All in a Day's Work
Some days encompass more aspects of the work than others, and yesterday was one of those rich days. It was my first day back in the hospital after spending a week at the Healthcare Clowns International Meeting, where 400 clowns from 150 organizations in 50 countries came together to share ideas and brainstorm about how to continue growing this work exponentially until the whole world is aware of just how much healing can happen through the use of Healthcare Clowning. Needless to say, I was inspired and excited to get back in action and implement some of the things I learned at the conference.
My partner, Dr. Scribbles (aka Shawn Patrello) and I experienced moments both boisterous and poignant as we conducted our rounds for the day. Our first stop is the surgery center where we see patients just before they go into surgery and also when they come out. We are welcomed into the area by nurses who say things like, “glad you are here – we have some kids who need the uplift you can bring” and “thank goodness you are here, my little friend has been asking for the clowns.” This relationship with the staff is invaluable, because without their belief in what we do, building a presence can be very challenging. In this setting, two visits stood out on this day. The first was a little four year old with autism, who was not interested in having a heart monitor placed on his finger. One simple strum on the ukulele caught his attention, though, and we trotted off into a musical world where he began to help strum and hum along with my partner and I. His little voice was so beautiful, and the twinkle in his eye told us that we had his total engagement. While we sang, the nurse completed her check-in work with him, and he hardly even noticed she was working on him. Upon our departure, he tilted his head toward the sky and then looked at us, and then a huge grin filled his face. Within one minute of that lovely moment, another nurse invited us in to her patient’s room by saying the absolute perfect thing, “I have some good friends here who would like to say hi to you!”. This set us up for success as our next patient was a bit older, but with an extreme case of ADHD. He was practically bouncing off the walls and we had to work to find a balance of appropriate volume for the surgery center while still serving the highly energetic needs of this boy. There were easily a dozen great surgery visits today, including on the other end of things when we help navigate the child who is cranky after surgery and whose parents are often at a loss on how to console their baby. In this case, we often find that soft music and bubbles can distract the child from the groggy feeling of confusion and they begin to calm. These moments are good for the child, but even better for the parents and staff who are sometimes at their wit’s end from working to get this child normalized again.
Next stop, psychology. This is a new and exciting venture for us where we get to spend thirty minutes with each age group. We have the opportunity to mix clowning with improvisation and circus skills. We employ a deft use of tactics to keep the attention of these kids and empower them with the joy of fun and laughter during what is often a very dark time in their life experience. In this environment, once again, our impact is increased due to the way the staff embraces our presence and encourages our style of interaction to help improve the mood in the room. We’ve also discovered that these kids are extremely smart and can jump into almost any game of improvisation you introduce to them. If this sounds like an exhausting day so far, that would be an accurate description, but our work is far from dumb…I mean done.
Besides visiting the patients on a floor for general pediatrics, we also now visit Cardiac ICU and the Intensive Care Unit on this day. In these places, we encounter all age levels as well as all types of ailments and levels of seriousness. The key for us is always to be open to the gifts of the universe, to listen to each other and to everyone and everything around us, and find a way to proceed with undetected caution. In other words, we appear to be complete clowns, buffoons and idiots, but underlying every move we make is a deep awareness of the gravity of the environment we are in. We are vigilant in our effort to embrace what is right about these children and to see past their earthly trappings of the moment, which range from dialysis machines to strict contact precautions. Instead, we embrace their souls by infusing them with humor.