Thursday, 21 January 2016

J is for Joking Around in Hospital

Mention the word “hospital” to a child and chances are thoughts of fun won’t spring to mind. This is with good reason. Infants, children and teenagers in hospital or facing repeated hospital stays understand about pain and fearfulness. Sick children see hospital differently from adults. Children’s thoughts about hospital also differ depending on their age. Young children may want more than anything to have their family close and sometimes this isn’t possible. They also want lots of play and toys. School children often have many questions and need answers about what is happening. Adolescents value privacy and social and educational spaces. Young patients surveyed in a recent report Admitted children and young patients survey results 2014 indicated there was room for improvement in what is available to do in hospital (more books, games, toys).

Hospital, a friendly and healing environment?
For children and young people the hospital environment is not just about clinical care. Human needs count. An interactive, engaging and aesthetically pleasing environment and a friendly, caring welcome from the hospital community is important. Children find ways to connect with their environment, such as creating a personal bedside with pictures, photos, decorations and cards.  Children’s hospitals make their environments more child-friendly through bright colour, plants, toys, artworks, arts and craft, books, a visit to the hospital playroom, games room, multi-sensory room, healing garden, natural space or playground. Child-friendly places where family can gather, play and be together make all the difference.

Children and young people’s social and emotional needs
One study looked at the views of young children and found that children between five and seven years like “funny”, “friendly” and “happy” doctors and nurses. Being in hospital and a strange environment is challenging, particularly when children aren’t prepared for the experience.

Clown Doctors
How can “joking around” help children in hospital? Clown Doctors™ are amongst the people in hospital who help kids cope. If you have met one you will know they simply ooze fun. Their tools include a “goody bag” of gags and a fine appreciation for quirky antics and silliness. Perhaps Clown Doctors are the antithesis of all things serious in hospital but they do play a serious role. Clown Doctors take therapeutic play and art forms, such as drama, music and song, jokes and gags to hospital bedsides, emergency, preoperative rooms, wards, playrooms and other hospital spaces.

Clown Doctors understand about the feelings of sick children, their families and health professionals who they meet. Sick children have a changed body image and find themselves in a passive patient role. Clown Doctors turn things upside down using humour. The Clown Doctor, has a white doctor’s coat, with bright collar, maybe a tie and “medical equipment” but that’s where the resemblance stops. The rest is very much “clown”.

 Clown Doctors dose sick children in hospital with fun and laughter!

Clown Doctors unique dress mode suits their unique task. Using a toolbox of skills and understandings, they modify and interpret play and activities to fit with a child and family’s needs and responses. Clown Doctors help reduce anxiety and emotional responses in preoperative rooms where children and parents wait before minor operations. In some hospitals, Clown Doctors work in Emergency helping children by distracting them during painful procedures. The positive impact lasts beyond their interaction. Clown Doctors bring joy to children with serious illness, who experience extended and repeated hospital stays. Children are transported out of the medical, into the magical with humour and laughter.

Who is joking around now?
A sick child may swap roles and “become” the doctor who practises with medical play. This contrast leads a child into a stronger place. With the positive benefits of laughter children relax, have reduced muscle tension and pain and stress are taken away.  They cope with sad and hurt feelings and feel good and in control. Clown Doctors also bring humour and laughter to parents, siblings and carers as well as healthcare professionals. Happier and less anxious families and health professionals journey with children towards better health.

Clown Doctors™ is run by the Humour Foundation and does not receive government or hospital funding. They rely on community support to fund programs, visit their website to find out more.

Thank you Clown Doctors™ for contributing photographs.

Jillian Rattray
AWCH librarian
January 2016