual medicals are a great idea, at any age and I've been going to them for five years now. However, the last one was different. Blood test and pressure as usual, but now a Q&A with the nurse. She's a charming lady and was obviously not comfortable reading from the checklist on screen. I soon realised why. The questions were all focused on, it seemed, the assumption that I had dementia and was frail to the point of disintegration. "I'm sorry, I know these don't apply to you, but I have to ask." First question, did you wash yourself this morning, followed by, did you dress yourself this morning, were you able eat breakfast without help, did some one bring you to the surgery, then the falling over and forgetting stuff questions. "You'll get an invitation to discuss the results with the GP," she told me whilst apologising yet again. That was in January and I've not heard a word since. In June I related these stories when we visited some friends adding that I thought it amusing that maybe my surgery had collective dementia. One friend exploded with rage. "How dare you make a joke out of dementia, I'm sure no one jokes about ostomy bags and cancer." Well they do and I said so and then regretted answering, sometimes it's best to say nothing.
This incident did make me think about humour and the thin line that divides a joke from spite. Some people, who like me have a stoma bag to catch bodily waste, are so upset by name-calling and jokes that they become semi recluses. On pin interest there are 73 Ostomy cartoons, there are web sites with ostomy jokes and, of course, there is the infamous "joke" told about the late Queen Mother. It's not just my condition. There are jokes galore about every condition from asthma to mental illness, from TB to heart disease. I can't judge other conditions, but the ones I've seen about Ostomates are ignorant and childishly silly. Perhaps that's true of all disease jokes. Indeed, perhaps telling disease jokes is itself a disease except it has a purpose. Self-protection.
It's a rare person who is not scared of something and since life began humans have sought to control fear by making a joke about what causes their anxiety. My parents were worried about Diphtheria and TB, for my generation it was TB and Polio, for my kids Meningitis and Cancer. Now all I hear about is Dementia it's almost as if there is societal pressure to become a victim. I've always lost things, my car for example, and carried a notebook to remind myself of stuff. Once I parked my car in a multi storey car park and later spent an hour trying to find it, I was 29 and the incident was greeted with great hilarity - if it happened now I'd find myself being assessed. Having a condition that is the butt (excuse the pun) of some of this deflection humour I can only ask that we all try to avoid making ourselves feel better at the expense of hurting someone else. We also need to accept that humour is healthy and seeking to proscribe some of it is akin to reviving the idea of heresy. What we don't like is not evil; rather it's just someone else's taste, even if we find it tasteless.
There is one genre that I do find impossible to understand. There is a program on TV called; "You've Been Framed" and I try to avoid catching even its tail end. In a world where children are not allowed to play as we did in case they hurt themselves, there is a TV programme devoted entirely to babies, children adults and animals hurting themselves - for laughs. For the chance to earn £250.00 babies fall out of prams on to their heads. Toddlers go over the bars of their tricycles. Why? Who on earth are these people and why is it funny?
To end, one for trivial pursuits: What do ostomates and kangaroos have in common? They both have pouches! (From newbieostomy.com)
Evelyn Wood's books and links at: http://www.too-woo.com/