A red nose. Oversized rubber shoes. A steady stream of bubbles. These are all things that you might expect to see at a parade or in a circus performance. At Cook Children's Medical Center, you will also see these things in an infusion room, where children are receiving treatment or in a patient room, where emotions are running high, due to a recent diagnosis. The therapeutic medical clowns at Cook Children's, also known as the Laughter League, work daily to bring to life the age old saying that "laughter is the best medicine."
The therapeutic medical clowns at Cook Children's visit inpatient units at the medical center and outpatient specialties at Dodson Specialty Clinics. The focus of the seven medical clowns in the program is to connect with children and families, using humor to distract, empower and bring much-needed joy to tense or stressful situations.
The art of medical humor, as we know it today, traces back to New York City in 1986, when professional performers began utilizing their talents to aid in the treatment of pediatric patients. Although the practice has evolved throughout the decades, one element remains the same: all therapeutic medical clowns have a background in the performing arts. Many also specialize in improvisational comedy, a vital skill that gives each patient family something unique during their Laughter League encounter. Members of the Laughter League work collaboratively with Child Life specialists on each floor before beginning their daily patient visits. A group approach enables the Laughter League to walk into each room with background knowledge of the patient and family, allowing the team to customize their approach.
During recent patient visits, Dr. Slappy and Dr. Dainty demonstrated the importance of reading the room and responding to the situation. The first patient of the day was a lively pre-teen. The duo entered the room and immediately pulled the patient and the family members into a game of charades. The patient would choose an item to act out, then both clowns would compete for the best impression. In true clowning fashion, Dr. Slappy and Dr. Dainty intentionally butchered each impression and the entire room joined in with a laugh.
The patient in the room next door was a fussy toddler sitting in the lap of a grandparent. Dr. Slappy entered the room, gently strumming a ukulele, and Dr. Dainty followed softly blowing bubbles. The toddler was mesmerized. Not only did the tears evaporate, smiles appeared on every face in the room.
Although both of these patients were side-by-side on the Hematology and Oncology Center floor, their needs from the Laughter League could not have been more different.
Beyond providing healthy moments of joy, laughter has been shown to reduce pain, lower blood pressure, relax muscles, reduce stress hormones and build up the immune system. The Laughter League also works with nursing staff to encourage children to walk, eat or take medicine, even on a tough day.
The Laughter League is a part of the Child Life department, which provides services to patient families for free. This program is funded purely by the support of our community. Because of that generosity, Cook Children's Laughter League can use humor and laughter to help our patients heal.