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Shadyside Hospital

Humor Helping to Heal Patients' Pain As New,
In-House Television Channel Debuts at Shadyside Hospital

There is nothing funny about being hospitalized, as practically any patient or family member will quickly attest. On the contrary; varying degrees of fear, anxiety, pain and other related emotions accompany most patients when they are admitted to a hospital.

But humor and laughter have been clinically proven as having the power to heal, and psychologists at Shadyside Hospital are using that power to augment medical care and pain reduction techniques for patients at the hospital.

Shadyside Hospital has introduced The Humor Channel, a state-of-the-art, closed circuit video transmission featuring full-length comedy films from the 1920s through the 1950s. The films have been transferred onto a CD-ROM system and are interspersed with a series of informational 30-second messages from the hospital's psychologists. This system is now broadcasting them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in patient rooms, at no charge to patients.

"Our goal is to improve patients' health," said Paul Friday, PhD, director of clinical psychology at Shadyside. In 1994, Dr. Friday was instrumental in establishing the hospital's Pain Reduction Channel, which has proven effective in significantly helping to reduce patients' physical pain.

Dr. Friday cited a growing body of research that supports the healing role played by humor, beginning with the 1979 publication of Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins. In that book, the author found relief from pain caused by terminal cancer by forcing himself to watch-and laugh at-humorous videos. Cousins was eventually cured to the point that no trace of the cancer could be found.

"Like the Pain Reduction Channel, The Humor Channel is not entertainment, but a form of therapy that has a real medical and theoretical foundation," said Dr. Friday. "Patients who actively use these resources find their hospital stays to be less traumatic, depend less upon professional and medical resources, and are often able to be discharged sooner," he said.

According to Dr. Friday, lab tests document that subjects who had been exposed to humor such as funny videos showed a measurable decrease in stress hormones, including epinephrine and dopamine, as well as an increase in activity in the immune system which often are still present the next day.

Other medical evidence shows that laughter activates the production of more immunoglobin A, an antibody that fights respiratory tract infection; natural killer cells that attack tumor cells and viruses; more B cells, which produce antibodies against harmful microorganisms; more gamma interferon, a hormone that activates the immune system and fights viruses; more Complement 3," which helps antibodies pierce infected or dysfunctional cells; and more helper T-cells that help organize the immune system's response.

The Humor Channel, which is comprised of 32 hours of classic comedy films, was developed at Shadyside Hospital using innovative technology. Its CD-ROM-based technology offers a compact size while allowing unlimited longevity and ultra fast access speed. All video and audio information has been compressed and encoded onto 32 compact discs, each containing an hour or more of full motion video and audio. A computer activates the CDs in a pre-programmed order to create The Humor Channel.


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