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!” ?


Miles of Smiles

As hospital clowns, we perform for an audience whose challenges range from  chapped lips to terminal illness. Naturally, this brings up a mix of emotions, both good and bad. Looking over notes I sent to my colleagues over the years, I recently found myself reflecting on the feelings I’ve experienced over the years.

We were happy when we learned that a baby we knew was going to get a new heart.

We were proud when we saw her after she received the new heart.

Sad was how we felt when we thought about where the new heart had come from.

Crushed described us as the doctors took the girl with the new heart off the  machine and she died.

I know that when we accept all these feelings, we get wonderful inspiration and renewed commitment to our work.

And we get  joy. Plenty of it. It comes in many ways, but sometimes as scribbles crayoned by little people who don’t even know how to write (that doesn’t stop them from adding their “John Hancock” to these masterpieces.) So every time I put on my clown feet, I remember: These shoes carry miles of smiles!

Pardon Me?

Nurse Moose and I were visiting patient rooms on one of the surgical floors one day when we came upon a young dad sitting beside a small boy. The father looked at us and then asked his son if he would like to sit with him and listen to the clowns sing a song. The boy agreed.

Moose and I fumbled through “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” asking the patient “What did he have on the farm? What kind of animal? What does that animal say?”

The boy, thumb in mouth, responded: Cow/Moo. Cat /Meow. Dog/Woof.

Then we switched to that perennial toddler favorite, “Wheels on the Bus,” and again found ourselves struggling to remember the lyrics.

But we gave it our best: The Lights on the bus go Blink-Blink-Blink. The Horn on the bus goes Beep-Beep-Beep.  ” What’s next,” I asked the little boy.

I heard: “You guys suck.” I looked at Moose, who said, “Pardon me?”

The boy spoke. Again I heard, “You guys suck.” I look at the father — could he interpret?

Dad patiently explained: “Open and shut. Open and shut. The doors go open and shut!”

Of course! It’s clear Moose and I have too much baby powder stuck in our ears!

Is that you, Bubba?

سانتا كلوز

Fat exclamation mark made from jigsaw puzzle p...

I recently started my “encore” career with the Clown Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. It took less than a day to reconnect with the joy I get from doing this work, and it came from a little boy speaking words I could not understand.

Dr. Dazzle and I entered the playroom on one of the surgical floors, where a child-life specialist was working a jigsaw puzzle with a small boy who was in a cast from the waist down.

As we got closer he looked at us and started pointing toward me. He was babbling words I heard as “Bubba New Whale! Bubba New Whale!”

None of us knew what he was saying. In fact, we couldn’t even figure out what language he was speaking. But every so often, he’d look up from his puzzle and exclaim, “Bubba New Whale!”

When his Dad came into the room, the boy’s face lit up and he told him that I was “Bubba New Whale.”

The suspense was killing me, so I asked the father what language the boy was speaking. It was Arabic. Was being a “Bubba New Whale” a good thing or a bad rap? The Dad’s reply, with a little giggle in his voice, was simple: “Santa Claus.”

I am humbled and honored to do this job!

Highs, Lows, and False Alarms

Hospital clowning, like everything else, has plenty of high and low moments. Here are a few of mine:

  • Watching a young girl who received a new heart ready and able to go home after 10 days.
  • Seeing another child whose transplant is failing. This is humbling. Maybe we shouldn’t call it a new heart. After all, it did have a previous owner. Maybe it depends on how that person took care of it?

That’s me, looking up what ails this rubber chicken!

  •  Persuading a young brain surgery patient to turn his head and smile. It’s easy: we start the magic trick on one side of his wheelchair and finish on the other.
  • Getting a 4-year-old stroke victim to play a squeaker.
  • Walking past a young girl’s door and into a wall, only to hear a tiny voice inquire: “Are you O.K.?”
  • Dissolving in chuckles when a young neurology patient jumps out of his bed after a female clown offers to give him a kiss! (Little does he know it is actually a sticker.)
  • Laughing with relief along with a nurse who discovered that the pasty white substance she had scraped off the roof of her patient’s mouth wasn’t dangerous — it was actually just the remnants of the host the child had received during Communion!
  • Bringing a little comic diversion to parents, clustered together silently in the waiting room, whose eighth graders had overdosed on muscle relaxants at a dance.
  • Working miracles in Pre-Op and Radiology. In the Pre-Op waiting room, glazed-looking parents perk up after we’ve been hanging around. In Radiology, families nervous about an imaging study bust a gut thinking about one of us squeezing into the MRI machine.
  • Visiting a little girl who tells her mother she won’t eat unless the clowns come to see her every day. Just what we need — kids going on hunger strikes!
  • Watching the Boston Fire Department race to the rescue after we clowns powder our makeup in the hospital’s Wolbach Building. Our baby powder sure doesn’t smell like smoke, but maybe to a smoke detector it looks like it!

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

Tiny Bubble Song

C                            G7

Tiny bubbles  – in my bed

G7                                       C

Tiny bubbles – bouncing on my head

C                         C7         F

Tiny bubbles – going up my nose

   C                       G7              C

I got tiny bubbles – in my pantyhose.

[ At this time, while vamping the chords of the song, my partner would look surprised and ask, “Are you wearing pantyhose?” I would reply: “Only when I am dressed up as a Super Hero.”

All super heroes wear pantyhose –Batman , Robin, Superman, Spiderman. All of them.

Then they  wear their underwear on the outside!

C                              G7 

Tiny bubbles – in my hair

G7                                    C

Tiny bubbles in my underwear

[ Brilliant! That’s why they wear them on the outside !]

C                     C7             F

Tiny bubbles – going on my feet


I love tiny bubbles

G7                    C

Gee they’re good to eat!

[Eat a bubble – Burp or use electronic whoopee cushion  – and explain that it was a gas bubble]

Note: the last line can be changed to “Gee – I think they’re neat” if needed.

You got a bubble up your nose!

Tools of the Trade

Cheap rubber bladder

Ever since the Big Apple Clown Care Unit started up at Boston Children’s, we have prided ourselves on our exhaustive Research and Development program. One of the items that underwent close scrutiny is known familiarly to most of you as the “whoopee cushion.”

Hospital management wanted me to take them away from the clowns, but I pleaded with them, saying, “That would be like taking the color red off an artist’s palette. ”

A whoopee cushion is a critical tool (combined with facial expressions and physical movement) that is understood in any language. Kids love it because it’s bathroom humor, but this was a problem in the hospital. Maybe some young patients were hospitalized for malfunctioning excretory functions! Toilet humor is not a road to travel in the hospital for sooooo many reasons. ( Do not follow the yellow drip road.) It also encourages “potty mouth” among the siblings and adolescents.

Chemical gel – FLARP

Do you realize in less than a decade, we have seen the whoopee cushion go from a cheap rubber bladder, to a chemical gel, to a fat rubber hose with two hard plastic ends, to a remote-controlled electronic device, to a self inflating cheap rubber bladder? Who got the grants for that technology?

Due to hygiene and  latex allergies, the electronic device is my instrument of choice in a hospital setting.

I have found it interesting and challenging to use it as a silly little sound and incorporate its use in musical numbers or in hearing tests along with squeakers.  

I like is to let my clown partner hide the main console of an electronic fart machine  in one of their pockets, while I control the remote. Things just slip out as they do and the kids crack up as we try to maintain some kind of composure and dignity!

Use this for high-tech bathroom humor!

Self-inflating rubber bladder. Works every time!

Funny what kind of sound those elevator or vending-machine buttons can make when you least expect it…

“Le tooter”

Permission to Cry

Shall I play for you?

By the end my first month as a clown at Boston Children’s Hospital, I had learned a few things. One is that soap bubbles are magic. The other is that when I sing and play my guitar, parents sometimes cry!

This discovery came to me one day as I was strumming a lullaby for a baby in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The baby’s mother broke down and sobbed. A week later, again while singing in the ICU, another mother started bawling. I was getting a complex. Was it my rotten broken baritone voice? No, actually, it wasn’t. It was the whole package: My size “38” clown shoes, red nose, garish trousers, and white coat with epaulets fashioned from upholstery fringe and rhinestones. Not to mention my guitar. (I make quite a fashion statement, I can assure you).

As a clown in the rooms of critically ill children, I was able to give these parents a huge gift: permission to cry. I always made sure to allow them to compose themselves before I left the room.

One day, I was finishing my clown rounds in the ICU when I met one of the crying mothers walking the hall with her baby.  She introduced herself as the one who “lost it” and assured me she wasn’t going to do it again. So I started playing and singing, and guess what? This time the baby cried!

The Magic Power of Bubbles

That’s me, blowing a little magic around!

It was late in the afternoon and Dr. Bounce and I were making rounds on the 4th floor of the hospital, where the patients were mostly infants.

We had finished checking in with the charge nurse, who said most of the patients were asleep. So we walked down the corridor checking the rooms. In one, I noticed one toddler in his crib, laying quietly on his side and just staring out into the hall.

We looked around. No parent or guardian. No hanging thingy mobile. No TV soundtrack. He was just staring, and he looked bored. But he didn’t look uncomfortable.

I looked at Bounce and said, “Let’s sing him a lullaby.”

We stood at the door. Dr. Bounce stands about 6-foot-6, yet when he crouches down he is only 3-foot-8.He proceeded to blow some bubbles very slowly. One breath at a time, watching each float downward until it disappeared. While he did that, I played a simple rhythm on the guitar.

The little boy, Dr. Bounce and I were all mesmerized by each and every bubble. It was as if we were being hypnotized, just watching each bubble float until it hit a hard surface and popped. From the crib, there was no change in facial expression, no smile, no reaching to pop a bubble. But the eyes followed the path of each watery sphere.

We stayed in this space for what seemed a long time but I am sure it was only a few minutes.

I played the music softer and slower and Dr. Bounce blew fewer bubbles. Sometimes when we do this, the child will cry because he wants more. But this boy didn’t do that. As we were slowly backing out his door, we saw him slowly clap his hands together about four times.

Instantly, both Dr. Bounce and I teared up. “That’s the way to do it!” I told him.

We hospital clowns often hear people say, “They’re too little for clowns.” This is because most people don’t know the spectrum of entertainment we can provide, the knowledge we have about the different stages of child development, and our finely honed ability to read the emotional temperature of a sick room.

When administered properly, bubbles and lullabies can work magic.