Yesterday morning I had the great pleasure of observing these two lovely creatures working the wards of the Instituto Portuguese da Oncologia, Dra C. Lava (Patrícia Ubeda ) and Dr Kotonete (Fernando Terra)
Like most of the hospitals O.N.V visit, they come here twice a week, and since it is an oncology ward, they know most of the children here quite well.
And like us at Hearts and Minds, O.N.V clowns follow the same routine every visit, so that each ward knows when to expect them, and they only ever visit authorised wards and hospital spaces.
Unlike us, they get their referrals once they are in costume (noses off). This is made more possible by the fact that the nurses station is a separate room, off the ward, so they can do this without risk of being spied by one of the children on the ward. But it also saves them time, as the wards are so spread out, they feel a separate referral process would take too much time out of the day. The referrals are always given by the Nurse in Charge.
I was really struck by the referral process here. The nurse and the Clowndoctors sat together for a good 15 minutes, talking through the patients. I am told that this was unusually long, but even so, I was impressed by the time and commitment the nurse gave to the handover – especially since this would be the second visit of the week.
I found it interesting that after referrals, where they might be told that a child they know had died (this happened yesterday) or any number of other things about the children they are about to visit, the clowns pop their noses on and head off onto the ward. I realised that I rely on the process of changing into costume after referrals - warming-up, having time for information to sink in (sometimes this is just that we might have been referred to lots of teenagers or babies, and this has a baring on the artistic focus for the day) switching into Clown - before heading out onto the floor. I suppose we each get used to the rhythm of our day. The O.N.V way of doing things certainly seems to work well for them – they went on to have a lovely morning, full of giggles.
I was struck by the response and playfulness of staff on the ward. This is a special ward in a certain way, as the head Doctor (Dra Philomena) was a great friend of the founder of ONV, Beatrice. The trust in the Clowns and the work they do is highly evident. At one point, the Clowns picked up one of the Doctors, swung her to and fro and sang her a lullaby for a young girl in an isolated room. The Doctor and the girl were delighted. It must have such a positive effect on a child to see her Doctor play in this way. Equally enlightening was another point in the morning, when Dra Philomena came out of a meeting room to tell the Clowns to be quiet. It was done with total respect and playfulness. I think this is a good sign of a good relationship, where the Clowndoctors are seen as part of a team, and communication happens easily and seamlessly. I sometimes feel so aware of the high status of Doctors in hospitals at home, that the idea of interrupting a meeting by making too much noise is mortifying and to be avoided at all costs. I guess this would be the approach of most Hospital Clowns – but we know that sometimes it happens in the service of the child and the game. It was so great to see this response from Dra Philomena, rather than the resentful silence or glare that I fear we might get at home.
The Clowndoctors eat their lunch in the staff canteen in costume (noses off!). This is another way they can be visible as professionals, doing their job, having a break. At one point a nurse came over to say hello with a huge smile on her face. When she left, Fernando said he had never met her before.
And when they and walk outside along the road to their next ward, they share a joke with the ambulance drivers as they pass by and with various Doctors and Nurses as they go to and fro.
It was so lovely to see smiles spreading around the hospital as they went.
I was accompanied on my visit by Flávia Diab, whose full-time role is Hospital Relations. She is the link between The Artists, The Hospitals and The O.N.V office. More on that to come!
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.