Home Featured Featured Articles Israeli Medical Clowns Prove Laughter is the Best Medicine

Israeli Medical Clowns Prove Laughter is the Best Medicine

Israeli Medical Clowns Prove Laughter is the Best Medicine
Photo by Shalev Shalom/TPS on 9 February, 2023
By Darice Bailer • 9 February, 2023

Jerusalem, 9 February, 2023 (TPS) — Dr. Amir Mendelson was speaking to a medical clown in the emergency room at Israel’s Meir Medical Center when the hospital clown with the big red foam nose suddenly said, “Stop!” The clown heard the sound of crying and headed off to help.

Medical clowns have what Mendelson called “elephant ears.”

“They have those senses to go where they’re needed,” the pediatric physician explained.

Even to places around the world where disaster strikes.

That’s why two medical clowns from Israel’s Dream Doctors Project packed their bright-colored socks and clown shoes to join an Israeli humanitarian aid team to treat Turks injured in Monday’s earthquake. At the last-minute, the clowns were held back because the delegation had already reached the maximum number of people who could be taken.

Dream Doctors is a non-profit organization based in Tel Aviv with 105 medical clowns working in 34 Israeli hospitals to improve patient care and well-being. It has dispatched clowns to numerous disaster areas, including Nepal, Haiti, Uganda, Ethiopia, Chad, and even the city of Houston following Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The clowns still plan to head to Turkey as soon as they can.

Two other clowns are due to leave for Moldova on Feb. 19 to cheer up Ukrainian refugee children. The pair will also train teachers and aid workers there in the finer points of medical clowning. Last year, a Tel Aviv University-led study identified 40 different skills used by medical clowns which have therapeutic benefits beyond entertaining patients and making them laugh. The study, which was partially funded by Dream Doctors, was published in the peer-reviewed Qualitative Health Research in November.

Bonding With Patients

The clowns work hard to connect with patients, a skill called anchoring, or bonding. With their red noses, warm smiles and caring eyes, clowns listen and show that they see patients’ physical or emotional pain and want to relieve it. They’re a patient’s ally. Advocate. Friend.

Clowns may do silly, crazy things like blow up long hotdog-shaped balloon for sword fights with a child. They also help patients’ feelings and voices be heard. Medical clowns might repeat a patient’s words – that a physical therapy exercise is torture. “Absolute torture!” They’ll vent a patient’s frustrations and humorously protest on their behalf.

But, a few seconds later, they will wittily help motivate the patient to finish the exercise quickly or make it part of a fun game.

Medical clowns blow bubbles, strum a guitar, sing or play a harmonica to calm patients down, distracting them from pain or fear. A doctor or nurse will stand on one side of a child and the clown on the other as cuts are sutured or blood is drawn. Everyone smiles. No one cries. They are beside the children as they’re wheeled into surgery too.

Nimrod Eisenberg is an actor, a juggler, and a long-time professional clown at Dream Doctors. He’s also head of professional development at the organization.

Medical clowns are not there to be interesting, but to be interested, Eisenberg said. “That’s the art of clowning.” The clowns come to watch the audience and listen. “We try different things, throwing things in the air, and seeing what catches on in this moment, with this particular set of people. We play and we see what works.”

Clowns, or Angels?

Doctors and nurses know how to heal the body, but clowns are the artists who reduce anxiety and distress among children, adolescents and their parents. As one mother said, “They give me some degree of peace so I can relax for five minutes without being tense all the time knowing my daughter is okay and calm.”

Dr. Mendelson calls the medical clowns angels. He first understood how a smile can change a traumatic situation when he worked in ambulance care at the scene of a terrible bus accident. The bus rolled over, 17 people were killed, many were badly wounded, and he accompanied a girl who was conscious but in “a horrible medical situation” in the ambulance to the hospital.

“During that time, I don’t remember the words I said, but I made her laugh,” Dr. Mendelson recalled. “She was lying on the bed and I was sitting next to her and she held my hand and she told me, `Listen. It’s painful when I’m laughing but it’s good, so continue.’”

“And I think that was the point that I realized the importance of seeing the bigger picture, realizing that what we’re doing is not only finding the right medication or the right dosage for each and every patient, but seeing the bigger picture,” Mendelson said. “That’s what medical clowns are doing on a daily basis. They find a way to make a patient smile.”


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