Evgeniia Arakielian meets us at the door of Lviv Regional Children's Clinical Hospital along with Hristina Bogatirjova, one of the child psychologists based there. We can visit anywhere, except Acute Trauma. Fair enough.
Changing and warming-up alongside Igor today feels familiar already but the hospital itself is dramatically different from what I'm used to. I switch my focus to the work, which is identical - meeting the same needs (isolation, loss of control, trauma, anxiety, boredom) in the same way (presence, playfulness, connection, technique) to the same effect.
The juxtaposition of being in an environment permeated with acute pain, anxiety and suffering whilst experiencing feelings of joy and exhilaration can be disconcerting;
'According to the UN children's fund Unicef, the hospital in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on the Polish border is overwhelmed by the number of injured children arriving from the contested regions...A UNICEF spokesman in Geneva reported that doctors in Lviv had to set up a sticker system to coordinate the treatment of the children. A green sticker means: injured but not urgently needed, yellow means: needs treatment, and red means: this child needs immediate attention. There are also black stickers, the spokesman said: the child is still alive, but it cannot be saved and the hospital is forced to focus its resources on other small patients.'
It is human nature to expect suffering and its recovery to be a serious business that requires our full adult, serious attention. Playfulness is a luxury reserved for when the Sun is shining, for when our hearts are full.
Our luxury as healthcare clowns is that we can be the Sun. Our hearts can be full enough for everyone. Our joy and exhilaration comes from witnessing the various ways in which we see children, parents and staff expand into themselves throughout the course of the morning, as we ourselves expand to meet them.
Our visits flow from room to room. A small boy on a bed giggling his head off at the fact that no matter how hard he tries, no matter how good his moonwalk, Cuckoo can’t enter the room without squeaking. In the end, the boys arm movements dictate the rhythm to a song and dance that free Cuckoo from his Squeak jail. Another boy with an arm recently put in a cast grows about a foot taller with pride at helping Maybee up from a bench she had been reclining on. A room full of girls giggling as Cuckoo tries to enter without Maybee seeing - first behind a nurse, then behind a pot plant. Another room with two teenage girls, a baby and a toddler who all help us play a lullaby for the pigeon sitting outside on the windowsill. The interactions with staff - hugs, smiles, compliments and warmth.
Sunlight and love radiates, sticks to the walls, permeates the skin, reminds us all of our shared humanity, of what is still possible.
At the end of our shift, Evgeniia says that she was reminded of the importance of play and humour as therapeutic tools, something that the serious task of being a child psychologist in a war zone over the last five months had taken from her.
This afternoon we have our workshop with a group of Ukrainian healthcare clowns, who are travelling across the country to work with us.
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.