On the merits of the “stand-up wiggle”

We met her on her first birthday, making clown rounds at the hospital. Every time she saw me her eyes would bug out and she would wiggle. I call this a “stand-up wiggle,” which is the highest accolade a clown can receive from a baby. I like to think this baby wiggled because she was excited to see me, but maybe it’s because she didn’t know how to clap yet? I’d sing “You Are My Sunshine” and she’d wiggle even more.

She had a very bad heart when she was born. On the day we found out she was going to get a heart transplant we were all so excited we were dancing in the halls. The mother was dancing, the nurses were dancing, the doctors were dancing, the clowns were dancing and the baby was wiggling–this was celebration time!

That was a Monday. On Wednesday, the transplant was done and I looked in on her through the window of her isolation room in the cardiac ICU.  There she was in all her nakedness, baring her stitches and wounds. She was under sunlamps to keep warm. The nurses had given her these fluorescent yellow sunglasses to protect her eyes, and she looked like a celebrity. On Friday, I noticed the baby’s name was missing from the patient board. I got excited. “Is she leaving the floor?” I asked.

The nurse said,” She’s sprouting wings. She is leaving us.”

We went ahead with our clown rounds, but when we passed the room where she had been in recovery, we broke down. My partner just couldn’t take it anymore and ran for the lounge and started to cry. I ended up in front of the isolation window, looking at the empty crib, singing “You are my sunshine” like a slow ballad.

When I finished, I turned to my left and her  father was standing next to my shoulder. He stood tall, and a tear was in his eye. He placed a hand gently on my shoulder and said softly, “Thank You.”

A special time and space.

Peep in a Cup

Here’s another Easter story. One day, while making my rounds with the “ether bunny,” I heard about a case of marshmallow chicks that had been donated to the hospital. Of course these couldn’t be given to the children because there is enough sugar in them to make your teeth itch. So-o-o, they were divided and distributed to the nurses’ stations. The staff likes sweets, just like anyone else.

So I decided to take a survey of how people eat marshmallow chickens. Some eat them whole, stuffing the entire confection into their mouth. Some bite the heads off first and some pick their eyes out! Not me. I just lick them and put them back!

I knew the nurses needed a little boost of laughter. They been having a particularly bad day. I took one of the marshmallow chicks and placed it in a urine specimen container.

I walked up to the charge nurse with it and said, “Someone ‘peeped’ in the cup and I don’t know whose it is!”

The nurse burst into laughter and immediately took the specimen bottle; placed it in a Ziploc bag and inserted that into one of those plastic containers that they use for sending money from the drive thru to the bank teller inside. . . Laughing, she said, “Let’s send it to the lab!”

All I could picture was a capsule with a frightened marshmallow peep winding its way through a maze of pipes as it made its way to the lab.

Moral: A joy shared is a joy multiplied.

Screaming Baby Lullaby

My banjo teacher always said, ” When all else fails, slay’ em with a waltz.” So as a compassionate, non-violent clown, I do my own version of this. I’ve discovered that singing or just humming a good old-fashioned hymn or lullaby will calm just about anyone who is within earshot, especially at a children’s hospital.

Music is said to be the voice of angels. Well, it’s the voice of hospital clowns, too! We have used music to bring heart rates from 170 down to 115; in other cases we have raised dangerously low blood pressure by dancing around to the marches we play on our ukuleles and cheap kazoos.

One time, after a performance in one room in the ICU, we were told, “We need one of those over here.”

At a local hospital where I live, they play the Brahms lullaby over the PA system every time a baby is born. It gives everyone a warm, fuzzy feeling. And it proves my point.