Saturday, September 22, 2007

Make 'Em Laugh

One of the classic dance sequences from the golden age of MGM movie musicals is Donald O’Connor’s bravura rendition of “Make’em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. Performed with stunning enthusiasm, masterful dance technique, and packaged in O’Connor’s supple body and warm personality, this number became an instant favorite with millions of viewers.

What was the secret of its success? The simple fact that, throughout the history of man, laughter has always been one of the best forms of medicine. Indeed, author Stephen King has written that “You can't deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays for as long as it wants.”

Those who work in the field of medicine are privy to unconscionable moments of bad taste, grotesque comedy, and genuine hilarity (fart jokes are particularly rampant in acute care nursing situations). Throughout the medical industry, a twisted sense of humor is both an occupational hazard and a survival skill. Why? Because, while humor serves many purposes in life, one of the most important may be to relieve stress.

Musicians and morticians poke fun at their peers. Doctors and diagnosticians share jokes with each other. People like to enjoy a good laugh. It’s part of being human. People may not always laugh at the same things, but medical transcriptionists are entitled to more thoughts in their lives than discussing new forms of medical terminology, proper grammatical techniques and how to boost productivity.

In 1995, some of the electronic pioneers in the online MT community began to build friendships and alliances on message boards hosted by Prodigy, Compuserve and Usenet’s newly-established newsgroup. Often, there was a unwritten rule that only serious discussions about medical transcription should be allowed. Bawdy jokes and political humor were scorned as information which could tarnish the perceived purity of the medical transcription profession. Lewd and lascivious references were looked upon as totally unprofessional and liable to get you kicked out of the Holy Shrines of MT-land.

But who said that medical transcription can only be performed by vestal virgins? Throughout America, medical transcriptionists can be heard cackling in front of their computers as physicians insist that there are “swollen nail grooves on three of the feet of the left lower extremity.” Or that “the patient was laid on the operating table.” If there is a tragic flaw (of near-Shakespearean proportions) that can often be seen in many medical transcriptionists, it is an unwillingness to laugh at the folly of life.

My guess is that I began to exchange jokes with friends via e-mail sometime around 1993 or 1994. When I created the KAMT-list mailing list, public use of the Internet was still in its infancy. Five years ago only a tiny percentage of medical transcriptionists were online. And so, as I built a list of “twisted sisters” to whom I could forward the puns and jokes I shared with my friends, it seemed only natural to include my KAMT-list’s subscribers among the recipients. My goals were simple.

  • By maintaining a steady flow of message traffic, the KAMT-list would not wither from inactivity.
  • By receiving the same jokes I had sent out, I could rest assured that the software was working properly.
  • Some of my medical transcription colleagues could enjoy the same laughs which helped to brighten my day.

The result of disseminating tacky jokes to medical transcriptionists was similar to what you might find while performing behavioral experiments on laboratory mice. A small but rather vociferous group of ladies huffed and puffed about how they could not bear to see me defile medical transcription with material that was so far beneath the dignity of a professional MT. Many of them were devout Christians who left the KAMT-list of their own volition. Others, who continued to rant (insisting that medical transcription should be treated as something akin to a holy cult), were politely reminded that the KAMT-list was a free service and no one was forcing them to subscribe.

Then, of course, there were the more laid-back MTs who welcomed the jokes and camaraderie and began to think of the KAMT-list as their electronic water cooler. Whether these people worked at home, in-house for a medical transcription service, or in a hospital’s medical records department, they enjoyed the opportunity to take a break, have a laugh, share a few thoughts with their online colleagues and then get back to the daily grind.

Over the years, the KAMT-list has attracted two other types ofsubscribers. There are the friends of loyal KAMTsters (who couldn’t care less about medical terminology or medical transcription issues, but have heard that the KAMT-list has some of the best jokes around). And then there are the MTs and entrepreneurs in India and Pakistan who have attempted to solicit business from KAMT-list subscribers and been quite startled by some of the responses they have received. As with any Internet mail list, some subscribers are extremely active participants (including several wonderfully talented and gifted mentors). Most, however, should be characterized as observers or lurkers who are too shy to jump into the fray.

During its existence, the KAMT-list has survived a variety of flame wars, religious diatribes, defections and presidential campaigns. The list even survived a technical meltdown when its original ISP was bought out. As part of the merger process, the new owners shut down hundreds of mail lists without giving the mail list owners any notice so that they could contact their subscribers.

Like the proverbial phoenix, however, the KAMT-list rose from its electronic ashes and found a new home on Now, as the list approaches its sixth anniversary, the KAMTsters remain a pretty rowdy bunch, determined to squeeze a few laughs out of the workday. Since so many more ways to tickle one’s funny bones have become available online, I thought itwould be a good idea to list some of my favorites for readers of this column:

  • First and foremost, the KAMT-list mailing list.

  • Gag gift catalog which includes a T-shirt bearing the logo “Does this condom make me look fat?”

One of America’s most popular advertising slogans is “You deserve a break today!” So lighten up, folks. Take some time to tickle your funny bone. Try to think of it as a form of preventive medicine or rehabilitation therapy. For people who are working on a production basis, a good laugh goes a long way toward getting you through a day’s work Never underestimate the power of a cheap joke. A little laughter (taken either b.i.d. or t.i.d.) might save you from becoming a bitter old prude, an insufferable bore, or the victim of a heart attack.

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