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.

Nursing Notes from Nurse B.B.

 

That's me, front and center with the other clowns at Children's Hospital Boston! Photo Courtesy George A. Taylor, M.D.

Heartstrings

The clown’s work not only brings laughter, it sometimes brings tears. Tears of joy and tears of sadness.

Tears and laughter are attached together to the same heartstring.

We have all laughed till we cried, and cried so much that we started laughing.

We sometimes laugh at a child’s tears, but other times their giggles and laughs make us cry.

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Through my work at Children’s Hospital Boston, I was privileged to see firsthand the effect of humor on the healing process. The hospital, which was founded in 1869, is the pediatric teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. Its first year, it had 69 patients. Take a look at some more current (the year 2000) mind-blowing statistics:

  • 17,599 Discharges
  • 3,447 Observation Days
  • 19,434 Inpatient Surgical Procedures
  • 10,815 Ambulatory Surgical Procedures
  • 258,740 Clinic Visits
  • 51,948 Emergency department visits (not including parents, grandparents, or guardians)
  • 900 nurses & patient service staff
  • 791 Attending medical and dental staff
  • 671 Residents and fellows
  • 988 Nurses
  • 2,317 Other full-time employees
  • 516 Other part time employees
  • 509    Volunteers
  • 365 inpatients beds
  • 11 floors of clinics
  • 8 Clowns!!!!!!

So if the clowns see only 1 shift of Medical/Dental/House/Nursing staff and Volunteers, plus the 19,000-odd kids going to surgery, not to mention a few thousand parents, nannies and people asking for directions, I’d say our quick census count is “Up There!”

Fake puke isn’t very funny!

Me, BB!

I’m starting this blog because I believe people will never know the value of humor in the healing process until we learn to tell them! So far, the Hospital Clown/Compassionate Clown/Healing Power of Humor industry has not done a very good job of telling OUR story—the story of clowns who practice their craft on behalf of people who are ill or living in eldercare facilities. Yes, we talk to close friends, colleagues and relatives, but I hope this blog will speak to patients, their families, elders, medical staff, and other artists.

One thing we compassionate clowns have in common is our audience: Our audience is people who don’t want to be in the hospitals or aged-care homes where we work. Yet they really need the most effective wonder drug known to man: laughter. Like any medication, it should be dispensed by professionals – us!

Scientific studies have been done. I have read some of them and find them lacking. Anytime people write about humor and laughter in the healing process, they start talking about  the immune system, endorphins, and other things I know nothing about. I wouldn’t know an endorphin if I tripped over one! But I do know what FUN is. In this blog, I will share some real-life stories from my work as Nurse B.B., a hospital clown to children and old folks. I learned a lot walking the halls in my starched cap and size 38 shoes. So here goes:

  • First, acting stupid takes some smarts!

As a family entertainer for more than 27 years, I have studied with the very best in the business. I have learned my craft from Paris to San Francisco and points in between.  I absorbed the finer points of hospital clowning from the Big Apple Circus, where Michael Christensen started the “Clown Care” program that is in many children’s hospitals today. Teaching became part of the business because grown people wanted my advice and loved to hear my experiences. People say, “How nice – I want your job – How do you do that?”

  • Fake Puke isn’t that funny

The key to any effective medication is the proper dose. This is true with laughter, too. The key is to let it work, and don’t overdo it. Giving it in the wrong amount or at the wrong time can be damaging.

I have seen many clowns inappropriately use oversized props, rubber dog turds, fake puke, whoopee cushions, balloon animals and stickers, stuffed animals and off-color humor. All of these can be funny if you know how and WHEN to use them. Hospital clowns are taught to “read” the room, to be sensitive to the patient’s physical condition and anxieties. But traditional performing arts and family entertainment education does not properly prepare us to interact with and entertain sick, injured or life-challenged people. Clowning in hospitals and nursing homes should be a continued study. We will never have it down to a science, but there is an art to it.

Compassionate clowning, or humor for healing, is a service embedded in an experience that will last a lifetime. It’s time for us to talk about it. Here at BBClowns, I will tell what I know.