Wednesday, April 28th 2021
It’s no wonder I never managed to post about my first day back in person after a pandemic year of performing remotely; it’s the end of my second day back now and I’m pretty wiped.
Today it’s my job to bring the iPad around to patients in the hospital; targeted patients by staff request, one unit at a time. It is a miracle we’re still able to create meaningful connections -and even laughter- over Zoom. Patients’ faces are often behind masks, the view of them is often backlit and hard or even impossible to see, the facilitator (eg: me) is generally there awkwardly holding the iPad in whatever position, and everything is so ubiquitously 2-dimensional and tiny in those little rectangles on the screen. But on the other end of that screen are two trained professional goofballl hospital clowns whose job it is to divine imagination, creation and laughter in that environment; like water in a desert.
Setting foot in Boston Children’s Hospital these days does not have the same magical appeal it used to. It *feels* like a hospital; drab, colorless, downtrodden, ugh. Never in my life have I felt our skills as performers are more needed than now and here.
Add to that the epidemic’s epidemic of kids onboarding because of what is euphamistically called “Behavioral” reasons. That means depression, aggression towards others, self-harm, suicide attempts, victims of domestic abuse and all manner of heartbreak. The Covid-19 has wrecked exponential havoc in the personal lives and healthy development of our KIDS.
In come the clowns and we connect with these absolutely gorgeous, vibrant, beautiful young souls in these conditions; it’s already a tightwire act going into any hospital room because there are always precautions and issues to consider and/or avoid in the first place. Add to that the concept that these kids want to harm themselves, or are surviving gross neglect or harm at the hands of others. It’s a mental juggling act. Our job is of course to conjure creativity around and above the fray, find the actual child inside and entice them to play, be silly, be boss, or whatever else the improvisation may unveil.
Today I will share two visits.
One is a tweenage child (the exact age of my healthy child…) sitting on the floor between an indifferent parent and a hospital-appointed, professional minder. With few words and no smile, the child climbs up onto the bed to abide our visit. They engage and agree and participate with our clowns as they help assess dumb jokes, imagine what kind of mural they should paint on Doc Skeeter’s shed (a dog peeing on a tree…) and prompt a spontaneous fashion show. Sadly the parent sits idle the whole time staring at their phone, ignoring us and their child as if nothing is happening whatsoever. All I can do is give thanks that for those 12 minutes or so we are able to engage this gorgeous child’s imagination and treat them as the important, wonderful and worthy young human being they are. And hope that some outcome can be found involving no more suicide attempts.
On the other hand, here we are later on in the Emergency Department. Yet another young child here for self-harm, depression and “increased aggression.” This time with a bright-eyed mom and a shell-shocked dad. Well, this visit is this kind I almost don’t like to take any credit for because it feels like we hardly did anything but show up. Kiddo is eager for action, ready to PLAY, and deserves all the credit for their successful visit to the point of making OUR day better. Jokes, silliness, hysterical laughter, and also taking control of the iPad in order to “shake” the clowns. Dr. Bucket Buster and Doc Skeeter may have gotten a bigger workout than they intended, flailing around within their Zoom squares as the child manipulates them by turning and shaking the iPad in every direction. I may have left them in that predicament longer than necessary, but when a patient has taken control of the visit, is forgetting everything but abject hilarity… we are absolutely going to lean into the boundaries of how long we can keep that going.