As Nigerians grapple with the continuing menace posed by fake drugs, and particularly considering the high prices of genuine drugs, a medical practitioner, Dr. Uchendu Alaefule, counsels that people should increasingly take advantage of the health benefits of humour.
Alaefule, who styles himself as the humour director of Alams Therapeutic Humour Clinic, a specialized section of Jay Alams Hospital, Ikotun, Lagos, warns that "people who take life too seriously are liable to die young."
For that reason he advises that such people should lighten up, and laugh a little at their circumstances, even if the situation is worse than what the biblical Job suffered.
"If you cannot laugh at it, you cannot live with it. We have found out that a person without a sense of humour is like a car without shock absorber," he says with his trademark smile.
Alaefule studied Medicine at the University of Nigeria, and did a meritorious stint at Eko Hospital, where he worked in the diabetes unit for five years.
While working at the upscale private hospital, Alams, as his friends know him, discovered that the health of the patients tended to improve faster if he made them laugh off the pain induced by their situation. So, for close to 10 years he has been using humour to help his patients regain their health.
"As medical practitioners, it is our sincere belief that laughter (that is, quality laughter) is one single most important adjunct cure for most medical and psychological problems rampant in our society," he says.
"Laughter, we know, activates the chemistry of the will to live and increases our capacity to fight diseases. Beyond this, we humourously incorporate many other tips on healthy living vis-à-vis dieting, life style changes, exercises, weight reduction, etc."
Every year, numerous Father Xmas shows and parties are organized for children and youths in the society, who are well, in celebration of the joy of Christmas. Oftentimes, he says, people forget those who really need such occasions the most, considering their lowly emotional states with respect to their poor health/physical condition.
Back in the 80s, a British musical group led by Bob Geldorf organized similar groups to hold a fund-raising concert for Ethiopian famine victims under the theme, "Do they Know it is Christmas?" This successful effort instantly inspired Michael Jackson and other American artises, under the banner, United Support of Artistes (USA) for Africa to produce the super-successful album, We are the World, through which money was raised for famine victims.
Right here at home, and perhaps inspired by these worthy examples, Alams has packaged a programme entitled, Father Xmas Visitation for the sick, elderly and the underprivileged which commenced on December 20 and will run till December 28 at the children’s ward of the following hospitals: Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Gbagada General Hospital; Isolo General Hospital, Eko Hospitals, Ikeja; Havana Hospital, Surulere, Old People’s Home, Yaba; five blind and physically changed schools and six orphanage homes/motherless babies homes.
Alams says that the Therapeutic Humour Clinic is the first humour medical clinic in Nigeria, adding: "Before now, we have known about comedians, but this is the first outfit specifically designed for therapy. Not using drugs or any other form of chemical or massage. We use humour (laughter), enhancing the body’s chemistry and nature with the use of laughter.
"We have actually seen that humour activates the chemistry of the will to live and increases the capacity of the body to fight diseases, by improving immune response. In several ways, we have seen humour helping our patients to regain their health. Research shows that humour increases the T-helper cells of the immune system, which helps the body to fight infection.
Humour gives one the ability to live on – if you can laugh at a situation, then you can live with it. We have seen humour reducing high blood pressure and all forms of stress. We have seen humour reducing tension in the work place.
Actually, this is the first time it is coming to Nigeria as a package targeting specific medical groups: diabetics, hypertensives, sicklers, children in care, people with cancer, who think that the world has ended for them. In the case of cancer patients, we believe that if the patient is to die from it, then let such person do so happily rather in distress. Applying humour to cancer patients, we have seen them living longer than orthodox would tell them.
"We want to use humour to campaign against smoking and get people to drop the habit. We will call it ‘No More Ashes’, so, we will use humour to encourage people to shed weight so as to improve their health. The medical benefits of reducing weight are enormous: much lower cholesterol level, better heart, kidney and liver functions; and the person lives longer.
"Under the theme, ‘Close Your Laps,’ we want to use humour to push young girls to avoid unwanted pregnancies, which always lead to induced and unsafe abortions. We believe that if a girl consciously closes her laps, no man can make her pregnant. With humour we will build up the courage of our women to fight against abortion and sexually transmitted diseases, especially in the schools.
Similarly, through a forthcoming project, ‘Men For Positive Change,’ we want to get men more involved in the lives of their children. For instance, we want men to learn how to change the diapers of their babies. If you ask the average man the immunization dates of his baby, you would be shocked to learn that he does not know. How many men ever accompany their wives to the hospital for antenatal care? How many men take out time to cook, occasionally, for the family? The project is called ‘Men for Positive change initiative.
Is it something you felt in you – you found it easier to relate to patients if you could make them laugh
In Eko Hospital where I attended to hypertensive and diabetic patients, we had a full endocrinology centre. And we also attended to people with goiter. I found out that their problem was more of depression caused by the ailment.
They believed that they have been condemned and have a time limit. I started with counselling, and with that I was able to achieve much. I began to make them laugh. With quality laughter I saw that their health became enhanced; they adhered more to the instruction given to them. Beyond this, the they had a cheerful outlook to everything.
"From this experience I realized that humour could have beneficial effects on patients’ helath and serve as an efficacious adjunct therapy. We have seen that without humour, one’s thought processes are likely to become stuck and narrowly-focussed, leading to increased distress. In fact, quite unlike drugs, humour has no side effects and it is free. So, why can’t we use it?
"Having seen that humour has very good health benefit effect on the body, we decided to package this event. We believe that in the near future, Nigerians would become a humourous country, where everybody will be laughing. Laughter dissolves tension, stress, anxiety, anger, irritation, grief and depression. Like crying, laughter lowers inhibition and allows the release of pent-up emotions. A healthy bout of laughter, you will experience a sense of well-being. After all, if you cannot live with it.
"We have found out that a pension without sense of humour is like a car without shock absorbers. All those bumps will just bounce back at you. But when you have humour, you find out that you can live with any situation, and be able to absorb any adverse occurrences and shocks."
Alams is currently partnering professional comedians. During such programmes, he holds medical fairs, where people get free check-up. Their blood pressures, weight, height, other medical parameters are measured before and after the event. The purpose is to prove that humour can actually improve the quality of life, noting that such individuals are given advice on the next steps to take in cases where the result of the check-ups so warrant.
As a last a word, Alams says: "Anxiety is killing most Nigerians. We have seen that counselling alone wipes away most of these. Our vision is to use humour to treat illnesses."