It’s the start of the silly season and even in the hospitals I work in with really sick kids we love to celebrate at this time of year with a party or three. We visit children who become really sad when the medical staff tell them they won’t be going home for the holidays. They’re far from family and friends and need a lift. We’re often by their bedsides with Santa, TV celebrities, sports stars and various super heroes trying to divert and distract them with songs and giggles and presents. I will never tire of making kids laugh with smiles and silliness. Every time I see a child’s sad face light up my heart sings. I am so lucky to meet these marvellous families, doing my job is a privilege that I don’t take for granted.
Today is Smile Day, a national Clown Doctor celebration day; also known as April Fool’s Day. My colleagues and I are very silly every day but today we invite normal people to join us in commemorating this special occasion. It is very important that you take your whoopee cushion to work and tell your friends a fart joke on April 1st. The word silly is derived from the German selig, meaning “blessed“. “Blessed” went from “blessed fool” to simply “fool” later in English. When someone tells me I’m a fool, I take it as a compliment. My funny, warm hearted Sydney Clown Doctor team workmates never fail to make me laugh; I love Dr Dotty, Dr P. Brain, Dr Have A Chat, Dr Dingbat, Dr Tickle Me Please, Dr Know-It-All, Dr I.M. Crackers, Dr Sniggles, Dr Fruit-Loop, Dr Silly Billy, Dr Colourfool, Dr Paperwork, Dr B. Looney, Dr Tickle and Dr Nick Nack.
Today is our 15th anniversary! On 29 January 1997 Clown Doctors started working at Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick, Sydney. The Humour Foundation now have 55 Clown Doctors working in 20 hospitals around Australia. Happy Birthday to us! Congratulations to Leonie Leonard, Dr B. Looney, Dr Fruit-Loop, Dr Sniggles and Dr Nutcase, everyone at HF and all the other wonderful Australian Clown Doctors past and present spreading joy to families in times of immense stress. Sometimes we meet people on the worst day of their lives and we try to find a way to bring the sunshine out again. When I think of our work I am reminded of the Maya Angelou quote, “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
When I tell people I am a clown doctor some people say “A what?” and others “Oh, that is wonderful, but it must be so hard.” My job is not hard. Being the mother sitting by the bedside of your child in intensive care, praying to God to give you back the child you had before the accident, before the cancer, before the diagnosis, that is hard. My job is fun. I see the beauty of humanity every time I go to work, the caring, the love and the laughter. How many people can say that about their job?
When we go into a hospital ward we take our advice from the nurses. Then we take our cue from the patient. We introduce play into the serious hospital setting. I love working with kids. Kids are already in play mode, they know how to do it, but most adults have forgotten how to be silly. Us adults take ourselves very seriously, but kids know how to laugh and use your imagination to take you to a place where there is no pain, even for five minutes.
At work the nursing staff, the doctors and my colleagues and I are in people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable. Sometimes it’s the worst day of a family’s life. Our work is not about making fun of people, it’s about sharing the joke. Clown Doctors are usually the butt of the joke. Humour is a loaded gun; we find it’s more effective if you aim it at yourself. Like the medical staff we also believe there is nothing wrong with leaving your patients in stitches.
Here are some beautiful photos of me and my gorgeous colleague Dr Silly Billy at work at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (in western Sydney) by Cameron Richardson of The Daily Telegraph Sydney.