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By Robb Preskins a.k.a. Dr. Gonzo
I remember my first time on rounds here at Children's Hospital Boston in November of 1995. I had never performed clown rounds and Children's had never had clowns on rounds. I kept checking my doctor's bag to see if I had everything I needed to perform my job. I had juggling clubs, a fake skunk, a pack of playing cards and my sense of humor. I glanced at the mirror to check my make-up and made sure my red nose was on straight. I had a brand new pair of size 18 clown shoes. The white doctor's coat was crisp. I had forgotten my whoopee cushion and that was going to throw my game off a little. No matter, I would just improvise. I was ready.
To see the wide-eyed nurses and patients look on as we played music and juggled clubs in the intensive care unit seemed surreal. I remember walking over to a bedside and asking a nurse to check on the patient's P.U. levels. I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn't sure what I was asking for, so I took out a stethoscope, placed it under my nose and sniffed at the patient's feet. This got a laugh from the little boy, and the nurse just smiled shaking her head. The clowns had arrived.
Today, there are nine clowns at Children's and we entertain patients, families and staff in nearly every corner of the hospital.
Despite our names (Dr. Gonzo, Nurse BB, Dr. Gon Golfin, etc.), we're not actually doctors and nurses who dress up as clowns. Instead, we're all professional performers who have been trained to perform in a hospital. In fact, we're part of an organization called Big Apple Circus Clown Care, which has clown teams at 17 hospitals around the country.
There are, of course, a lot of challenges to being a clown in a hospital. Seeing children who are very sick is incredibly hard, especially because I'm a dad myself. But knowing that they're in a place that can help them get well lets me focus on the funny.
And who knew being funny would be such hard work? I've done stand-up comedy before, and the first 10 minutes of any routine are the hardest because you have to warm the crowd up and get them ready to laugh. Our job as hospital clowns is like doing the first 10 minutes of a stand-up routine 20 times a day. Just as you're getting people laughing, it's time to move on and start all over again in the next room. It's exhausting but exhilarating, especially because not everyone laughs at the same thing. What works for a 5-year-old isn't going to impress a 17-year-old. It's fast-paced and we have to switch gears quickly, but it keeps me on my toes. To be juggling in one room, performing a card trick in another and then asking a 16-year-old if I fit in with the latest fashion trends can make my nose spin. But that's what I like about performing here: the wide range of ages, backgrounds and cultures. It's a challenge to quickly pick a direction of entertainment based on the audience that's suddenly in front of you.
I also enjoy being the comic relief for the staff because they understand what we're trying to do. One moment that will always stick out for me was visiting a patient in one of the outpatient clinics. We were told that he was really nervous, so we popped in and told him we would be his doctors and we had some questions and tests. He had this completely surprised smile on his face and that made his parents laugh. We created a loud ruckus in the exam room and many staff stopped by to see what was going on because we were all laughing so loudly.
I caught a glimpse of a doctor standing in the hallway holding medical charts and X-rays. I quickly jumped out of the room and asked if he was waiting to see this patient. He told me yes, but he didn't want me to stop. "Your work is just as important as mine," he said.
Read more about Children's Clown Care unit and Big Apple Circus Clown Care
See a gallery of images of the clowns on their rounds
Read a previous Dream story about the clowns
Read other first-person stories by Children's staff and patients
Inspired eating from celebrity chef Ming Tsai
Ming Tsai is the owner and chef of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., and author of three cookbooks. He hosts Public Television's cooking show, "Simply Ming," and was the long-time host of the Food Network's hit "East Meets West with Ming Tsai."
This is a really easy, do-ahead treat that's great for company or a family meal. If you can't find Thai basil, go ahead and use regular sweet Italian basil. Kids can help by picking the basil from the stems and peeling the garlic—a perfect job for little fingers!
1/2 pound instant polenta, cooked and poured into a pan to a one-inch thickness, chilled in fridge until firm
1 bunch scallions, cut into one-inch lengths
1 cup packed Thai basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 satay skewers
Cut polenta into one-inch cubes. To make the satays, horizontally skewer a length of scallion, thread polenta on the diagonal (so it looks diamond-shaped), and alternate with scallion and polenta. To make the pesto, in a food processor fitted with a blade, combine the basil, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano and puree. With food processor running, drizzle in oil. Season and check for flavor. Add oil to lightly coat a large non-stick saute pan and pan-sear satays until golden, about three minutes per side. Serve using a satay plate with Thai basil pesto in a dipping bowl.
More healthful recipes by Ming Tsai
Kellie's Book: The Art of the Possible by Kellie Greenwald
Twenty-nine-year-old Kellie Greenwald, who has Down syndrome, is the author and illustrator of this book, in which she shares her secrets of happiness. For readers of all ages. (Read about Children's Adaptive Dance program for children with Down Syndrome).
Parenting the Teenage Brain: Understanding a Work in Progress by Sheryl Feinstein
Combining research from neuroscience and psychology and a heavy dose of common sense and humor, this book offers parents important strategies to support and guide their teenager. (Read about how the teen brain really is different).
Faces of Hope: Stories of Inspiration and Strength During the Journey through Childhood Cancer
Created by Children's Hospital Boston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. For readers of all ages. Through photos and words, this book details the strength, courage and grace of 51 pediatric cancer patients and their families. (Read how cancer care is coming home)
It's a fact. Well, sort of. People don't actually turn into birds after having chicken nuggets. But each time we eat, food sets off a spectacular series of biological events, involving our hormones and metabolism. In fact, virtually every drug ever used to promote weight loss, treat diabetes or prevent heart disease acts on hormonal or metabolic pathways that nature originally created to
respond to our diet. So Hippocrates got it right when he said, "let food be your medicine, and let medicine be your food."
—David Ludwig, MD, PhD
Director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program
See videos of Ludwig talking about healthful eating, the childhood obesity epidemic and much more.
Children's Hospital Boston resident Ari Bernstein, MD, has co-written a book, Sustaining Life, that shows that Earth's biodiversity directly impacts our health in ways most of us aren't aware of.
Q: How does biodiversity affect our health?
A:About half of America's 100 most prescribed medicines are based on compounds made by plants, animals or microbes. Almost all antibiotics are derived from natural products and so are many anti-viral drugs. The pace of current biodiversity loss is the greatest it's been in 65 million years—and is accelerating. We're losing species at a rate 100 to 1,000 times that which would occur without human influence, and when we lose a species or an ecosystem, it's gone forever.
Read the rest of Dr. Bernstein's Q&A on biodiversity and human health
Sustaining Life is available at amazon.com