2paragraphs: You’ve relied on (and been praised for) your sense of humor in handling and relaying the often heartrending situations you encountered. Is the ability to look at things with humor something you can pass along? Does it catch, do you think?
Adele Levine: Humor can be passed along, even if you aren’t naturally funny to begin with. At Walter Reed, laughter was such a common coping mechanism that it was obviously caught and passed along from patient to patient to staff member through out the hospital. I attributed that to the patients. They were all in their twenties – and that’s the way young people relate to each other. With jokes and good-natured teasing. And that’s how they wanted you to relate to them.
But there was also certainly a great deal of dark humor among the staff. I think on that end it was more inert – because when you choose to go into a field where you working with the public, especially on the medical end, you have to have a sense of humor. Because if you are standing there wringing your hands at the injustice of it all, you are going to be completely ineffective as a provider. You have to acknowledge the tragedy and move on. Look for the absurd lining. You can cry about it later.
—Adele Levine is the author of Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, about her six years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where she rehabilitated soldiers admitted in “worse and worse shape.”