Catching the Wave of Humor

Quite often, I am compelled to write about a single encounter with a patient, particularly in an effort to illustrate the power of humor in the healing process. But sometimes, zooming out the lens on a particular day can really paint a broader picture of our work as medical clowns.

Yesterday was one of those days where I could feel an undercurrent of joy and laughter coursing through the halls of the hospital. My partner, Dr. Monday, and I began our rounds by going room to room based on a detailed list we receive from the Child Life Staff. On this list, the Child Life Specialist will give us a few bits of information that they feel can be useful to our visits, such as “this child needs to get up and walk around” or “he needs to eat” or “hearing-impaired”. It really could be almost anything. We tuck this information into our clown brains and begin putting it through the computer of clown games aimed at achieving particular medical milestones. Once in the room, this information is mixed in with the child’s personality, the other people in the room, the vibe of the day, the chemistry of our partnership, and then we leap off a cliff into the unknown world of applied improvisation. We are basically using the rules of improvisation to map our way from the opening of the door to the opening of a heart, with laughter and general uplifted countenance as our guide as to how we are doing.

On this day, we seemed destined to have this steady pulse of humor leak out into the hallway over and over again. A child we saw first in his room, we encountered again in the hallway and later downstairs in the music studio. Siblings visiting their brother were stuck in that same hallway while the doctors spoke to mom and the patient in the room. This led to a cacophony of comic moments in that hallway that engaged not only those children, but also the staff. Suddenly we all found ourselves in a mean rendition of La Bamba (performed by the 4th floor hallway band), with the food delivery woman on vocals and several nurses and technicians bringing in percussion. When the doctor left, he gave us a positive nod, which told us that our interlude had been appreciated and had not interrupted his work but rather enhanced the mood on the floor in general. People heal faster when they are happier. Fact.

That was truthfully only one of several encounters that became contagious humor events throughout the hospital yesterday. There were a couple of visiting firemen caught dancing in the atrium to the music we created, while a teen-aged volunteer got into the mood with her humor infused energy as she helped people find their way, and older boys in dialysis found that there was a wave of levity that they could catch – even though they first thought that clowns are just for little kids. Not everyone was so forthcoming with the admission that they had been affected by the traveling humor vibe. One nurse at her computer was spotted peeking over her screen and then dissolving into gales of laughter at the antics the kids were wrapped up in during our visit to infusion.

It was definitely a magical day that we were privileged to be part of yesterday. Not all days at the hospital carry that kind of ease, and we certainly witness our share of sadness and grief, but I believe that creating this energy leaves a long-lasting shimmer of hope and good humor in the environment, and that is always something to cherish.

Maggie KennedyOutreach