THE SIGHT of a foreigner in JJ Hospital, a public hospital, is rare. Rarer still is if the foreigner is dressed as a clown.
On Friday, as he entered the paediatric ward, his fake puppy ears flapping, nose painted black and an animated smile lighting his face, Israeli resident Nir Raz extracted laughter from each cot that he visited.
Naz, a theatre artist and director, is a medical clown attached with Schneider Children’s hospital at Petah Tikva in Israel, where hospitals are increasingly hiring clowns for therapeutic treatment. The clowns use entertainment, magic tricks, games and conversations to ease fears of patients.
“In hospitals, patients find themselves in an unfamiliar environment. The hospital gown and long drawn treatment can depress them and their families. I try to play with them, create characters out of diseases to make the treatment process easier,” Naz said.
While meeting around 40 children admitted in the paediatric ward, Naz made one of them blow soap bubbles, another to punch in the air with him falling hard on the ground, and a third blowing air as he pretended to fly away. “The idea is to make them feel powerful and strong to fight diseases so that they don’t think they are weak,” the 50-year-old said.
Naz transforms diseases into funny characters — liver for instance is a cleaning lady who has refused to work and insulin shots are soldiers who will destroy diabetes. He also explains to children how a surgery or treatment will be undertaken.
Medical clowns were first introduced in New York in 1986. Nimrod Kalmar, Deputy Consul General of Israel, said in Israel, one has to undergo a two-year course to become a medical clown. “In Israel, almost every hospital has a medical clown,” he added. With its history of conflict, doctors realised an early need to handle stress and trauma through therapeutic methods in the country.
Dr Pallavi Saple, Dean at JJ Hospital, said clowns are usually invited on Children’s Day in the hospital. “But they don’t have expertise to discuss medicines. Therapeutic clowns are skilled, they know about diseases and they can communicate with patients. In the last few years, we have been learning the importance of communication skills. Something like this is being considered for JJ hospital,” she added.
A session with Naz was also organised for doctors, nurses and students. Dr Neeta Sutay, head of the paediatric department, said even parents could take time to relax with these sessions.
Raz has been a medical clown for the last 10 years. “Even adults respond well to this therapy,” he said. He now visits countries on a voluntary basis to spread awareness. After Mumbai, he is slated to visit two hospitals in Bengaluru.