Laugh­ter the best medicine for kids

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JOR­DAN BAKER

THERE are times when clown doc­tor Lou Pol­lard, aka Dr Quack, must dig deep to find silli­ness amid so much sad­ness.

Such as when her pint­sized fans in­vite her to their fu­ner­als or have been so badly in­jured that they can only laugh with their eyes.

“Some­times you sit in the car park and think: ‘I can’t do this any­more’,” she said.

“And then you have a mag­i­cal mo­ment with a kid who laughs their head off be­cause you bump into a door, or a grandma says: ‘Thank you, we were hav­ing such a dark day’, and you think: ‘This is beau­ti­ful.’” Ms Pol­lard is not a real doc­tor but the medicine she ad­min­is­ters to sick kids is po­tent.

Laugh­ter re­laxes not only the lit­tle pa­tients but also the fam­i­lies over­whelmed by worry.

“There are all these adults star­ing at them, you can cut the air with a knife, the fear and stress is so great,” she said.

“Some­times you have to re­lieve that pres­sure and go: ‘OK, right here in this mo­ment, we can laugh and giggle and dance.’

“There’s noth­ing more beau­ti­ful than get­ting a dad to sing along or dance like a gang­ster — it’s beau­ti­ful see­ing fam­i­lies have fun. The kids see their par­ents so stressed, so when they see their par­ents hav­ing a laugh, they are re­lieved.”

Clown Doc­tors, run by the Hu­mour Foun­da­tion, have been cheer­ing up sick Aus­tralian kids for 20 years. The foun­da­tion was in­spired by the US clown doc­tor Hunter “Patch” Adams, whose work was made into a film star­ring Robin Wil­liams.

These days there are more than 60 clown doc­tors work­ing across ev­ery ma­jor chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing Bear Cot­tage, the pal­lia­tive care hospice for chil­dren in Syd­ney. They are funded by do­na­tions.

One of their big­gest fans is Belle Camil­leri, aged eight, w who has been visit­ing The Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at West­mead since she was run over by a truck and paral­ysed w when she was three years old.

Belle hates go­ing to hos­pit tal but loves the clown doc­tors be­cause “they make me laugh, so I’m not sad any more. I make them kick the door and bump into stuff. One time Stinky (the clown) pre­tended to do a poo.”

As she says this, Belle diss solves into gig­gles.

Lou Pol­lard is a stand-up c co­me­dian but has been a clown doc­tor for more than 10 years. On one of her first s shifts, she per­formed for an eight-month-old un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy.

“I thought: ‘This is so w wrong, I can’t cope’,” she

said. “I was bawl­ing in the car on the way home. My next shift was with a fe­male clown doc­tor. She said: ‘That fam­ily needs you more now than ever. If you can bring sun­shine into their life for 20 min­utes, you have to do it — how can you not?’ It was such a beau­ti­ful piece of ad­vice.”

Dur­ing a shift, Ms Pol­lard might sing a song for a baby, dance with a doc­tor, or just blow bub­bles for a burns victim who is too sick for any­thing more.

Suc­cess is when a child is so ab­sorbed, they don’t no­tice the nee­dle be­ing slipped into their arm or the nurse tak­ing their blood pres­sure.

Once she helped kids in the can­cer ward build a toi­let pa­per fence that the nurses were only al­lowed to cross if they sang a song.

“The kids were in charge,” she said. “I was help­ing them take back the power and use their imag­i­na­tion. It’s about tak­ing them into a world of fun, far away from the aw­ful things that are hap­pen­ing.”

Some­times it’s the fam­ily that needs cheer­ing up.

“The nurses might say: ‘The kid is do­ing fine, but grandpa is re­ally de­pressed’,” she said. “We are there for the fam­i­lies as well.”

The clowns work in pairs, not only to bounce off each other but to sup­port each other, too.

“Kids have asked us to go to their fu­ner­als,” she

said. “It is re­ally nec­es­sary for us to de­brief. Two weeks ago, we were play­ing with that child, and now they are gone.

“We have kids that are paral­ysed. You try a lit­tle fart joke, and they blink once for yes (they liked it). I have to block out that part of my head that is think­ing: ‘That’s so hor­rific.’ We see so much pain but also so much joy.”

There is a rig­or­ous au­di­tion process for the job and many en­ter­tain­ers fail the test.

“Most per­form­ers get into per­form­ing be­cause of their ego — they want to be the star,” Ms Pol­lard said. “Our work is not about that. It’s about mak­ing the kids the stars of the show.”

One of Dr Quack’s fre­quent part­ners is Dr I Don’t Know, aka Curly Fer­nan­dez.

“I have lots of other jobs,” he said. “This for me is the most spe­cial job that I have.

“To see them smile and laugh, and to see par­ents and staff re­ally happy, and to change a whole at­mos­phere of the hos­pi­tal so it feels there’s a bit of shim­mer around — no words can de­scribe it.”

Curly Fer­nan­dez hams it up as Dr I Don’t Know with Emelia Scan­dur a.

Curly Fer­nan­dez and Lou Pol­lard are Clown Doc­tors at The

Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at West­mead. Pic­tures: Sam Rut­tyn

Lou Pol­lard work­ing as Dr Quack the Clown Doc­tor. Curly and Lou with Belle Camil­leri.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.