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An Rx for laughter

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | August 11, 2020
From the August 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

We’re all familiar with the old adage, “laughter is the best medicine,” and there is enough scientific evidence to it that Banner University Medical Center’s director of behavioral health case management, David Jacobson, uses humor in his daily interactions with patients and staff.

Jacobson is the author of the 2018 book, “7 ½ Habits to Help You Become More Humorous, Happier & Healthier.” His book and his work in healthcare are firmly rooted in personal experience. Forty years ago, Jacobson was diagnosed with a severe form of psoriatic arthritis. “I was in pretty serious condition with rheumatic fever, which caused some damage to my heart and heart valve. I was 22, an athlete and overseas in Israel. I came back to the States in a wheelchair, 25 pounds lighter with a skeletal version of my former Olympian body. I was in extreme pain and I moved back in with my Mom.”

His mother doted, wanting to do everything for him, meanwhile he was trying to regain his independence. He was learning to walk again and pushing himself. The moment that changed everything was a phone call. Who was calling and why isn’t important, it’s just that the phone rang. “She said she’d get it, but I dragged myself, drooling and doubled like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, to the phone,” he recalls. “She was so busy laughing, I beat her to it. I was also cracking up and I realized, I have to live in this painful body, but there’s no rule saying I still can’t have quality of life and experience joy. From that moment forward, I decided to use my sense of humor and laugh as much as I can because it was going to help me get better.”

Jacobson started his healthcare career as a medical social worker at Banner, worked in trauma for many years before moving into administration, becoming manager of the social work department and then chief of social work for the VA in Phoenix and Texas before coming back to Banner as director.

David Jacobson
In addition to his personal experience, Jacobson says there’s been a growing body of research, especially over the past 20 years, much of it originally done by friend and colleague Dr. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University, which points to humor as a beneficial treatment. “Dr. Berk is what you might call one of the grandfathers of researchers into therapeutic humor, doing a lot of hard science — measuring people’s tear ducts and saliva for Immunoglobulin A and certain substances that have health-boosting properties in the human body that are the result of laughter and the result of using your sense of humor for coping,” Jacobson says.

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