There's an old show business motto, "Leave 'em laughing." A good motto for us patients might be "start laughing."

At least sometimes.

A month ago, in a cover story for this section, I reported the "growing belief that a sense of humor is good for your health." Readers and others have been agreeing. Some have even started laughing. :: :: ::

Marion Hayes of the District writes: "Humor is not just a matter of telling jokes. It is, as you say, an attitude," and maybe an admission "of my puny position in the universe. As if to say, 'Let's not be stuffy. Remember, we are all kinda comic together.' " :: :: ::

Dr. Ann Eva Ricks, whom I quoted as saying that "we all use humor as a defense mechanism," reports that she recently joined an ophthalmology practice in Ramsey, N.J., and "making fun of yourself" is still her way of life. She is the author of the irreverent "The Official M.D. Handbook: The Life of a Doctor From Medical School to Malpractice Insurance" (New American Library, $4.95), which tells patients how to get immediate attention in an emergency room: 1. Gasp for breath. 2. Clutch your throat. 3. Turn blue. 4. Stop breathing.

She tells fellow doctors how to avoid being sued: "Look poor. Place a prominent sign in the parking lot that reads 'Dr. ------'s Parking Space,' then buy a battered VW bug and park it there day and night. Patients will think that you keep incredibly long hours and are therefore virtuous -- and that you are far too poor to sue. No one will see you tooling home in the Jag you keep in the patients' parking lot."

Dr. Ricks practices medicine under her married name, Dr. Anne Sumers, since "who'd want to have eye surgery done by a comedian?" :: :: ::

A doctor friend tells of "a physician I know, about 45, with "a brain tumor that permanently paralyzed and severely distorted one side of his face and twisted one side of his mouth." Discussing this with fellow doctors at dinner one night, he candidly described its effects. Not only that, he said, "it screws up my kissing." :: :: ::

A physician told Medical Economics: "During a blitz of upper respiratory infections, I was running more than an hour late. 'Sorry,' I apologized to the mother of a patient . . . I happen to be overbooked today.' She smiled sweetly. 'I understand,' she said. 'I'm an airline ticket agent.' " :: :: ::

A reader who read our recent article on Catholic hospitals wondered, "Why 'Catholic' or 'Lutheran' or 'Jewish' hospitals anyway? Isn't an illness an illness, not a Catholic or Jewish illness?"

Robert Kanigel in the Baltimore Jewish Times offered one reason: " . . . The story of the Jew transferred at his own request from a non-Jewish hospital to a Jewish one. 'Why?' he was asked. Wasn't his room all right? "Can't complain," he said. The doctors? "Can't complain." The food? "Can't complain."

Then why had he asked to be transferred? "Here I can complain." :: :: ::

Rudy Joe Mano, a Racine, Wis., fence builder, sends us these medical musings: When you're beyond medical help, it means you're laid up with a cold.The hardest part in dieting isn't watching what you eat. It's watching what other people eat.Health is the most unappreciated blessing in the world -- by those who have it. :: :: ::

A recent UPI dispatch said, "When Dr. Hiram Brownell tells his patients a joke, it's no joke." At the Boston Veterans' Administration Research Center, he uses humor to study brain damage after strokes -- and tries to identify any impaired brain areas or functions.

He has not found evidence for a "humor center" in the brain. Its functions are generally more complex and interrelated. But "patients with right hemisphere damage usually have little speech impairment and a fair memory, but have other defects such as missing the point of a joke or story told by others, while on occasion uttering unconsciously 'funny but crude' remarks themselves."

Nothing funny about that -- just the opposite for those who can no longer appreciate humor -- but that news story reminded me of a true one about a lovely little man named Philip Noodleman who for decades was my family's alteration tailor in Minneapolis.

In his 70s, he suffered a stroke and was treated at Sister Kenny Institute, a onetime polio hospital that had evolved into an excellent rehabilitation center. A psychologist there decided to test his mental recovery by telling him this story: "A boy went hunting with his dog. While hunting, he walked along a river. While doing so, he fell into the river and caught a fish. Did the boy go hunting or fishing?"

Mr. Noodleman shrugged and said, "He went hunting fish."

And he recovered and went back to his tailoring until his more timely death some years later.

Dr. Eugene Erman, a California surgeon friend who read the humor article, writes, "I knew all that stuff long before I became an M.D. Think back.

"You" -- he reminds me -- "were lying in bed in agony following your appendectomy. You were howling with laughter and finally begged me to leave before the laughter hurt your incision . . . I learned a lesson -- that it was more beneficial to make my patients smile than laugh."

The story is accurate. He and I were 10 or 11 years old at the time.

I wrote too of his wife, Rowene, who, still in pain after recent heart surgery, "accidentally pushed the wrong gadget on her electric bed and it started rising toward the ceiling. A nurse, finding her several feet off the floor, asked, 'How did you get there?' 'I'm levitating,' she answered."

She writes that I didn't have the whole story. "I was all the way up to the ceiling," she says. "I rang for a nurse, and she came running in and screamed for other nurses. They called for the engineer but couldn't find him."

"Some young doctor" came in and finally got the bed started down. Everyone was still so tense, reports patient Erman, that "I sang out, 'Going down. Ladies' lingerie. Men's shoes.' Trying to break the tension."

But "nobody laughed but me. Maybe we should teach them about humor in medicine."

Next Week: What readers are telling us.