I am a firm believer in having a positive attitude despite the chaos that rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia have brought into my life. As much as they have made my life difficult, I have to say I have been lucky and I definitely have no room to complain. In my journey learning to live with and accept life with RA and fibro, I have learned that I have a choice how I feel. I know that even with chronic illness and pain, laughter is there and it has to be or else we would be depressed all the time.
Carla Ulbrich is one woman who knows when to decide that feeling sorry for yourself won’t heal you. In her book How Can You Not Laugh at a Time Like This, she writes about navigating the healthcare system and coping with long term health challenges. She knows that a sense of humor can make all the difference in the world. In addition to her book, she wrote a collection of funny songs she wrote while dealing with lupus, fibromyalgia, kidney issues, strokes and bankruptcy as a result of her illnesses.
How Can You Not Laugh at a Time Like This isn’t a memoir. Instead it is more of a book of essays of all the things that helped Carla keep sane as she navigated through the health system and dealt with challenges – some from her health and some from trying to find the help that she needed.
In her essays, which she has written in a way that all of us can understand and relate to, she touches on nutrition, alternative medicine and diet. She is a strong believer in being your own advocate in a complex system where even through you are sick, you don’t necessarily know how to get better. Getting better and not getting worse means you do your research and you speak up even if that means reminding your doctors why you are there and what your ailments and allergies are. As she does this, she pokes at the medical system while acknowledging those who helped her in her recovery. She also talks about the things that are important such as phone call from a friend. The conversation was a funny one about maxi pads but the fact that her friend took the time to call her and just talk about nonsense made all the difference in the world. She found that even though she had lost everything in bankruptcy and was living with friends, she wasn’t alone. With that lesson and her sense of humor, she came back from a dark period in her life. We all have challenges. Like Carla, it is those who rise above challenges that are exceptional and Carla, you are exceptional.
Carla is also known as the Singing Patient. In addition to Carla’s book, I received her CD titled “Sick Humor” and my favorite song from this CD is titled “Prednisone.” Here are the lyrics to this song.
Prednisone will make you get real fat
Prednisone will give you cataracts
Prednisone it will destroy your bones
So get some prednisone destroy your bones today
Prednisone your moods are up and down
Prednisone your face is big and round
Prednisone will mess with your hormones
So take some Prednisone spend your life alone today
Give it to your cat Give it to your dog
Give it to your guinea pig
See em acting weird See em eat a lot
See em getting really big
Take it for your gout or if you’ve got a bout
Of poison oak or poison ivy
Take it in a drop Take it in a pill
Take it intravenously
Prednisone you start with one complaint
Prednisone now you’ve got 7 or 8
Prednisone you could be dead you know
So take your Prednisone or pick your tombstone today
Seriously, Carla says what needs to be said and she is relatable. The difference is that she actually puts it in words and takes the humorous route. In her song titled “Sittin’ in the Waiting Room,” she jokes about the variety of useless doctor visits. As I listened to this song, I couldn’t believe how much I was relating. I am so tired of the doctor visits, having to explain why I am there each and every time, telling the doctor my complaints and downgrading them because I don’t want to appear drug seeking or a hypochondriac, and just the time all these appointments take. I sometimes feel like a professional patient or as if being a patient is my part-time job in addition to my fulltime job. For example, I go to the chiropractor once a week. This week I had my epidural steroid injection. Next week, I am seeing the ophthalmologist and the following week, I am seeing my primary related the car accident and I have an appointment with the rheumatologist. How can I not laugh about being a professional patient or having a part time job as a patient? How can I not laugh at a time like this? At least I am not “On the Commode Again.” You will have to listen that one that – I am not giving any clues.
This past Thursday when I got my epidural steroid injection, the nurse had a hard time finding a vein my right arm. I laughed and asked for a pediatric nurse. Seriously, who else can find those invisible veins? I took this idea from How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This’s subchapter titled “A Good Vein is Hard to Find.” After a resident is unable to insert an IV needle in one of Carla arms, she tells the resident it is time to give up.
However, I hit my limit when the resident that was overseeing my case in the hospital tried – and failed –to insert an IV needle into my arms four times. I finally put both arms behind my back where she couldn’t get to them and said, “You need to give up.” She said – with great melodrama – “Oh Carla, I’ll never give up on you.”
Once I stopped laughing, I said, “No, not on me. You need to give up on you ever getting a vein in my arm. Send me a pediatric nurse!” Kids have small veins, so pediatric nurses are good with folks whose veins are hard to find, and they use “baby needles,” which are smaller, easier to use, and hurt less.
Carla’s book, at least for me, was a reminder that a sense of humor and a sense of awareness help us to conquer our biggest adversaries. For you, me, and Carla, our biggest adversary is chronic illness and if someone can bounce back after everything that they have been through, as Carla did, why can’t you or me? We will have setbacks and challenges but ours are not different from any other setback or challenge faced by someone else. Just remember that when you are sitting in the waiting room for the seventh time this month or when you are at the toilet again because of medicinal side effects, you are alive, you are loved by someone, and you are not alone.
Some Carla Links
http://lupusandhumor.blogspot.com/ Lupus, Wellness & Humor blog
www.singingpatientwellness.com – health coaching
www.youtube.com/user/carlaulbrich– funny medical songs