Yesterday and today I observed the Pallapupas clowns visit and accompany children as they went into Surgery to be aneasthetised. I saw children giggling as they walked down the corridor to the Surgical Room, lying on the bed about to go under general aneasthetic and laughing their heads off! Waaaaaaa!!
This work is SO EXCITING AND EXTRAORDINARY AND IMPORTANT.
And it's not that these kids are all unusually brave and resillient. Before the clowns come to meet them, they are often in floods of tears or pale and quiet with anxiety. And that is not to mention the parents...
I will explain a little the mechanics of how it works.
There are 2 surgery rooms and each clown takes responsability for 1 room each. In a morning, each room might have 5 or 6 proceedures scheduled. The clowns are given the list in the morning. Once they are in their surgical garb, they run through who is on the list, ages, what they are in for and check if there are any repeat customers (these can be more challenging as they can be more anxious...or more excited becasue they know they will see the clowns).
They meet the child and set up a game. The game is usually something that will involve a journey (along the corridor) and going to a new place (the surgical room). It will also involve blowing or breathing into a mask. And a lot of silliness.
Then they check the surgical room to see how long until the first child goes in.
When there is only 10 or 15 mins to go, they will go back and continue the game with the first child and start to incorporate the idea of using the mask. This will be a playful continuation of the same game. They might also leave and check in with the second child too, depending on timings.
Once in the surgical room, the child will need to put on the mask and breath into it.
And the idea of all of this is to humanise the environment. To help children and thier parents to play, even when they are feeling anxious or scared. To distract them. To help the child live their experience in a different and better way.
It was INCREDIBLE to see and hear how integrated they are in this environment. Several times, doctors, nurses and anaesthetists came up to tell me what a great and important job the clowns do. One even said she wanted to do a study on the different types of ways that the clowns engage! It was clear that the clowns make their jobs easier. They are just a part of the team. No-one bats an eye-lid. They have access all areas and complete trust. And they make everyone laugh a lot.
What I saw today at the Hospital de San Joan de Deu was an integrative approach to healthcare - a holistic model that puts the emotional wellbeing of the patient on a level with their physical wellbeing. It looked good. I really hope that it is our (not too distant) future in Scotland.
But of course, getting to this level of integration takes time, commitment and all of the right ingredients...