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Joking About My CHD: The Positives and Negatives

Jun 7

Posted by: ACHA
6/7/2013 1:13 PM  RssIcon

By Becca Atherton

It's pretty obvious when you meet me that I am generally a happy person. People have told me more and more recently how they love my sense of humor and my attitude about life. I've learned through my life that laughter does help you feel better—which probably explains why I love comedies, whether it's a TV show or a movie.

When people make weird comments about my scar (like the lady who thought my scar was a drink I spilled on myself), I usually don't get offended—unless they are purposely trying to be rude—and instead, I laugh it off and find it amusing. I'll go home and I'll tell my family about the newest and weirdest comment. We find humor in some of the things people say. Because if I didn't do that, I could have a chip on my shoulder from all the things people have said to me. But when I laugh it off and get a kick out of the stupid things people say, it makes for great stories!

Now I know that this is a double-edged sword, my sense of humor about my health. When my health comes up for the first time with a new group of people, I make a few jokes about it. Such as “Oh yeah, my grandma who's in a wheelchair probably runs faster than me.” Or I tell them the story about my mom's cousin who told me I should get a pacemaker on both sides of my chest, so it would be like a breast implant. Funny stories.

And I tell them for a reason. I want these people who meet for the first time to feel comfortable with my health, and feel like they can ask questions without me getting sad or depressed about the topic. And another reason being, I don't want them to think that my health controls my life or that my health is all my life revolves around—because it doesn't. By using humor, I've noticed that people don't react as if my health is as big of a deal as they used to when I didn't always use humor for it.

With that being said, though... my health is a big deal to me and my family. I have almost died because of my health, more than once. And while I use laughter to help deal with what I'm going through, it really isn't a laughing matter.

Now I understand that I can't have the best of both worlds. I can't laugh about my health one minute and then the next expect people to know that it's not the right time to crack jokes. But more and more lately, it seems as if people make jokes or small comments when the topic isn't even being brought up.

I wonder if maybe people don't know what else to say to me. Or if maybe the lines were not drawn clearly enough? I don't mind jokes when the topic is actually being talked about, but when the topic is something entirely different, it seems a bit odd and not very considerate to not only bring it up but crack jokes about it.

And it also depends on the day and the joke. Some jokes are funny and some just leave me thinking, "Really? You find that funny?" Now that my health could possibly be getting worse again... that changes things and the jokes about my health become less funny.

I know that I've created some of this confusion as to “Which joke is OK?” and “When is it OK to joke?" and I take responsibility for that. I know that my friends are going to have to learn to take cues from me about when it’s an OK time to joke, and I won't mind helping them learn.

Thankfully, though, I know that my friends aren't trying to be rude or hurt me with their jokes. Maybe in their own way, they are trying to use humor to help themselves understand what is going on with me. Hopefully, we can all work together and learn how to go through all of this while laughing but not overstepping any lines.

Becca Atherton was born with tetralogy of Fallot, pulmonary atresia and pulmonary hypertension. She was adopted as a baby into a large multiracial family, where she is the second youngest. Becca was given a 13% chance of surviving to the age of five, but she is 20 years old and a college sophomore at her local community college. She loves to read, perform American Sign Language to music and write on her blog.

Copyright ©2013 ACHA

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3 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Joking About My CHD: The Positives and Negatives

I use humor all the time in regards to my CHD - I joke about the ways I got my scar (bar fight, ninja fight, knife fight - but you should have seen the other guy...), I quote Homer Simpson when on a hospital bed ("Bed goes up, bed goes down... cloud goes up, cloud goes down.") I find that by cracking a joke about it (especially when I first meet someone and am questioned about my scar), I lighten the tone of the conversation. I hate being that person that prattles on and on about my misfortune, so I joke.

Plus, if I make fun of my CHD, then I'm less inclined to cry about it. (It's really hard to cry when you're laughing.) :)

By Krista McIlmoil on   6/7/2013 1:36 PM
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Re: Joking About My CHD: The Positives and Negatives

My wife keeps reminidng me of the "Husband Training Device" I have in my chest. She also keeps point out cows to me because of my valve. After the first time I received a shock from my ICD and knew that I was alright, she told me she thought something was burning. When I quested what it was she said steak.

By Michael on   6/7/2013 2:15 PM
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Re: Joking About My CHD: The Positives and Negatives

I give you props to make light of such a dismal situation. It really shows what kind of person you are - a sweet, kind-hearted individual who lives life to the fullest.

I was born with the same exact thing you were born with and let me tell you as a 29 year old with multiple scars, I've given the same light-hearted responses as you have. I love the reactions on peoples' faces when I tell them I got stabbed, etc., etc. Let me add these are complete strangers by the way, but with family and friends I tend to not talk about it or when they ask in a demeaning manner, "how are you?", I answer with, "things are great!", even though that might not be the case. Not talking about it and making light of your situation is kind of an escape from reality. However, the only downfall to that is my family and friends don't know the severity of my disease and are simply not educated about it. I think it's our job to be a great representation of our diseases and spread awareness like there's awareness of other diseases such as juvenile diabetes.

I hope you are well and stay well, good luck in school - it definitely keeps your mind busy and doesn't allow you to focus on our disease!! Stay sweet and strong as you are. :) Even though I may be a little older than you, I look up to you for being open and honest. :)

By Vanessa Burian on   6/7/2013 3:36 PM

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