In February 2007, I was having a breakfast with friends, and it was time to pay at cashier. Suddenly, I noticed a box for donations and written on it was “Medical Clowns by theodora.org.”
I was curious to learn more about Theodora and started to check about it online. I first saw the following motto: “Magical moments for our children in hospital.”
Such a powerful slogan!! How could I be part of it? How could I provide people in hospital with an unforgettable, magical memory?
I contacted them directly via email by mentioning my experience with kids between the ages of 4 to 18 (involved preparing and running activities for them), my hospital volunteering in Israel (Shaarey Tsedek in Jerusalem) , volunteering in an old age home for years, and so on. I got the response that they receive many applications, and that I could only apply in 2 years from then. At least I tried.
After I moved to Israel, my new friends told me that I must study Drama Comedy because I showed big potential in acting
I studied for 1 year in Anat Barzilay’s school (http://www.dramacomedy.co.il/). It was very challenging since the course was in Hebrew, but I was lucky that it was a very fun group, and I enjoyed the year very much. At the end of the year, we performed the sketches of HaGashashim (the Trackers). They are considered a classic of Israeli entertainment and the most influential comedy act in the history of Israel.
It was a lovely year and a great experience, but I understood that I didn’t want to be on the stage, I wanted to be on the same level with people, and I wanted to include a more personal touch. Suddenly, I remembered my interest in being a medical clown, and I started to search if it existed in Israel.
I found that at Haifa University, there is a program for medical clowning studies, but location-wise, it was too far for me. Then, I heard about Seminar Hakibutzim that they have medical clown studies. Seminar Hakibutzim’s requirements matched mine for the most part, and I applied for the program.
After 1 year of studying, I completed the program. It was an amazing experience. We learned different techniques, and that you can’t have a real agenda for each day in hospital. For every person, something different might work or not, and that’s why most of the time, medical clowning is completely improvisational.
In addition, we had guests from hospitals that taught at a high level about some rules in hospitals and some useful medical knowledge. I was impressed when meeting the head of the Pain Department in one hospital. She explained that there are different levels of pain and different ways of expressing it in different ages of patients. It helped me a lot to see and understand the pain from the perspective of a sick person, how they express their pain. It prepares you to the point how to handle with it.
Towards the end of the course, we were at Namal Tel Aviv with the whole student group and experienced what it was like to be a medical clown outside of the classroom. We started to practice what we’d learned by interacting with people in the port (not necessarily with sick people). It helped a lot to see what works and what doesn’t work for different people; it wasn’t just theory anymore.
In addition, in the last semester of my studies, I did an internship at the Health Center for Children in Ramat Aviv, and I had the chance to practice what I studied. I had interesting memories from this experience such as: Meeting a girl who was in a throat culture check, and I tried to talk her and asked her if she had siblings. She said no, with an unhappy face. Her mom told me that she can`t bring more kids to the world, and there was a 5 sec silence during which I felt that I couldn’t breathe because of the shock. But then I had to find a solution. I thought to myself: I am a medical clown; I can’t be emotional or sensitive about this. So, I started to scream excitedly: “How nice! You’re such a lucky girl! You are the queen of your home!! Can I be your sister?” Then I saw a smile on her face. (I learned that sometimes, as a medical clown, it is better not to talk much or ask questions, but instead to act.)
I started to contact many hospitals and health centers in the Center of Israel, but most of the places rejected my interest/request since they had already volunteers, and they were asking for a commitment to come on a weekly basis and in the middle of the day. Since I had a full time job, I couldn’t manage those requirements.
From the very beginning, it was more interesting for me to volunteer somewhere where people are not familiar with medical clowning and will therefore be more open and curious about me and what I am doing.
I also wanted to be a medical clown both for kids and adults, even though most of the time, people think about kids when they see a clown.
When I was working for NICE Systems, I was volunteering weekly in Tali School in Hod Hasharon and teaching to 5th and 6th graders how to be medical clowns. I taught them about what the difference is between a clown and medical clown, and why this is important, that it’s not only about being funny, what the impact of it is, etc. I created a lot of activities for them, and at the end of the year, we had a successful visit at a center for autistic children and used all the tools and ideas we learned during the year.
After I completed my volunteering in Tali School, I started to volunteer on a weekly basis in Netka Clalit Health Services in Tel Aviv, thanks to my childhood friend, pediatrician Dr. Izi Mayer. At Netka, there is a division for both kids and adults. I like to volunteer in the blood test areas and during throat culture checks. My main goal is to change the focus of the kids. They come to there with a fear of pain; sometimes their previous experience wasn’t good, and they have trauma related to this. My goal is to make a connection with the child so that instead of looking at the needle, they look at me and what I am doing. Or when they don’t want to open their mouths for the throat culture because they are scared, I encourage by opening my mouth widely in front of them, encouraging them to do the same. And most of the time they open their mouths immediately!
I also aim to ease nurses’ and doctors’ jobs by helping them so that kids’ focuses will be on me. This allows them to do what they need to do what more easily. In some cases it works, and in some it doesn’t. Sometimes nurses/doctors don’t give me a chance to be with the kids since it forces them to lose concentration, or because they want the kids to focus only on them, which I respect.
I love being in a corridor and welcoming parents with kids or spending time with them when they need to wait for their turn. I spend time at the adults’ clinic too. Every time, they remind me where the kids’ section is, and I always respond to them they are also kids, only they are the bigger kids :), and they deserve attention too. Sometimes I chat with them, sometimes I sing with them, and sometimes I make them smile just with my look, and it is already a win in my book.
There is also a pharmacy inside where I always wait in the queue and talk to people and ask a treatment/medication for my red and big nose and crazy behavior. Every time, they recommend something to me, but nothing changes…
What does one day of my volunteering look like? What I do? Do I prepare anything?
I don’t do any preparation, I have tools and techniques to use and depends on my mood, depends on the crowd, I use them.
I sing, I dance; I sit on kids or people. I have a funny bag, which is full of accessories and percussion instruments, and each time, I use something else.
Sometimes parents see me from afar and directly say, “My kid is scared from clowns.” This prevents me, from the very beginning, from creating a relationship with the child, but generally, the kids is curious about what I do, who I am and so on. But it’s important that I respect the parents too.
Sometimes parents are my partners for an activity that I want to do. Kids love seeing that their parents are interacting with me, and they are excited and willing to be part of it too.
Making soap bubbles always works, most of the times kids want to take them from my hands, and they want to show me how they do it themselves.
Imitating kids makes them laugh. When they cry, I cry like them, and they stop for a while to understand what is happening.
I act like I fall asleep, and I snore, and sometimes my head falls on their shoulder, and it always makes them laugh.
I remember that once a mother told her daughter “Alma, don`t make a drama “(she meant from the blood test) and I started to get excited, and said “Wow, there is a movie? Where can I buy tickets?” Again, my main idea is to help kids forget even for a short time why they came there.
I use whatever is around me as tools for attraction – it could even be curtains or anything else in the room.
Number announcement for turns in the line is a fun part. I take a number each time, and I wait my turn and check others’ numbers and interact with them. Sometimes I don’t look at their faces at all but still get their attention because they are curious. They look at me like, “She is not dressed like us, she has a very colorful outfit, she looks fun,’ and they follow me…
I can say that my main activity is improvisation, and I improvise according to the people, the situations, my mood…Each time, it changes. I try something and see if it works, and if not, I try something else.
What is it in for me? How do I feel about it?
First, I love it. I am passionate about it. I love volunteering, I love kids, I love adults…
I love making people happy, I love making people smile.
I love being 100% myself without thinking about what others will say.
I put on my clowning costume, I go to hospital, I make noise, I sing and dance crazy, I am free to be clumsy…
And nobody judges me! I am free to do anything I feel like, I can exaggerate, and I can have fun and make others have fun.
I can make people laugh, I can make people think, I can help them have a pleasant memory, even if they come there sick.
I love loving, I love giving, and I love making difference.
At the end of the day, even if they say about me, “She’s such a clown!”, I am ok with it. Being a clown is the only time that I feel so good that I can do whatever I want with no limits, freely.
I am Your Medical Clown!
Keep smiling! It is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Make others smile too