TORONTO – At the age of 29, Dr Will Flanary had already survived cancer – twice. Thus, the ophthalmologist, who works in the moonlight as a comedian on social networks, knows well the importance of laughter as a prescription for dealing with bad news.
Better known as Dr Glaucomflecken to the rest of the world, his humor has been a plus for his 1.3 million TikToks and 472.9K Twitter followers looking for a little levity amid the stress and gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flanary’s short videos poking fun at medical specialists, the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American healthcare system nonsense, and debunking medical myths have racked up more than 47 million views on TikTok alone.
“If I had known it would become this, I would have chosen a name that is easier to pronounce. Honestly, it’s surreal,” Flanary told CTV National News in a video interview from her home in Portland, Oregon.
Flanary had been doing comedy on and off since high school, but always wanted to go into medicine. He signed up for a Twitter account out of boredom while attending a conference several years ago in medical school and started using it as a surrogate for telling jokes on stage.
“It’s just a very serious area. And there’s this common misconception that doctors can’t show who they really are. They can’t be funny. They can’t have a sense of humor because that is unprofessional, ”Flanary said.
One of his most popular recent videos, which pokes fun at the CDC’s latest guidelines recommending shorter isolation periods for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, has already garnered 6.4 million views on TikTok after the guidelines have been widely criticized.
“If you don’t have any symptoms, you don’t feel tired, you can go back to work,” her CDC character told a colleague in the video.
“Okay, but everyone is tired all the time, can you trust people to know if they are asymptomatic?” »The other character (also played by Flanary) answers, before proposing alternative suggestions which end up being considerably watered down.
Another video shows a patient readily accepting a full body CT scan, lumbar puncture, colonoscopy, brain biopsy and “experimental surgery where we replace your spleen with a second liver.”
“And let’s go and get yourself a COVID vaccine,” Flanary concludes, posing as the doctor.
“I don’t know if I can trust you,” responds Flanary the patient.
His pandemic content on vaccinations elicited the most negative response, but he tries not to pay too much attention to angry comments and messages, he says.
“There’s no benefit to that. You know, you’re just going to go into a spiral and it will affect your real life outside of the internet,” he said.
“If you trust your content, if you trust the message, then you just have to accept it and accept it.”
TREATING CANCER AND A HEART ATTACK
For Flanary, who survived two episodes of testicular cancer, the videos were not only therapeutic, but they also raised over US $ 100,000 for First Descents, a nonprofit that offers adventures in the middle. air to young adults affected by cancer and other serious health problems. problems.
He was first diagnosed during his third year of medical school and then a second time during his third year of residency, he said.
“The second time was a little more difficult, just physically, mentally and emotionally and I needed something to help me cope with the fact that I had already had cancer twice and had never had cancer. while 29 years old, “he said. He now has two children and thanks his wife Kristin – known on Twitter as Lady Glaucomflecken – convinced him to start a family while studying medicine.
“Thank goodness she did it because, you know, I don’t know where we would be at this point.”
But cancer isn’t the only challenge Flanary has faced. In May 2020, he went into cardiac arrest in the middle of the night in his sleep, according to media reports. His breath woke his wife, who performed CPR for 10 minutes until paramedics arrived and resuscitated him, according to an interview with Today. The cause of the heart attack remains a mystery.
“If you can laugh at a shared experience, it can bring you together more than almost anything else,” Flanary said.
“It feels good to laugh. And it feels good to laugh with someone who knows what you’re going through and knows what’s going on in your head that you haven’t put into words.”
Humor not only allows her to connect with her audience, but it can also help patients and physicians, says Dr. Dolores McKeen, president of the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society. She first met Dr Glaucomflecken four or five years ago.
“Medicine can be very difficult, and I really think its type of humor keeps us humble. It actually allows us to be compassionate,” she said in an interview.
“It sometimes allows the environment we work in to be a little more human… I think patients sometimes appreciate humor and that makes us a little easier to understand.”
One of Flanary’s most popular videos, making fun of anesthesiologists, has over seven million views. He’s also hooking up emergency medicine and surgeons, but says he’s wary of practices that are more sensitive or don’t get the respect they deserve, like primary care physicians and pediatrics.
“It feels good to make people laugh in medicine, especially at a time right now – during the pandemic when it’s hard for people to find things that make them smile,” he said.
There’s plenty of evidence showing that humor can protect burnout, McKeen says.
Flanary says the videos took him to a place he never expected, and he will continue to do so for as long as his audience is watching and continuing to enjoy him. His alter ego Dr Glaucomflecken has been a balm not only for his colleagues, his patients and a public tired by the pandemic, but also for himself.
“That’s kind of how it works with me with humor. It’s my coping mechanism… Sometimes that’s all you can do, right? And that helps you put a different perspective on things. “