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May 1987

Humor and the Surgeon: Presidential Address

Arch Surg. 1987;122(5):519-522. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1987.01400170025002

I hope my surgeon is a Republican," joked President Reagan on his way to the operating room. Americans will never forget the President's wistful one-liner, as his surgeons prepared to mend the wounds from the assassin's bullet. His laugh-in-the-face-of-death humor helped soothe a nation of anxious citizens and drew them closer to their wounded commander in chief. Under the delightful guise of humor, he sent out a message of courage to the world.

What is this thing we call humor? Is it just another incidental personality trait, like a particular style of speech or dress or body language? Is it merely a list of puns, jokes, or lampoons? Or does it have deeper roots, philosophic roots?

For centuries, students of humor, including many physicians and surgeons, have sought the answers to these questions. Incidentally, one of these students, George W. Crile, Sr, MD, was a member of this association.1