04 Apr Using laughter to find happiness under even the most adverse of circumstances
By © LOU POLLARD and THE HUMOUR FOUNDATION 2011
In the hospital burns ward Dr Quack and Dr P. Brain were asked by a nurse to visit a small patient who had been in hospital for a month and was very depressed. We walked in to meet a sad little boy aged around five, with his dad sitting by his bedside looking desperate. The boy was swathed in bandages, he looked a little grey and he could barely lift his head off the pillow. We stood near his bed and softly sang and mimed the actions to “I’m A Little Teapot.” He gave us a weak smile. So Dr Quack started singing her favourite song, ”Twinkle Twinkle little garbage bin,” and his scratchy little voice said, “No, that’s not the words.” So we sang “Twinkle, twinkle little dragonfly…” As he let out a small giggle, his dad’s face lit up. “No!” His hoarse, tired voice cried out, “No, you are silly!” He sang the whole song with all the ‘right’ words along with us and as we were finishing I glanced over at his dad to see him weeping tears of joy. We waved goodbye and walked out.
“Was that him singing?” said a nurse.
“Yes, what a beautiful voice,” we said.
“He hasn’t spoken to us for weeks, he’s been too weak. I can’t believe you got him to sing. Thank you,” she said as she shook her head in amazement.
When we walk onto a ward we take our advice from the nurses, then we take our cue from the patient. Clown Doctors* always ask children’s permission, either verbally or non-verbally, to enter their room or bedside space, thus returning some control to the child.
We introduce play into the serious hospital setting. Kids are open to this but most adults have forgotten how to be silly. Even if we arrive at work in a bad mood, one cheeky child can quickly take us into the world of play. Children laugh a lot every day; we adults take ourselves so seriously we need to be reminded to look at the funny side of life.
Clown Doctors are in people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable; they’re far from family and friends. Our work is not about making fun of people it’s about sharing a gag. We 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 nurses we believe there is nothing wrong with leaving our patients in stitches.
Clown Doctors brighten the lives of very sick children and elderly patients. We parody the hospital routine to help children adapt to hospital life, improvising and working with each child’s interests. Adults benefit from Clown Doctors as much as children. Caring clowning speaks the language of the heart and brings a sense of connection and consolation, with people frequently sharing their feelings.
International research has found that laughter has both physiological and psychological benefits. Doses of humour help relieve fear and stress and help recovery. T cells and serum cortisol levels are lowered, thus boosting the immune system. Muscles are relaxed and the cardiovascular system and respiratory system benefit. It is possible that endorphins reduce pain.
We believe there is truth in the old saying ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ Our team of Clown Doctors spend hours each week helping children and adults in hospitals across Australia laugh and have fun. We think there must be something to it.
* Clown Doctors™ are provided by The Humour Foundation free of charge to 20 hospitals around Australia.
PS: What lessons can you take from this to bring more laughter and happiness to your life…at home and at work? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page