Like most post-surgery patients, Carlyle Regele, who had checked into Foothill Presbyterian Hospital, didn't see anything funny about being in the hospital. He was uncomfortable and couldn't keep his mind off his problems.
Then a visiting volunteer, one of seven at the Glendora hospital, came into his room to cheer him up. She asked how he was, chatted a bit and then asked if he would like to listen to a 15-minute tape of jokes.
"I was surprised but found it was a nice moment when I could relax and get a few chuckles," he said. "Then I thought things were not that bad after all. It gave me a refreshing lift and it was kind of comforting."
The person behind the Medic Alaff program is Lynn Thompson, director of volunteer services, who decided that 15 minutes of diversion might make patients feel better and lift their mood. She said the program, which began in April, has won approval from administrators, doctors, nurses and patients.
"The tapes are the easiest way to provide laughter to patients," she said.
"It's a unique program that cost the hospital less than $100 and it has been highly successful. We are providing one more pleasantry for the patient. But we don't push the tapes--some patients are hurting too much to respond to jokes."
There are three tapes, one a medley of old-time favorites, including a segment from Steve Allen's "More Funny Fone Calls" and "The Baby Song" from a George Burns album, one provided by KFI radio personalities Lohman and Barkley and a third by humorist Erma Bombeck. All feature clean, wholesome jokes that avoid controversial subjects.
Thompson said she got the idea when she heard a presentation at a hospital convention by Norman Cousins, known for his belief that laughter not only helps but also heals.
Cousins' theory was recently challenged in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Barrie Cassileth of the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center concluded there was no difference in survival rates or recurrence rates between happy cancer patients and sad ones in his study.
But Thompson said, "We are not saying laughter cures, but we feel the quality of life is enhanced."
When she settled on tapes as the best way of providing laughter at Foothill, she approached Al Lohman and Roger Barkley, who provided a tape of jokes relating to hospitals. She then wrote to Bombeck, who also provided a tape.
Barkley said he helped with the program because he has a brother and a brother-in-law in hospital administration.
"I know how important it is that the hospital atmosphere be as pleasant as possible," he said.
"Laughter is the best medicine. And our own humor must work because neither Lohman nor Barkley has ever been hospitalized.
"In fact, we have made so many listeners sick through the years that I thought it was time to make up for it and help make them well."
Patients are offered a choice of tapes by the volunteers, who make the rounds and ask patients how things are going. Thompson said it is up to the volunteer to decide which patients should be offered a tape.
"I look at the patient and his attitude when I visit," said volunteer Honey Schroeder. "Then I decide if that patient might want to listen to a tape. Some say they don't want to be bothered. Some don't have a sense of humor and others enjoy being a martyr, saying, 'I just don't feel up to it today.' And sometimes the reaction is, 'What's funny about being in the hospital?'
"Not everyone's sense of humor is alike and while the idea is accepted, not everyone thinks the tapes are funny. But patients say it helps their mental attitude and no one has ever turned the tape off because he didn't like it," Schroeder said.
Dr. Edward L. Davis, a urologist, said he prescribed a tape for one of his patients.
"This man had had a tumor removed and he had just been informed that it was cancer," Davis said. "He was reacting in a depressed and anxious way, feeling very sorry for himself.
"But I did feel he had a sense of humor so I asked him to listen to the tape. He informed me he didn't like Lohman and Barkley, but he laughed anyway.
"I think we should do anything we can to have a patient laugh, because it breaks up the anxiety and fear. The tapes are not the only way to do it, but they are a good idea."
Thompson said the program has been so well received that she hopes to keep adding tapes to appeal to different senses of humor.
"Eventually as part of the laugh program I would like to use closed-circuit television to show old Charlie Chaplin movies," she said. "And possibly in the future we could have dial-a-laugh through the hospital switchboard," she said. Hospital administrator Donald Hitt said he supports the program.
"From time to time we all have gotten a good belly laugh that made us feel better. It relieves the tensions that compound illness," he said.
Thompson said she knew of no other hospital that had a tape program, but had heard that there are four or five in the country with laugh rooms, decorated like living rooms, featuring humorous films and music.