What propels each of our clowns to do the work they do are the special moments when they connect person-to-person in the hospitals. That connection can take the form of a quiet moment with an ill child, a hilarious moment with a teen who initially thought he was too old for a clown visit, a heartfelt moment encouraging a parent whose courage needs bolstering, or a time when a staff member enlists the help of the clown to distract a child during a difficult procedure. Here are a few examples of some of these meaningful moments of Hearts & Noses Clowns in Action.
An intellectually disabled teen sat in his wheelchair in the pre-op waiting area. He was signing to his mother that he was hungry. She said over and over while caressing his face, “Later Mikey, later.” The clown peeked into the doorway and smiled at the mom. The clown took out her small music box and slowly turned the handle. A lilting song filled the room and the hungry child lifted his head and smiled. Mom said, “He loves music.”
The clown was welcomed into the waiting area and she shared her shaky egg so the child could join in the music and he laughed when the clown danced.
Tic Toc was waiting for her partner in the lobby where a family with a 6-year-old, an infant and a 3-year-old girl were also waiting. The father asked Tic Toc if she was one of those ‘creepy clowns’. Being a simple clown she shrugged her shoulders in an ‘I don’t know’ way. She then took out a small hand-mirror and gestured to the man that she would check. She made a face and looked into the mirror. Shocked she looked up and shook her head yes, she was indeed a creepy clown. Poor Tic Toc sat down in a chair, lip quivering and head in hands. How terrible to find you are a creepy clown. The 3-year-old girl left her family, walking across the lobby and stopped in front of the sad clown. She gently took the clowns face into her hands and said, “Don’t cry, you’re a good clown and I love you.” Slowly the clown’s face lit up, a smile replaced the frown and she replied, “I love you too. Thank you.”
In the pre-op waiting room, you often find anxious children and parents. Fifteen year old Jenny was signing for breakfast. Being developmentally delayed makes waiting for surgery even more difficult. Mom was trying to comfort a hungry, scared child and even her iPad, full of Jenny’s favorite music, was only helping for a moment or two. Tic Toc joined in the music softly with her kazoo. Jenny’s head shot up and she smiled. Twenty-five minutes and many songs about Jenny later, they were off to the pre-op area with Jenny smiling, riding the biggest float in the parade. There she had her first try at a rocking chair and was able to rock herself (Mom said it was a huge new ability). With Tic Toc placed at her knee in a teeny tiny chair it was more music until doctor time.
A nurse takes us aside and says that this 7-year-old boy had just lost his sight. He is incredibly depressed. “Could you try to cheer him up?” About 4 doctors and 6 nurses are looking on, wondering what will happen. We approach his bed. He is on his side, curled up in a ball, with his eyes open. I say in my clown voice, “I am a clown. Can I play my harmonica for you?” “No,” he very softly says. “Can we sing a song for you?” “No.” I ask, “What is your favorite food?” “Chocolate pudding” he says. “Oh, would you like a story about chocolate pudding?” “Yes.” So my partner and I make up a silly story about chocolate pudding and taking a bath in it with all of his friends. We trade off silliness about his favorite food and he smiles! His parents and relatives are laughing and laughing. I still see his sweet little face!
A nurse takes us aside and says, “I really trust you. You are so wonderful. I must tell you this. This young man tried to kill himself. I don’t know that he will want clowns, but try anyway.” We gently approach the bed asking permission to come into his space. He smiles. Within about 10 seconds he is laughing and laughing. His mom is by his bed and she is smiling, too . We sing, do poetry, and other silly clown antics. After about 15 minutes, we leave and his mom looks at us and says softly, “Thank you for getting him to smile.” This mom’s gift to me is worth a million dollars!
I poke my head around the corner of the door and see the sad, serious face of a 16-year-old man. He sees me. I oohhed and ahhhed- “You look like a movie star.” And he DOES! A huge grin spreads from ear to ear on his face. “Would you like a clown visit?” A huge nod- yes. We do dumb magic. He gives us the thumbs up. We ask if we wants us to sing him a song. Thumbs up. We bow. He gives us two thumbs up. He laughs and seems SO happy. And then, I realize, he does not speak. We play and play, and as we leave his room, the face that had been sad when we first entered is sparkling with joy .
A baby is crying and crying in the PICU. “Oh, calm him down,” the nurse begs us. A little 6-month-old is swinging in the swing-o-matic crying and crying. I pull up a chair so I can be on his level, take out my bunny ballerina, put my harmonica in my mouth and play very softly as my puppet very, very slowly dances. The baby stops crying and looks hypnotized and entranced.
A 15-year-old young woman looks at us with HUGE skepticism as she gives us permission to enter her room. “She thinks clowns are weird,” her mom says. The girl asks, “Are you weird?” I squeak, “Are we weird? We are hospital clowns. Would you like a clown manicure?” I ask and put a sticker on my own stubby nail to calm her fears of having anything weird visit her. She laughs and laughs and says, “Oh YES. I would LOVE a clown manicure.” She is SO excited. Then we sing (pretty badly) and she beamed with delight! Her mom asks if we are ministry clowns and where we got our training. I couldn’t really answer since I didn’t want to break the spell of her daughter being in clown world. Her daughter says, “MOM, don’t ask questions.” Yes, she has truly entered clown land and loves it!
A teenage girl has a breathing tube which makes it difficult for her to speak. She is on precautions so we gown up. Meanwhile, the physical therapist is desperately trying to get her to move her legs over to the side of the bed and to sit up. The girl is very stubborn and refuses. We begin by singing a song with her name in it. Then, we move on to noses. I press my partner’s nose several times while he sticks out his tongue. Then, when he presses my nose, I blurt out names of food like pizza, French fries, hamburger. A little more of a smile and eye contact. We then ask her what her favorite food is – hot dogs – and we begin to sing numerous songs and substitute ‘hot dog’ for many of the words. ‘Somewhere over the ‘hot dog’, ‘ Take me out to the ‘hot dog’, ‘Puff the magic hot dog’. She is laughing, pointing at our ridiculousness, covering her face with dismay at our stupidity. We begin singing about sitting up and getting her ‘hot dog’ legs over the bed. Our interaction is so lively that by the time we leave, she is doing exactly what the nurse needs her to do. How incredible that is!
Clowning with a 10 year old boy in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit – he is lying in bed, hooked up to many monitors, and very frail looking, when the clowns come to his bedside. He pulls himself up, with much effort, to see and interact with the clowns. I start to juggle – not very well. He asks for the balls to try. He is able to juggle. The smile that comes over his face lights up the room. The boy doesn’t want us to leave. It is an incredibly touching moment. A very sick boy is able to act like a boy in an environment that doesn’t lend itself to play.
We have the little girl playing with us clowns as marionettes. She pulls our strings. I really feel like we reach her and empower her to join our world, and help her forget her illness, forget where she is!
One girl at Franciscan’s just laughs and laughs, especially when we clowns try to dance ballet. She has a picture of herself as a ballerina on the door.