When you’re sick and in the hospital, it takes a lot to make you smile. For kids with life-threatening diseases, staring at the same four hospital walls day in, day out can lead to depression and increased anxiety. That’s why so many hospitals around the world have employed an unusual tactic to alleviate the boredom of being in the hospital: clowns.
Clown doctors aren’t really medical doctors, but don’t tell the kids! These professional clowns dress up in bright, colorful clothing, white clown makeup, wigs, and of course, a big red nose that goes “honk” when you squeeze it. Their mission is to administer laughter, the world’s best medicine, to lift spirits and encourage a positive attitude.
At the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, there are 9 clown doctors regularly making rounds to visit children. The program is funded by a charitable organization called The Humour Foundation, which is “dedicated to promoting and delivering the health benefits of humour.”
“These professionally trained performers help calm distressed children in the Emergency Department, provide a distraction for children who are undergoing painful or uncomfortable procedures, or simply turn a frown upside down.”
Millie is one patient who has benefited from the Clown Doctor program at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Millie, was born three months prematurely, and was diagnosed with Down syndrome after birth. Just before her third birthday, the sweet little girl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Millie’s mother Kate explained:
“As you can imagine, she spends a lot of time in hospital having lots of tests, procedures, and chemotherapy. Her cancer treatment is expected to be ongoing for two to three years in total. Despite the seriousness illness that she faces, Millie’s experiences at the hospital have been positive and she looks forward to her frequent hospital visits, which of course makes the whole journey easier on her, as well as our whole family.”
Millie spent years getting treatment for her cancer, and the clown doctors never failed to make her smile whenever they popped into her hospital room.
“We never know when the Clown Doctors may appear – whether it’s during a blood test, when she’s admitted to the ward, or even when we’re pacing the hallway to calm her down after a distressing procedure – and immediately things become okay again. For that moment in time it’s all about fun, songs, jokes and bubbles, and will usually set the mood for the rest of the day.”
“Her two older brothers love seeing the Clown Doctors just as much as Millie does – and it’s pretty good therapy for us parents too! We thank you for being there during the tough times and helping to keep our little girl smiling. We consider the Clown Doctors part of Millie’s team, because laughter really is the best medicine.”
The “laughter is the best medicine” theory is actually one that’s steeped in fact. According to Dr. Peter Spitzer, the medical doctor who co-founded The Humour Foundation:
“Plenty of studies have shown that laughter can combat many common ills. For instance, research suggests that humour may lower blood pressure and release endorphins. Laughter is also proven to improve circulation, stimulate the nervous system, heighten the immune system and make the heart stronger.”
What a creative approach to medicine! This is a great example of how some medical communities truly treat the whole person, and not just their disease or condition.
Watch “Dr. Achoo” play his ukulele for Millie in the video below, and be sure to share this wonderful moment of hope and humor.