Dispensing Laughter on the Wards
Question: What do you get if you cross a clown with a white coat? Answer: A Giggle Doctor. No it’s true! These funny people in white coats visit the wards of childrens hospitals for one purpose – to make the children laugh. And they usually succeed, for very few visitors wearing white coats then proceed to blow bubbles and make lights come out of their ears.
Laughter has a positive impact on everyone’s health, because it produces endorphins which make us feel better. But it has all sorts of hidden benefits in a children’s ward, helping the patients to relax, communicate and even react to their treatment in a more positive way.
The ‘doctors’ are often young drama graduates who go through a rigorous audition where the interviewer takes the role of four different and sick children. The candidate must improvise routines which respond sensitively to their needs. ‘It’s very difficult…’ said Pauline, a candidate who was successful. She will now be trained in magic tricks and balloon modelling, but also child psychology, hygiene and infection control.
The clowns are employed by the Theodora Children’s Trust, set up by two brothers in Switzerland and named after their late mother in 1992. Gradually the organisation has grown support and funding, and was recognised with a visit to No. 10 Downing Street this June, where they were hosted by Samantha Cameron. This Christmas in the UK there will be 22 funny-people in white coats visiting childrens’ hosipitals in Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Bradford, Brighton, Reading, Bath, Cambridge, North Manchester and Nottingham.
Before the children get a dose of laughter, the giggle doctors discuss each patient’s progress and decide which children would most benefit from a visit. Even those who have to be kept in the isolation wards can get a surprise laugh. Here is a story from ‘Dr Gheehee’, who was working in Fox Ward of Great Ormond Street, London, last Christmas:
All the children on this ward are in solo isolation rooms due to the fact that they have had a transplant or are waiting for a transplant of some kind. We cannot go into the rooms and have to work through a window. I had decided to do a bit of funny carol singing with my new microphone. I had seen a couple of children and sung a few songs. I then came to the last room and through the windows I saw a small boy, about 4 years old, sitting on the bed with his head down. His mother, who was also in the room, saw me and pointed to me at the window. His eyes lit up. I said “Hello, can you hear me?” and he nodded. I then told him that I was a Christmas tree because I can get lights out of my ears, nose and mouth. I then began to produce lights. He found this funny and started to laugh and laugh and laugh. His Mum and the others in the room were laughing too. I knew that my job was done, wished him a merry Christmas and moved on.