THE EMS FUNNYBONE
It’s funny… but not always appropriate. If you are going to crack jokes in the back of the rig, just like any good stand-up comedian, you have to learn to “read the room”. The FIRST rule you need to remember is that just because you may succeed in making your patient laugh, you are not excused from being 100% professional — patient care ALWAYS comes first.
It is true that laughter releases endorphins which can help calm a patient and sometimes even alleviate pain…but if you go too far your patient could lose trust in your abilities, may even feel belittled and concerned that you are not treating them with serious intent, might get offended if your joking is CONSTRUED as off-color, and perhaps might even file a complaint about your lack of professionalism to your agency supervisor. (Worse, the patient might even see themselves as a brutally honest “critic”!)
Joking WITH the patient and not just your crew may also make the patient feel like part of the team towards his care. Humor and empathy can show the patient that you, as an EMS professional, are both a warm human being and interested in the patient’s well-being. Remember that the things you, or another patient, may find funny, are not necessarily funny to your current patient — if you see disapproval or disappointment in your victim’s face, do not keep pushing. Change the subject or better yet, change your demeanor. Always show that you are caring even if you cannot get any laughs.
Some major no-no’s in the rig with your patient: Be incredibly careful about saying anything that could be construed as a sexual innuendo; racial ridicule; or insulting comments about the patient’s looks, condition, or emotional state. Like we said earlier, learn to read your audience and do not take advantage of the fact that your patient is basically a prisoner in a very small space with you. If the patient has a family member who is riding in the rig with you be sure to include them (without violating HIPAA) in most of your discussions, but also make sure that the family member is not causing stress to the patient!
After the call you may feel like joking within your crew. Joking can relieve stress, but it can also open old wounds, so again, read the room. If you and your fellow crew members can enjoy a few good laughs, be aware if others (not crew members) are nearby and can hear and misinterpret your stress-relieving EMS humor. And, unlikely as it may be, if you are in the rig while joking make sure that your radio-microphone and any cellphone-lines are OFF (yes, that has happened!). Remember that even if everybody around you is in EMS, such as at an annual holiday party, and you are sharing funny stories, NEVER disclose any personal details about your patients.
And finally, one for the road…Turning your lights and sirens on will “actually” convince people to move out of your way…