Today the Australian Clown Doctor community say farewell to our beloved leader, ever-smiling, humble, generous, warm hearted Peter Spitzer, the son of Czech Holocaust survivors who became a doctor then started The Humour Foundation charity in Australia. In 1996 I remember sitting in the gym of a sweaty police boys club in Erskineville with a handful of other fools while Peter explained what a Clown Doctor program could look like. Peter’s vision made our work a reality. Over the years I had the privilege of working with Peter at Sydney Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Royal North Shore Hospital, as well as sharing meals at our conferences and hours doing workshops and training where he taught us more ways to help those suffering. We were always inspired by his love for all the fabulous families we are lucky enough to meet in our hospital Clown rounds. Peter Spitzer approached all human life forms with an open heart, eager to learn their stories, connecting with everyone, young and old, whether the head of the hospital or a small kid in need of some distraction. He had the sharp mind of an eager scientist, always enthusiastically sharing his findings with us, always looking for ways to better our work.
My years as a Clown Doctor were punctuated by visits to Peter’s house after the Bowral Ball, where he worked his magic and made people laugh, while the lovely locals raised money to continue our programs. I treasure the memories of staying over at Peter’s house afterwards, and grand breakfasts with Peter and his darling wife Judy as we discussed our work and new ways to fundraise with his beautiful band of supporters. Later I was lucky enough to work with Peter on the pilot Elder Clown program, where Peter shared his passion for making life better for adults living with dementia.
Dear Doctor Fruit-Loop (see I didn’t forget the hyphen) you gave us a purpose for our work. You never grew tired of seeing the joy on a sick child’s face. You gave our performing lives so much meaning, we weren’t there to show off, we were there to empower sick children and frail elderly people. It is always about them, not us. Clown Doctoring is not a job, it is a calling, and you showed us the way. We are so sad you have left us but we vow to continue your work, we want you to be proud of us. Adios Doctor Fruit-Loop, I will think of you and the twinkle in your eyes when I carry far too many props in my coat, whenever I see a rubber chicken, or see a child’s face change from fear to laughter. I’m so glad I told you how much we all loved you the last time i saw you. I have a job and a life of meaning thanks to you. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us, you have left a magnificent legacy.
One month from today on Sunday August 10 I will be walking 14 kilometres from the city of Sydney to Bondi beach in my best Calvin Clown tracksuit to raise money for Clown Doctors Australia. The Clown Doctors treat sick children in hospital with smiles, fun and laughter when they need it most. We touch the lives of over 155,000 people a year, and ‘operate’ in partnership with 21 hospitals around Australia. The entire hospital community benefits – patients, family and staff. The Humour Foundation provides this service free of charge to hospitals. The work of the Clown Doctors is extremely important and the healing power of humour has been recognised in many studies. Everyone knows that “Laughter is the best medicine,” and research has found physiological and psychological benefits to patients. The outcome of making a child smile at a very difficult time is instant, but one that can have a long lasting effect for both the child and their family. Having an intervention which is able to provide humour and improve health can often be a strong coping technique for a sick kid. I love my job and I love talking and walking so I’d better start bulking up on my carbs (do donuts count?), I need to be ‘match fit’ in one month.
You can donate here: https://city2surf2014.everydayhero.com/au/drquack
I’m walking (not running) 14 kilometres in the City to Surf race from Sydney city to Bondi beach on Sunday August 11th dressed as Clown Doctor Quack to raise funds for The Humour Foundation so we can continue our work in 21 children’s hospitals across Australia bringing joy and giggles to very sick kids.
“Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.” Frida Kahlo
I don’t use my blog to make money, but if you want to donate to my cause, please click the link below.
I read this in Julie Burchill’s column (Times Online before the pay wall!).
“Therapy just makes you think pointlessly and start to analyse, and before you know it, you need therapy to help you get over therapy, like a really bad holiday. Working voluntarily with people in a less fortunate position is uplifting and fulfilling, and you come home with a sense of achievement rather than a hole in your bank account and/or feeling sorry for yourself. Therapy culture has brainwashed us into thinking we need help, when if we got off our arses and helped others, we would be helping ourselves, too.”
I know some great therapists who’ve helped a lot of people but she’s right about getting off our arses. There comes a point where you have to build a bridge and get over yourself and doing volunteer work is a shortcut to feeling grateful for life’s blessings. Here endeth the lesson.
J’aimerais qu’on oublie leur couleur pour qu’ils esperent
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.