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Showing that laughter’s the best medicine
By Yang Meiping

YOUNG patients at the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center were cheered up yesterday by two clowns from Israel who performed magic and played games with them.

However, these are not your ordinary circus clowns, but medical clowns who work alongside hospital staff through treatment procedures in Israeli hospitals.

Nir Raz and Sarhan Mahamid were invited by the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai to promote the concept of clowning therapy by interacting with kids in three children’s hospitals in the city and provide training on interaction skills for local medical staff during their stay through Friday.

Yesterday, their comic routine — involving playing the roles of a doctor and a dog — brought laughter around the SCMC, including the lobby, outpatient departments, wards and surgery unit.

While some shy kids peered at the clowns from behind their parents, others lined up to get balloon animals from them and jumped to catch the soap bubbles the duo were blowing.

“I’ve never seen such ‘doctors’ in hospital. They’re funny and make the hospital less scary for children,” said the mother of a little girl admitted with a fever and severe cough.

“My daughter was a little shocked at first, but she was quickly won over by the clowns.”

A Japanese boy who had been hospitalized for one week in the medical center said he was delighted to see the clowns as life was boring in the ward.

“It would be great to see them every day,” said the boy, aged around 10 years old, who received a balloon dog.


Deeply impressed

Administrative and medical staff in the hospital were also impressed by the pair’s capers.

“I’d seen medical clowns in an American hospital 10 years ago when I was an intern there. I was deeply impressed by the scene that saw almost all the children smile when they met the clowns, including those who had been crying while getting injections. So I’m happy to see Mr Raz and Mr Mahamid in our hospital, bringing us the concept of humorous and happy therapy,” said Jiang Fan, Party chief of the SCMC.

“I hope the children’s hospitals in China will have their own medical clowns soon in the future,” she added.

The medical clowns will hold workshops with hospital staff today to share their experiences of clowning therapy, especially the skills of communicating with kids, and teach them some magic tricks and games.

They will visit the Children’s Hospital of Fudan University and Shanghai Children’s Hospital tomorrow and Thursday.

Medical clowning is a field in medicine which places an emphasis on humor to improve patients’ stays in hospital.

The first medical clowns began work in New York’s hospitals in 1986. At first, doctors were hostile, accusing the clowns of disrupting their work and dismissing them a media hype.

Different from circus

However, they became more accepted in the following decades and many hospitals in Western countries now have medical clowns working and serving as regular staff.

Medical clowns are definitely different from the circus variety, said Raz, who has worked in the job for four years.

They use different magic tricks, acting, masks, accessories, musical communication and imagination to take care of patients’ emotional, mental and social needs.

They aim to distract patients from medical concerns and help them adjust to the new hospital environment, as well as reducing tension among patients and their families and medical staff, said Raz.

“For example, during blood tests, we play with children so they don’t cry. Then their parents don’t feel bad and doctors can do their job in a more relaxing way. So everybody feels good,” he said.

And speaking the “language of play” makes children less uneasy about their health conditions, said Raz.

“For us, language is to speak, but for children, their language is to play,” said Raz.

“Doctors take care of their patients’ bodies, we are taking care of their souls,” he added.

“Besides talent and training, it is also important to be optimistic, positive and ready to help others,” said Raz.

Though 80 percent of the medical clowns in Israel are for children, some of them began working with adults, such as Mahamid, who has been a clown in hospitals for 15 years.

Several tests have proved that humor has some real medical contributions, said Mahamid.

“It reduces the pain by creating endorphins in the brain, supports the immune system by increasing white blood cells and in general increases the chances of the patient healing and accelerates it,” he said.

But working in hospitals, they inevitably also have to deal with upsetting situations.

“Sometimes, a kid we’ve worked with for several months passes away. We’ll be really sad and recall our moments together,” said Mahamid.

But both Raz and Mahamid are determined to keep clowning around to help kids.

“After work, I feel full of energy and happiness,” said Raz.

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