Teardrop_IconIt’s been a while since I’ve shared an experience with everyone. I feel that this one should be shared.

Dr. Maladjusted and I were working in Boston. My Horoscope that day read.
“Today the Celestial energy will be trying to teach you something. Specifically it will be teaching you how to share with others. But first you must go to a place where you truly want to share something of yourself. Give other people a chance to know you.”

Toward the end of the day we walked past a room that turned my head. In the room was one of those chrome cribs with the clear plastic tops on it. Inside the crib was a person, by the size, I thought to be 8 or 9 years old. I did recognize that they were probably in for facial reconstruction. I prepped Mal as to what we would see and asked if she was up for singing a song. Mal agreed.

Little did I realize that when we got closer, the person, who we found out later, was a 12 year old girl – had no face, hands or feet. No eyes, no lips, no nose.

The patient was very difficult to look at, yet like a train wreck, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
NO Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Lips, Cheeks, or Jaw. You could see into nasal cavities, a throat, and maybe a tooth? I have seen a lot in my 19 plus years at Children’s Hospital, but this had been the most physical and traumatizing?

We stood at the door and started to play music. A simple little “soft-shoe” like song, with accents of burps, squeaks, farts, whistles, chicken, dog and pig sounds.  A lullaby arranged for guitar and instruments that we clowns play so well?
The patient placed her, what we thought were hands, up to the side of her head.

A music lover no doubt?

She screamed! It was more like a squawk from a large bird. I’m guessing it was her way of telling us to “Get Out”?We kept playing a little bit more. She slowly pulled her hands down and moved a little to the music, then started moving like Stevie Wonder at the piano.  – Who Knew?

She then thrust her arm through the bars. I didn’t know if she was flipping us off, or pointing to the door? Her arms went back to her head and we took that as our cue to leave.

Mal and I found the Child Life Specialist who apologized for not warning us what we had just witnessed.I explained that we had a wonderful “connect” with her with the music. The CLS eyes lit up and we both said at the same time, “It was the child within that we were taking care of.”                                                    I think the rest of the staff was taken back a little bit with our excitement.

It was wonderful news, that we were making a difference. So to make a long story even longer.

Mal and I went back once more. . .”When all else fails, ‘Slay em’ with a waltz!’”. . . a sweet song  titled ” I Think You’re Wonderful ”

Again the patient thrust her arm through the bars, only this time I reached out and held her Hand? (It was more like a hoof. It had a split and some kind of fingernail almost like a goat’s foot.) She bent it down and pulled my hand towards the bars and just kept it there. I melted. We finished the song, and we left.

Both Mal and I , looked at each other through tears and in shock.
No matter what we have been through in life – “We GOT NOTHIN?”

Her face, or lack of, haunted me enough to call our emotional hygiene person. We talked about this wonderful experience and my associate explained that we might of been the first to ever engage this girl with something?

I still can’t figure why she would reach outward, instead of withdrawing?
We also talked about, who knows, at what level she is mentally. What was going on in her mind?
Music, and silly little sounds? . . . A TOUCH. . .

Bubbles, Juggling, Magic, Physical Comedy, Foam Noses and Stickers wouldn’t do it.

I do know this. She experienced JOY.

When you stop to think about of all the people in this girl’s life of twelve years, Clowns were the ones that were able to connect with the inner child.

I suggested we give her a nickname. . . . . . “Beautiful”

I wanted to go see her again. She had already been discharged… No Goodbyes, No closure. There is no need.

She left, leaving an incredible contribution to my life, our work and this art of Clown Care!

Did I ever say “I love my job!” ?


“Happy Hour”

These are  some of the results from the program I loving called “Happy Hour”.

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

I was able to visit and perform for  a local Alzheimer Care Center.

My first visit (Which I found to be one of the most beneficial to both clients and staff) began with a tour of the facility. I saw Day Rooms in all 3 wings.

In the first Day room, residents were watching a movie and all greeted me with a “Hello”. They were headed to the Dining room for other musical entertainment.

The second Day room was filled with family members, staff and 7 or 8 residents that seemed to be in various stages of focus.

I started with some songs and a health care  assistant started with hand clapping. Within a half hour, people were dancing and singing. A joyous time, music can change the energy of a room; relieve stress in clients, family members and staff.

I was asked to visit a patient’s room and  I was told she never comes out of her room.

When I arrived at the door I saw a woman sitting in a chair watching television.  I went in with my guitar and asked if I could play a song for her.

She said, “Yes”.

The TV was turned off and I started playing. She started moving and grooving in her chair then she got up and started to dance like she was on stage. Staff came to the door, to witness the “Happening. The woman invited the staff to join in with the dance.

The health care assistant signaled me to come outside the room. I continued to play and she followed me out of her room to the Day room on that wing. She continued to dance. I played a couple of more songs down and then I was asked to visit a room at the end of the hall.

A patient was on Hospice. He was an older man on oxygen and asleep. He had 4 family members at bedside. I stood at the foot of the bed and sang “Old Bones”” The Torch” and “Happy Trails to You”

It was surreal and special.  The family thanked me. I left and felt that the very first “Happy Hour” was a success. What a difference and hour can make !

The second “Happy Hour” was in the Big Room (Dining room). Clients came in from all three wings. Wheel chairs, walkers, canes and escorts. The staff had seated them in a theater style setting. I stood in the corner and did more of an impromptu show.

There were approximately 30 -40 clients in attendance, including my dancing friend who never comes out of her room.  Although they seemed to be engaged with my songs and a polite audience, I felt I got more interaction in “the smaller houses”.

My third time there, I played the Garden. Again 30+ clients and staff gathered around under the awning. Some of the clients remembered me from last month.

We were up close and personal. More clients sang and people danced. A truly “Happy Hour” for all.


Like a Brand New Baby

Just Marjy and Me

Just Marjy and Me

One of the rewards of working with a seasoned audience in an aged care facility is meeting “Living History” and the most famous people you’ll never meet.

I was recently working in a secured facility and met a man who was 102 years old. A class Act.  He and his wife came to this country and did a juggling routine that brought them through the vaudeville circuit and many nightclubs and circuses. They played the Ed Sullivan Show.

I mentioned I was from Boston and he asked if I had ever been to Blinstrub’s Village ( a night club that opened in the midst of the Depression 1933 and destroyed by Fire in ’68. ) Every one played there from Frank Sinatra To the Everly Brothers. I had the pleasure  of seeing Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons there . .

“They were very good to us there – They would feed us.” He grabbed me by my shoulders and said, “It’s so good to hear an old comedian!”

I’m not too sure if I should take that as a compliment, but I will.

I told him he looked great for a hundred and two and I asked “How do you feel?”

He replied ” Like a new baby! I have no hair! – I have no teeth!  And, They just changed my diaper! ”

And he called ME an old comedian.

Cancer Schmancer

I don’t have much good to say about cancer. But, in my experience, there have been some positives.

When my Mom needed chemotherapy for colon cancer, I took her back and forth to her treatments. We would often stop for lunch or dinner after these sessions and this time together gave us a chance to know one another better and have a closer relationship.

Then, during a trip to the Bahamas with my wife, I felt something on my back as I toweled off after a swim. I thought nothing of it, but it grew larger. Two months later, I was diagnosed with stage IIIC malignant melanoma.

I tried to stay positive throughout the whole ordeal. My war cry was “Cancer schmancer — at least I’m healthy! I’ll either beat it or die trying!” I was offered a clinical trial. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

After a monthlong course of daily IV chemo, I gave myself injections at home three times a week.

My mother passed away.

A second lump metastasized  into my lymph nodes.

After my fourth indoctrination ( that’s what I call an operation), a clown friend told me that I had been “blessed ” with cancer so that I would know what patients feel — inside and out. I believe him.

Another friend, a nurse, asked: “Do you know what makes a good nurse? A sense of humor and an incision.”

I had a lymph node section under my right arm, and stopped all chemo treatments. That was in 1999.

Humor in the healing process really works, and I have the experience on a personal and professional level.

There isn’t much fun in medicine, but a hell of a lot of medicine in fun.

Seeing with the Heart

I recieved a phone call awhile back to entertain at a birthday party for a 5-year-old boy. The woman on the other end of the line was very nice, and we were close to a verbal commitment when she said, ” I feel awkward saying this, but I think you should know–and it’s O.K.  if you don’t want to do this–but my little boy is blind.”

He had been sightless since birth. She thought a clown would make the party special for her son and all the other children who were going to be there.

A female clown friend of mine was curious about how I was going to do this, so she tagged along. At the house, we found a typical party scene — adults, kids, hot dogs and hamburgers. We asked for the birthday boy by name and found him alone on the swing set. When he heard we were there, he bailed and ran toward us.

His mother made the introductions. He yelled, “I want to see!”  We let him “Braille” us from head to toe. The differences were profound. ME: Tiny little hat, a jacket big enough to hide a kangaroo, and enormous high-top, wing-tipped clown shoes. HER: Ponytails, frilly dress, ruffled apron and enormous Mary Janes. It flipped the birthday boy right out.

I winced every time I said, “Take a look at this!” or ” My hair is red, my jacket is yellow.” The makeup hid my mortified blushes.

I let the birthday boy use my battery powered pump to inflate some of  the balloons I had brought to twist into animal shapes for the kids. Since he couldn’t see, he couldn’t tell when the balloons were full and BANG! They burst. It sounded like firecrackers. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! All of us were laughing so hard we were crying.

Which leads me to the educational part of this story.

The Mom was very happy that I treated her son like any other kid. The boy had fun being part of the show. The guests who didn’t quite know how to interact with the boy grew much more comfortable. I was invited back for more birthdays, where the guest of honor happily played my cymbals, wore my coat, blew up more balloons (BANG BANG BANG) and laughed, laughed, laughed!

Though my vision is good, that blind boy taught me to see beyond what we call handicaps to the person within.

Baby Body, Old Soul

As we stood at the door of the room, everything was in a dark shadow. There stood a crib with the familiar digital lights and TV monitors beside  it. We saw a fragile tiny baby who seemed to be asleep with a thin yellow tube stuck in his nose. Both my partner and I sighed when we saw him. How sad.

I said, “Come on, let’s sing him a lullaby.”

As we were singing “Old Bones”* very softly, the baby opened his eyes, lifted his head and stared at us. He didn’t cry or exhibit any sign of strain or pain. He just took us all in. Then he put his head back down and closed his eyes.

We finished by fading the song down and backing out of the room.

Both of us were weak-kneed after witnessing what we just did. My partner said just what I was thinking.  “It was like an old man just admiring what we were doing. He was assuring us that it was a good thing!”

I told her I had to find out how old the baby was, so I asked the charge nurse. He was 90 days old. When I told her how we sang to him and how he lifted his head, she said that was impossible. He was far too weak.

I thought, End of life. There’s no warranty, is there? We may have been the only event worth watching for the little old soul.

You’re never too young for clowns.


* This is the song that George Burns sang on his 100th Birthday

“By Your Side if You’re Having Fun”

One summer, I had the chance to go to camp in the rolling hills of  Connecticut with HIV/AIDS kids. Ranging in age from 6 to 16, many of these kids came from challenging home situations. Their medical needs were complex.  I knew entertaining them was going to be a tough act.

On the first day of camp, all the kids had to report to the infirmary  to turn in their medications and be interviewed by the four nurses and one doctor on site for the duration.

My job, as the campers filed in cabin by cabin, was to provide a little entertainment. So I pulled out my spinning plate, dealt some two-card monte, and dazzled them with some elastic band tricks.

Despite the warm-up, I felt a little awkward that first night. So I asked them a question: “Do you know what  kids coping with a serious illness do after they eat?” No, they didn’t.

So I told them: “They dance!” And I was the first to hit the floor, cutting a rug like no one was watching. When we retired to the campfire, I did some silly magic that established me forevermore as “Magic Man.” Note to self: Never leave home without a trick. Magic is a wonderful way to start relationships with children.

In the mornings, I got to attend the counselor coffee klatsh, where the adults bonded by telling each other how they had come to be at such a special camp. One woman said her path was simple — her daughter told her it was “her turn.” Wow.

The counselors had a tough job. So I tried to use humor to bring perspective to all the “big-time-grownup-stuff” and put the focus back on what kids believe in — FUN!

Time for someone to take her meds? A spoonful of humor helps the medicine go down. Tough moment at the dinner table? “I can too; eat my dessert without a spoon! Watch!”

Friday night was “stage night” where everyone got to perform. After the usual pre-production add-ons, cancellations and jitters, the production went off without a hitch. What a show! Just applauding exhausted everyone.

One of the highlights was a young girl who sang a song she wrote. The lyrics will forever be etched in my mind.

“ Hell – lo Bird – dee! How are you do – in? I feel Fi – ine. I like to Si – ing. 

Good bye Bird – dee! I’ll see you to – mor – row. I’d like to take you home . . .

But I can’t. I got a dog.”

After the show, I ended up talking with a doctor from Children’s Hospital who said she wished all interns could work a session at the camp. Watching the kids perform had let us forget, briefly, that they had a life-threatening illness and, often, not-so-happy home lives. On stage, though, they were all-stars. The next day, it was time to start packing.

During the quiet hour, I visited the cabins. In one, I strummed my guitar softly while a young boy with a walker made his bed. Then he made the bed next to his. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Because Billy’s my friend,” he said, going on to make up a third bunk.

Later that night, I was singing the campers to sleep when one little boy chirped up with his own ditty, which he happily chanted over and over:

“I’ll be by your side if you are having fun!”

Me too.

Kidneys Come and Go, A Spaghetti Tie Lasts Forever

Dr. Maladjusted And me

I think the main idea of this one is I refer to this type of situation as a ricochet. When we play to the baby and it affects the parents or we play to the parents and it affects the child.

Unfortunately, a few doctors and nurses feel  the hospital clowns shouldn’t be anywhere near their patients. We learned from Dr. Gordon Harper that some people actually fear laughter! And there’s a technical term for this: geliophobia! Some medical professionals must be geliophobic, because they apparently feel that laughing, smiling, or giggling while tending to a patient would be very unprofessional.

I can’t believe how rewarding, challenging and maturing this job can be. It’s like tap dancing in a mine field. We are all finding something to take in and grow with. Our joys range from meeting patients from all over the world (Laughter has no accent!) and little gifts like ties made from spaghetti and surgical tape. Our sorrows range from everything such as chapped lips to being told someone is brain dead. We still perform.

I am Happy to report that we at Children’s Hospital have successfully translated and taught the song “George Washington Bridge” To children from Iran, Hungary, Lebanon, Italy and Germany (This is a silly little song by singing the words George Washington Bridge over and over to the tune of the Old waltz ” Over the waves”)

Dr. Maladjusted and I had the honor to be present at not one but two “Breakout’s”

A Breakout is when a patient in one of the special isolation rooms in Bone Marrow Transplant is going to be allowed back into a regular environment. Some of these patients are in these rooms for weeks. But on the day they come out, the staff places a brick wall (made from cardboard brick covered boxes) along with paper streamers and ties across the doorway of the isolated room. Everyone who can gathers around for this prestige’s event and the patient accompanied by a parent gets to kick the wall down.

We played music, sang and danced. Not once but twice.

After the second one we were leaving the unit, I was greeted by an old friend (A young girl from Iran) on her way back into an isolation room.

We sang “George Washington Bridge “once again. We take the moments as they come and cherish them

I will never complain about getting old – some people don’t get the chance.

I am truly amazed at the way kidneys come and go, or what it must be like to breathe with someone else’s lungs or to have your blood being pumped with someone else’s heart. All of that seems minor when we’re being asked by the patient to come stand beside the bed, so they can just look at you. No magic, no music, just stand there or to just look into their room.  To get a kid to pick a card or to point to a silly rabbit, forgetting that their arm is taped to an IV board – priceless.

Dad, Where Are Your Teeth?

I’m in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. The man who is laying there with all the tubes, wires and machines around him is my 79 year old father, Larry.

I stand beside the bed trying to figure what is going on. This is a man who was never sick one day in his life, but now he is doing battle with emphysema.

I have the uncomfortable feeling that he’s failing.

As I hold his now-soft hand, his index finger taps nervously against mine.

Tap-tap‑tap. STOP. Tap‑tap. STOP. Tap-tap-tap. STOP.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was sending an SOS.

Though he is unconscious, I know it’s time for amends to be made and to tell him I love him.

He was proud of me and often told me so. I was the youngest of three and the only child who showed an interest in music. His father was a music teacher from England and all his siblings played music. Music is well said to be the speech of angels.

I remember; when I was a kid, going to my Aunt Wilma’s house after church on Sundays and having family sing‑a‑longs. She was a great piano player and actually played background music for silent movies.

Dad played the violin and I played the ukulele and banjo.

I believe that vaudeville, burlesque and circus entertaining is in my genes. Although whenever I told my father that I wanted to entertain or play music, he’d say, “Get a shovel. Get a good job. One that has benefits and a retirement plan.”

As I stand at his bedside, tears are pouring down my cheeks. I look around at the powder- blue walls and an IV pole with some sort of pump that reminds me of a cross between a parking meter and a tape recorder reel. The TV above his head reads like a Dow Jones stock exchange report. I think to myself, “Should I buy or sell?”

His loose-fitting nightgown hangs on him, so I can see the wires stuck to his grey-haired chest. I look at his face. A small yellow tube is inserted into his nose. A large corrugated tube fills his mouth. Surgical tape holds them both in place. There is rhythmic song from his breath and the beeping of the machines that have become a part of him. It reminds me of my playing music with my family as a kid.

I stare at him and say, “Dad, where the hell are your teeth? You look terrible!”  I look in the drawer of the night stand but, they are not there.

Its getting late and its time to go. I stop at the nurse’s station and get one of those fluorescent pink sticky notes. I take a $5 bill from my wallet, fold it, place the note on top of it and write,

“Dear Larry, Thanks for the teeth. Love, The Tooth Fairy.”

Back in the room, I lean over the bed to give him a kiss and I slip the bill and the paper under his pillow before leaving.

That night, my father had a complete turnaround. They took him off the machines and were cleaning him up when a nurse found the money.

The room was full of laughter and joy. My father placed that money along with the note on the refrigerator back at the homestead, and told the story to everyone who visited. Miracles do indeed happen.

The Greatest Dream on Earth

"Giddy Up!"

Long before I went to work for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care, I visited “in clown” at what I would call a terminally ill hospital. There was a lot of  longterm care and Hospice. Most of the patients were near death, and as you can imagine, it was a very difficult place to be.

I was to entertain in the day room. I really didn’t know what kind of material was going to work in this situation. Some of the patients were intubated and attached medical equipment. Everyone spoke quietly and all you could hear in the room were clicking noises and steady monotonous beeping sounds from heart monitors, plus the heavy breathing sounds like Darth Vader was in the  room.   Many were paralyzed and could only communicate with the movement of their eyes and eyelids.

So I pulled out some magic tricks. Much to my mortification, one lady’s favorite response to each stunt was to call out,  “Couldn’t you just DIE?”

“My God! Please, lady, don’t say that!” I thought. Most of the patients in the day room were quiet and serene. They had all accepted their misfortune, made peace with their fate and were ready . . .They didn’t laugh at my performance. They just took it in.

I have often wondered, when witnessing situations like this, why God allows it to go on.

Now I think I know why. I have received more strength from a person who was dying than the strongest men in the world get by pumping iron. This strength has grown into hope, and a belief that I might someday be able to comprehend the world a little better. In the meantime, it has taught me to be understanding and accepting of the not-so-pleasant things life throws my way. It revealed a heartstring I never knew I had.

Back to the story:

After I finished performing for the patients in the day room, the staff asked if I could visit some of those who had been too ill to leave their rooms. So I was taken to the second floor, where the patients all had respiratory problems. At the nurse’s station, they told me, “You must go see May. She used to be in the circus.”

As I walked into May’s room. I saw old circus posters everywhere. Gorgeous, antique posters. And there was tiny, fragile and feisty May, enveloped in one of those big oversized chairs you see in hospitals and nursing homes. She had oxygen tubes in her nose, but when she saw me in my clown gear, she brightened and said, “I’ll get my things!”

The nurse tried to calm her down.

“No, No, May . . It’s O.K. They just came to visit you.”

May was excited and she kept exclaiming, “I knew you would come for me! I knew it!” I think she thought we were there to spring her out of that place.

I didn’t know which circus May traveled with, but I did find out what her act was—she was an equestrian high diver. Yes, you read that correctly. She would dive off a high platform, on a horse, into a pool of water.

I can still see the twinkle in her eye as she looked at me.

“That’s a lost art,” I  said. “I don’t know anyone who can dive horses.”

Then she gave my hand a squeeze, looked at me right in the eye and confided, “I think I can still do it. But I believe the horse is dead.”

Later, while looking through a book of old circus posters, I spotted one from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The picture was of a young girl standing next to a white horse. It was captioned “May Worth – The Greatest Bareback Rider Of All Time!” 

The Greatest Show on Earth. 

I never did know the patient’s  last name.

The greatest Dream on Earth.

God bless you, May.