Last spring, right in the middle of finals week, my throat started hurting. It was maybe Thursday when I started feeling some pain when I swallowed. I told my mom about it, and she told me to go to the health center. It started feeling better though so I told her I wasn’t going to, despite her insistence that I go anyway “just in case.” I said not to worry about it. On Saturday it started hurting again, but I figured it would go away again so I didn’t really think about it, or tell my mom because I knew she’d be mad I never went to the health center. But it didn’t go away, every hour it hurt worse and worse until eventually I couldn’t speak. The health center was closed until Monday morning at 7am though, and I had to just endure a painful, sleepless, existence until then. It turned out I had a tonsillar abscess and had to get my two friends to take me to GMBC to be treated. When I got to the doctor it turned out that the way doctors treat tonsillar abscesses is to stab them with a knife-type apparatus to extract the massive amount of puss that builds up in a crevice in your tonsils. After he stabbed me in the mouth the doctor gave me a cup to spit my blood into for a couple of hours until the bleeding stopped, and gave me an antibiotic prescription I could conveniently get filled downstairs at the hospital. Things certainly seemed to be looking up.
But when we got down to GMBC’s pharmacy, there was a large mob/line of Baltimore locals who were a bit more unruly/aggressive than the patrons I am used to seeing at my own local pharmacy on Long Island. They were all shoving eachother and shouting their prescriptions, insurance information, and general (and in some cases seemingly unrelated) complaints at LaJuana, the 30-something, heavy-set African American woman who was working the counter. After surveying this intimidating scene for a couple minutes I came to the conclusion that LaJuana was no-nonsense; she meant business. So accompanied by my two friends I slowly worked my way through the mob to the desk, and gave LaJuana my prescription. The trouble though, was that I didn’t have my insurance card on me. I tried to explain this to LaJuana while intermittently taking pause to make another deposit into my blood cup, but I was still talking like Donald duck (but with less clarity) so she started to get annoyed/perturbed/dismissive of my pleas. My friend Keith stepped in to explain to her the situation and he ended up calling my mom to get my insurance information to give to LJ so she could put it into the computer. She seemed a bit annoyed, to say the least.
That seemed simple enough so Keith and our friend Maureen went to sit on a bench in the hallway to wait. But then LaJuana came back looking pissed-off and kind of sassy. She snapped at me that I wasn’t covered by my family’s insurance plan and she couldn’t give me the antibiotics. I took out my phone and called my mom back, who had been growing increasingly worried (and I was later informed by my 5 siblings that were home at the time, “on-edge”) since she had first received the call from the Loyola health center 6 hours earlier that I was going to the hospital for the medical condition she had pleaded with me to get treated 5 days earlier. I did my best to articulate to her what was going on while being shoved and nudged by the other patrons of the packed in-hospital pharmacy, and still all the while spitting a surprising amount of blood into my Dixie cup. It took a little while to be able to get the message to her (“They say I’m not covered by the insurance—won’t give me medicine”), and that pushed her a little further over the ‘edge.’
She just kept yelling that she couldn’t understand what I was saying and that they had to give me the medicine and that I was covered by our insurance. I tried to tell her about LaJuana and about how strict she was but she couldn’t understand what I was talking about. I was so tired too because I hadn’t slept more than an hour a night since the pain had started two days before. My mom was nearing her breaking point and just started yelling “PATRICK I CANNOT UNDERSTAND ANYTHING YOU'RE SAYING, GIVE YOUR CELL PHONE TO THE WOMAN AT THE DESK RIGHT NOW AND LET ME TALK TO HER.”
However there was no way in hell I was pushing through a hostile mob of Baltimore urbanites to the front desk of the GMBC pharmacy to give LaJuana, the most intimidating woman I’d ever met, my cell phone and tell her to talk to my mother to work out my situation. My mom just kept repeating that though, and as Keith and Maureen recount, I came bursting out of the pharmacy doors and walked down the hallway screaming completely incomprehensible statements into my cell phone. I remember walking down the hallway, away from Keith and Mo and the pharmacy, trying to explain things to my mom while she yelled instructions at me, my throat hurting like a bitch, being so goddamn tired, thinking about all of the finals/papers I still had to study for/write, spitting into my blood cup, being scared of LaJuana and the mob in the pharmacy, realizing how completely confused Keith and Maureen had looked when I blew by them, and I just started laughing. At first just a smile and a chuckle but it soon escalated into hysterical laughter which lasted for about a minute (which made my mom exponentially more frustrated/confused). I told her I’d call her back (I don’t think she knew what I said) and hung up. I walked back in and saw LaJuana, who told me someone had entered my insurance information into the computer incorrectly and that was why I wasn’t coming up (I was too afraid of her to point out that she was the only one working…). She entered it correctly and it went through.
She gave me my meds and we left. The kicker, though, is that as we walked to Keith’s car, I had a sudden realization, I turned around and looked at the ground of the path we had walked since leaving the hospital but nothing was there. Maureen asked what the matter was. I answered her: “I don’t know where my blood cup went.”
Whenever I tell this story, if I tell it right, I can usually get a few laughs with it. And part of that is perhaps because of the whole superiority theory, and because of people realizing what an awful situation it was and being glad they weren’t a part of it. Part of it is also probably just from a lot of it being so absurd. But some of it also might be because of some of Freud’s ideas about laughter. When I tell this story to friends, I think I am enacting both of the laughter-producing scenarios that Freud describes. Freud’s first scenario is that a person adopts a humorous attitude, and the spectator (second person) derives enjoyment out of the humorous attitude of the first person. In a way this is what is going on when I tell this story, because I adopt a humorous attitude about something that has happened to me, and in portraying it in a (hopefully) humorous light, whomever I am telling the story to is getting some kind of enjoyment and laughing. However in the second scenario, a first person (for instance, an author of some kind) shows adopts a humorous attitude that shows a third person (real or fictional) in a humorous light that a third person is able to derive enjoyment is able to derive enjoyment from. When taking the story into account from that perspective it seems logical that as we tell stories, as ‘truthful’ as we think we are being, a lot of times to a certain extent we are creating fiction. I know I am guilty of this, especially when I am telling a story and trying to make someone laugh. I embellish a bit, and I exaggerate, and usually I don’t even realize that I am doing it, but even when I do it seems almost worth it if it’s going to make the story funnier. So in that sense maybe I am kind of created a character (namely my past self) when I tell this story to friends, and though that character is in a frustrating situation and not ‘trying to be funny’ at all, both myself (in retrospect) and whomever I tell the story too, are able to enjoy a humorous attitude about the events.
Lastly I think it’s interesting to look at the actual point when laughter emerges in the story. When I started laughing on the phone, it is grossly apparent that there was no real happiness surrounding my situation. So why did I laugh? Descartes says that in some cases laughter proceeds “from the joy that we have in observing the fact that we cannot be hurt by the evil at which we are indignant” (23). Freud echoes similar sentiments, and describes humor and laughter as our own ego’s narcissistic triumph over the reality of potentially stressful or harmful situations (113). Finally Spencer argues that a buildup of nervous energy can be released through muscular contractions, in some cases laughing. If there is any credibility at all to these three aspects of these writers’ respective arguments, they can all provide a feasible response to the question ‘Why did I start laughing on the phone in the GMBC hallway?’ There were a lot of things at that moment that were making me extremely nervous; LaJuana, my throat, my finals, my mom. There was this intense buildup of nervous energy due to all these stressful factors in my immediate environment, and laughter was a release for that. It was a way for a minute to just realize none of these things were going to threaten me in any serious way. I was essentially invulnerable while I was laughing, and afterwards, I was able to much more calmly deal with the situation at hand.