I became a clown doctor or what is now known as a giggle dr in 2005. I work through a charity called Theodora Children’s Charity. We work with children in hospitals throughout the UK. Our job is to find ways to engage with sick children, play with them, listen to them, distract them and their families whilst they are ill. It’s an amazing and peculiar job, which I’m still constantly learning and thinking about. One idea I remember somebody telling me about as I trained, as to why it was necessary for us to be dressed as ridiculous, silly fantastical human beings, was to combat the extreme bizarreness of the child’s experience in hospital with something also bizarre. It’s an extraordinary job that well and truly keeps my feet on the ground and teaches me loads about clowning and people.
Today I was working in Great Ormond Street. Dr Mattie and I were at a nurses station when a mother popped her head out from a room beckoning me to come play with her child.
I entered the room, the mother spoke to me in Arabic. Her daughter writhed around on the bed, big eyes searching, hands reaching, restless, perhaps ten or eleven.
I said hello, the daughter said nothing in response.
The Mother signalled to me that her daughter couldn’t speak. I knelt by the bed and tried to get a little eye contact with the little girl. A glance.
I started to strum gently on the ukelele. The girl reached out to touch the instrument, calmer. As her fingers caressed the wood and the strings, she looked at me. Her body stilled. I gently placed the ukelele on the bed in front of her.
I created different chord patterns with my fingers whilst the little girl strummed, looking me straight in the eyes. As she heard the music she was creating a big smile filled her face. I began to sing.
She pushed my hand away from the ukelele so she could hold it by herself. She continued to strum, I continued to sing. The girl grinned.
Then she began to sing too. The mother cried.
The nurse couldn’t believe it.
Yesterday I worked in Addenbrookes with Dr. I Spy. We entered one room with two families in it, both nervous, both quiet. One family consisted of a baby, his brother and sister and their mum. The other family was a mum and her three year old son.
On entering the room, a game of hide and seek ensued with the brother and sister. Their giggles grew rapidly into bigger and bigger laughs. As helicopters flew and silly walks were invented, one side of the room was transformed.
On the other side, the mum with her son watched shyly. Dr I Spy moved across to the pushchair and gently started to connect with the mum and her son. I joined them. The mum seemed surprised that we were paying her son any attention because of his disabilities, his head rocked from side to side, his eyes roamed around the room unable to focus on any one thing.
As I strummed the strings of my ukelele and me and Dr I Spy sang the little boys name, his whole body relaxed and he looked at us. A smile slowly filled his face. Tears welled up in his mum’s eyes as the eight year old brother from the other family came across to join in the song.
We sang goodbye and danced out of the room leaving the two families enthusiastically waving together joined in song.
Today Dr. Gee Hee and I were visiting the Royal Marsden. In a bay with four beds we met a six year old boy who introduced himself with an almighty laugh as Batman, we blew a bubble between us as a little girl watched mesmerised. He asked if he could play my ukelele. I handed it to him. Dr Gee Hee got out her tambourine and I got out my shaky egg. The boy gazed out of the window and started to strum the strings. He sang a melancholy heart felt song about a farmer called Macdonald who didn’t like his next door neighbour. Then a song about a duck who couldn’t lay eggs, then one about becoming a rock star and one about a tortoise who walked so so slow. Each song he improvised and Dr Gee Hee and I listened in awe and wonder. As he began his fourth song, his mum returned, having nipped out for a coffee and missed the entire concert. As she bustled and cleaned around the bed, she listened to the song he was currently improvising, she looked at us amazed. She told us that he had never played the ukelele before and she had never heard him create stories and sing songs like this. Mum thanked us for uncovering this incredible talent in her son. Batman was very happy, Mum was very proud, Dr Gee Hee and I were overwhelmed by the magic we had just experienced.