Humor in healthcare | Gary Edwards | TEDxBrno

Translator: Gabriela Tomkova
Reviewer: Denise RQ I am going to speak in English today, but I hope this is not a problem. If it is a problem just raise your hand, and we will immediately speak
only in Spanish. (Laughter) (Applause) No one is raising their hand yet, so — “Humor in Healthcare.” Someone is raising their hand already. (Laughter) I imagine that everyone
in this room remembers a time when it was impossible
to put those two words, humor and healthcare, in the same sentence. Today, humor and healthcare
is an idea worth sharing. I’d like to start
with my personal experience I had here in the Czech Republic. About 15 years ago, I had just started presenting
this idea of humor in healthcare at healthcare conferences, and I was running
all over the country like a mad man visiting hospitals as a clown. One of my studies was clowning. I studied at the first accredited
clown school in America. (Laughter) Like I said, it is not my fault. (Laughter) I was presenting this idea in hospitals, in children’s wards,
all over the country. I would come in a hospital and the first thing I would do
is have a consultation with the staff to get some basic information
on the patients that were there, [the staff] that would help me in my work. I was talking with the doctor in the oncology ward of this hospital, and he was telling me
things I needed to know. And then he said:
“Oh, and there is Melissa in room 4.” I changed her name by the way. “There is Melissa in room 4, but unfortunately, the therapy did not work, and she’s in the last stages
of the disease, and her bodily functions
are shutting down. So she cannot see anymore, and I doubt that she would even know if you were present or not. So probably, it does not really
make sense to visit her.” And I said, “Can I try?”
And he said, “Yes, of course.” So I continued my visit
to the oncology ward — there were actually two wards,
younger and older children — and three, four hours later, I was left with one room left, and that was room number 4 and Melissa. So I knocked on the door. No answer. I opened the door slightly
and asked if I could come in. I saw Melissa lying in bed,
staring blindly at the ceiling; she had lost all her hair
through treatment. Her mother was sitting
next to her, wringing her hands, obviously in a lot of stress. So I asked if I could come in
and her mother said yes. So I came in, and I started clowning for Melissa. Because she did not see,
I was forced to use sounds. One of the things that happened was — and I never knew
what was going to happen — we found a bird in the room. (Imitating bird chirping) Melissa liked that. We decided that we should catch this bird, and it was Melissa’s idea
to put it out of the window. I was racing around the room
trying to catch this bird. I did finally catch the bird. I caught it under her bed and put it in a plastic bag (imitating wing flapping) and opened the window and let it fly. But then it flew right back in. (Laughter) (More bird chirping) This went on and on,
and we could not get rid of this bird. Finally, Melissa and I — she was really enjoying this,
she was laughing and we were having a real good time — finally decided that the bird
would live under her bed. (Laughter) This was our decision together, and so the bird finally lived
under Melissa’s bed. At the end, I picked up my ukulele,
and I sang a little song about the bird that lived
under Melissa’s bed. (Laughter) And I left the room. I left the room with Melissa in bed smiling, and there was a very nice atmosphere. And as the door closed,
it opened again immediately, and her mother was chasing me
into the foyer of the hospital trying to give me money, tears streaming down her face. Of course I had to say no. What I had just received in that room was worth all the money in the world. What happened in the room was that Melissa and I
understood the game, and her mother was completely surprised. She probably saw this as, maybe, the last time she would see
her daughter smile and laugh. I don’t know,
but she was very emotionally charged. I went on my way, — I was continually visiting
hospitals all over the country — so it took some time
before I came back to this hospital. I don’t know how many weeks,
a month, I don’t know. I came back into the same oncology ward, and I was met with the doctor on duty, and he said: “Gary,
do you remember Melissa in room 4? I said yes and I knew what was coming. I had lost patients many times. I knew what was coming,
so I was half-listening as the doctor was telling me
that Melissa, after my visit, had turned 180 degrees. All of her bodily functions had returned. There was no trace of the illness,
and they had sent her home. I know what spontaneous remission means; I did not see this necessarily
as a [result] of my visit. But that moment gave me the resolve
to continue with this work. And today, here in the Czech Republic, there are 87 specially trained
certified health clowns visiting over 75 hospitals
and institutions, on a regular basis, at least once a week,
up to seven times a week. We make more than 3,500 visits
a year here in the Czech Republic. In the meantime, I was honored to be able
to open a project in Slovakia. Now I work with “Red Noses Clowndoctors International,” whose mission is to develop and to guide humor in healthcare projects worldwide. One of the things we do is we have developed
a certification process, a curriculum, which involves all of the things these specially trained artists
need to know to do this work correctly. We have an international school
of humor in Vienna where partners can come and get the best training in the world. We believe that approaching this project
in a professional manner is really what it takes. Just like other people
working in healthcare, we see it as very important
to put energy into the training process. Red Noses Clowndoctors
is also advocating for child’s rights. The right to play, specifically. We all know that play is an important part
of the development process for children. In hospitals they also recognize this. So, what you will see in children’s wards
quite often are playrooms, but this is not inclusive
for all children in the hospital. Consider children who must stay in bed; they are not allowed into the playroom, so that is where our clowns come in. They bring this atmosphere of play, the possibility to play and the expertise to draw the children into this play mode right to the children’s bedside. We work individually
with children of all ages — they are specially trained
to work with children of all ages — and we work individually with each child. We use the hospital procedures
and the environment and make fun of it. Nurses and doctors
love it as well, believe me. (Laughter) By doing this, we get around the mystique. If the child can laugh about a procedure,
he will not be afraid of it. So our clowns are specially trained to work with children
on an individual basis. (Laughter) As you can see, they are very empathetic. (Laughter) Children’s programs
are the basis of our work, but we do work with other age groups. We have a project called Circus Patientus where we work
an entire week with children, in civil, without the clown nose, teaching circus arts, and magic, and music. These are things that children
are readily interested in. And I believe that if we can awaken
an interest in whatsoever, then we awaken an interest in life, and interest in life is an integral part
of the healthcare process. So Circus Patientus is a process where they learn something new, they become interested in things, and they become the stars
at the end of the day. We even have circus tents set up
on the hospital grounds, which is very inviting
for children in hospitals. They are the big stars of the show. Audience includes their parents,
hospital staff, other children. Besides children, we also have developed
projects working with the elderly. Because actually last year
I reached retirement age, (Laughter) I do not want to be in an institution where there are not clowns
visiting on a regular basis. (Laughter) So we have developed humor
for the early born. (Laughter) And quite often
this is exactly what they need, they need to be brought back into life. It is a completely different method. Clowns that do this project
are trained specifically for this project. We use old costumes,
50-year-old costumes, we sing the old songs. A lot of it has to do
with memory training. Picking mushrooms is very popular
in the Czech Republic, so in the autumn we would come in
with a basket of mushrooms, just to smell it, to remember. It is a beautiful project. We also have many other projects. Caravan Orchestra
is a special scenario built for the multiple handicapped children
in institutions. We have the Humor Baskets project
for adults. I have seen magic work with this. I have seen waiting rooms
in an adult oncology ward; and you can imagine
what the atmosphere is like. We have come in with these humor baskets, and the whole thing is changed
into almost a Christmas atmosphere, where somebody says:
“This is a great book, I read this,” and somebody says,
“I read this, so let’s change.” We had some real magic moments. And just lately, one of the last projects
I was able to do here, — for the Zdravotní Klaun project here
and also the project in Slovakia — was to introduce
something I had seen in Israel. Clowns, specially trained for this,
accompany children from the hospital ward
to the operating theater. We call it ‘NOS, ‘
(Czech) “To the operation room.” What I have realized is there are specific stress moments
in this process, so the clowns are trained to interject humor
at these stress moments. If you could imagine being a parent
— this is not just for the children — and this moment when your child
is wheeled through the operation room and the door is close
and you are left outside. Can you imagine
what a stress moment that is? The clowns are also specially trained
to work with parents in these situations. They may take the nose off and just be a human being
when a human being is needed. When I introduced this project,
I was met with some skepticism, but after the three-month pilot period, I had nothing but positive feedback, so we are expanding
the project even further. Humor isn’t international. (Laughter) Red Noses Clowndoctors International
were invited to speak at conferences in Saudi Arabia. This is a picture taken in the hospital with the head of the pediatric ward. When I first started helping
to develop a project in Palestine, I thought: “Wow, the clown is not an element in their culture”, but they learned; now they know. We found that they understood immediately and went with us wholeheartedly. We worked very closely
with the hospital staff — this is something I find very important. How I see our work specifically is that we are complement
to the fine work that other hospital professionals
are doing. And in that vein, I’ve also worked
with medical students, teaching humor and healthcare as a communication tool, how to better a relationship
with the patient, and I have worked
with the Czech Association of Nurses to teach accredited seminars for nurses because I really believe,
not that they are clowns, but they can use humor in their work. So we talked about types
of humor relative to healthcare, the developmental stages
of understanding humor in children, we talked about fear, about focus. For instance, if I was
to take a blood sample, — and health professionals focus
on their work, and that’s normal — so if I am to take
a blood sample, may I? Just stay seated – The focus is here,
where the procedure takes place, but that is not necessarily
convenient for the patient. So what I do is introduce
some other ideas. May I see your other hand?
Just one finger. Now I am going to take a blood sample (Laughter) I am going to take a blood sample, and your job is to make sure
the bird stays flying. (Laughter) Keep it going. (Laughter) Just about… Got it! (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Good job. So we do work together
with the hospital staff; this is very important. It is interesting that there are
so many hospital wards now which realize that a ward without
humor intervention can’t work. Things have changed that much
in the last 15, 20 years, and what it tells us in the global picture is that healthcare is changing, that healthcare is becoming more humane and more aware of the psychosocial needs
of the patients. And that is something to smile about. Thank you. (Applause)

13 thoughts on “Humor in healthcare | Gary Edwards | TEDxBrno

  1. He's a great guy. He likes to go to his high school reunion and look for booty calls; he impresses his prey with his phony altruism and when his mission accomplished he returns to his life in  an eastern bloc nation.  He probably has booty calls in all the 7 languages he speaks all over the world.  My impression: Narcissist with a bit of sociopath.

  2. This is what health care needs. Physicians and nurses are trained to be professional which is necessary but it has become almost an extreme. It is very hard to build a personal relationship and bond with a patient when being professional makes the conversations almost uncomfortable. There is a time when seriousness is needed but when it is practiced in such an overpowering way it can make the whole atmosphere seem more stressful and anxiety filled. If nurses and doctors could make patients laugh and smile more instead of being so serious they fill the patient with worry, fear and anxiety would lessen. I love the example he gave about drawing blood. People are so serious when coming into a room to draw blood. They walk in, say hello, grab the patients arm and draw away in silence. How awkward is that? It's almost as if the patient isn't human at all. Making the health care system seem more inviting and happy for the people they are caring for instead of treating them as if they are just 'a patient' instead of a human being can make a world of difference.

  3. I agree with every point brought up by Greg Edwards. This is such a creative and fun idea for people all ages. With Greg Edwards having the experience he does with going to the first clown school ever created, he is able to offer so much to this industry. The first story told about Melissa in room four instantly brought you on board of Clowndoctors. All of Melissa's bodily functions shut down and she was completely inactive besides listening. When Gary performed his skit with the bird, and returned Melissa's sweet smile back onto her face, he also ensured hope into her mother. Melissa's mother, thinking her daughter was on her last stretch of life due to not being able to operate on her own, was given a chance to see her daughter smile and light up the room with joy. She offered to pay Greg, but he refused. He is there to make children smile, and by succeeding that, no amount of money can top it. Greg Edwards left that institution, and later returned to news that Melissa had made a complete 180 in her life and is now functioning normally and was sent home to live a normal life. This is what inspires Greg today and keeps him going and expanding his company. Hearing that story and all the emotions involved gives me no question to not believe that Clowndoctors is an amazing idea and should be carried on through every hospital and institution in not only America, but the world. Kids who are bedridden still deserve to have a good time and be able to live as close to a normal life that they can. But, because they are so sick that they are bedridden, Clowndoctors work one on one with the kids to make sure they can smile through all of the pain. I personally loved the story and example Greg gave during his presentation of the girl getting blood drawn. This is such a good example for him to use because it is so relatable to anyone at any age. I was beyond terrified to get my blood up until I turned eighteen. The way Greg brought humor into such a scary time for some patients and really involved them in an activity to distract them was mesmerizing. In conclusion, I agree with every point made by Greg Edwards. He was spot on and the way he cares about his patients is so inspiring. A lot of healthcare professionals could learn a lot from Greg alone, as well as healthcare systems learning from Clowndoctors.

  4. I find it strange that clowns are not naturally funny people so I find it weird that anybody would want to be a clown. I could see if it was a naturally funny person who naturally makes people laugh all the time going into clowning because they should but otherwise I find that these unnaturally unfunny clowns who have a forced sense of sense of humor just get on my nerves and annoy me. The last thing I would want to do while I was in the hospital was to expend energy trying to be polite and fake laughing so not to hurt their feelings. I can see how this is good for younger children though if they are feeling up to it. But I still find it weird to want to be a clown regardless.

  5. NOTE: The House of God is back in print!

    In 1989 I was reading a book, 'The House of God'. I was an RN.
    My daughter was hit by a car on April 4th and medivacced into CHOP while I was driving home from work. I was forced into a detour to allow passage of emergency vehicles from Springfield, PA., the larger small city/town west of the really small town in which we resided.
    Whatever it was, was bad. Whatever it was somehow effected me. This is what every cell in my body was screaming. I kept trying to tell my brain to knock it off; the paranoia was very unnecessary. Still, I knew.
    I was forced behind the old Boeing plant where they used to make helicopters. Ironically they were loading a stretcher onto a medical-transport helicoptor. I saw that happen but from far-enough away that i couldn't view the victim's face. I didn't know I was watching the rescue of my child.
    When I finally pulled into my parking-lot, my neighbor was waiting to drive me into Philadelphia, to The Children's Hospital. I'd only been there once, while in Nursing school. You know–a long-ish ride in someone's car. Filled with people, laughter and conversations. The vehicle stops, the doors open and everyone tumbles out, a little wrinkled but none-the-worse-for-wear. Voilà! We are where we are meant to be. I had to give directions to a place I did not know how to get to! In rush-hour traffic. In the CITY! OMG! Triple panicked!
    When we got there my only child was in surgery, in a coma and not expected to survive the night. TBI. All the way into the city I prayed to whatever God(s) that might exist, "Please, God, not her head. Please, God, not her head… " I was a nurse. I understood brain injury. I feared it more than anything. I was Wiccan at the time and worshipped a very loving Goddess. Very nurturing. She was, like almost all pagan gods, trinitarian—the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone. I never questioned, "Why me? Why MY daughter?" I believed then and do now, All things happen for a reason. Even with all the things that have happened since: really bad marriage to a man met online; lost friends; lost belongings; lost career; homelessness; being hit by a car myself, left severely disabled and unable to work as a nurse; separations from family and friends; cancer; Phoenix! There is a lesson(s) to be learned in each of those situations. I hope I am learning the lesson(s).I do not want to have to repeat those situations again. EVER, in the next life/lives!
    It was six hours more before I could see her as she was transferred from Trauma to ICU. In a coma. Intubated. Being bagged until ICU, where she would be vented.
    My ex could not be located. My Mother-in-law drove from motel to motel in Central New Jersey most of the night before finding him.
    With TBIs, periods of frenetic activity take place as the neurons misfire. Erin kept extubating herself. Continuously pulled out the central and arterial lines. Staff kept replacing lines and the endotrachial tube. And she fought everything. She tore through cottony wrist restraints. They placed three splints under her elbow, stacked one atop of the other. They were over an inch thick. She kept breaking them as she bent her arm. It took six grown men to hold her down when they reintubated her.
    After the sixth reinsertion I said, "No more! Stop torturing my daughter!" They explained to me the necessity of reinserting the endotrachial tube. I understood all of that. If they didn't reintubate, she would die. With the extent of her btain injury and the fact that the brain stem was as swollen as it was, it would be an impossibility for her to breathe on her own. I acknowledged that but I told the doctors that there were forces in the universe greater than they. If my child was meant to live—she would live.
    I made her a 'no code' and signed all the papers for organ donations. I prepared my heart and my mind for her transition into the next life. If she died, her life would have meaning beyond the memories I would have.
    An hour later she once again thrashed uncontrollably and pulled out the ET tube. Everyone was very still, watching. Waiting. After almost a minute, her chest heaved and she breathed on her own. The staff was incredulous. "She can't be breathing. This just doesn't happen!" I said nothing to the staff, but to the Goddess I said my thanks. When my ex arrived 13 hours after her being struck and learned of my decisions, he was Pissed with a capital 'P'. I didn't much care. He was a terrible father.
    I wrote our custody agreement. My lawyer changed two words and submitted it to the judge. We were the second couple in the state of Pennsylvania to have joint-custody. I included several clauses, conditions whereby full and sole custody would revert to the other parent, if invoked. It took a little less than a year for him to act such that one of the clauses would be invoked. I had sole-custody of our child and he had no say in her care without taking me to court. For whatever reason, he chose not to do that.
    On Easter Sunday we walked into the neighborhood of The University of Pennsylvania to attend the Easter Eucharist at an Episcopal Church. Keep in mind that this is probably the busiest Sunday of the year for the Rector. Still, I approached the man post benediction and told him of our daughter's condition. Following his meal with his family he came to Erin's room. She was out of ICU but still comatose and in a monitored bed. The priest annointed her with oil, prayed for her, placed a literal crumb of the wafer on her tongue and a drop of wine beneath her tongue, measured with an eye-dropper. Three hours later my daughter's eyes opened.
    The following day my friend came into the city to visit her/me. Chris phoned her daughter to give her the phone number and instructions. She put the phone receiver to Erin's mouth and told her to "… say 'hi' to Mel." Immediately her lips parted and she responded, "Hi, Mel!" Melissa was Erin's bestie. Me, she ignored. Melsey, she speaks to! Don't even begin to think of telling me there is no God! I know better! God(dess), Yaweh, Allah, or the estimated 30-million Hindu Gods. Name and number are all man-made constructs—imagined with our limited intellect and understanding. But the being is real.
    After CHOP Erin went into a neuro-rehab at A.I. Dupont Institute in Wilmington, Delaware. I was reading 'The House of God" at the time of Erin's accident. Every doctor and nurse coming in to tend to her saw what I was reading and advised me, with honest sincerity, not to read it while Erin was hospitalized.
    It is the tale of interns and residents in a large teaching hospital; the stories of their rotations, their patients, their introduction to the reality of hospitals. It is gruesome. It is irreverent. It is honest and it is hilarious. My daughter, with the extent of her injuries, might well have been a GOMER at a smaller, less equipped and not-trauma-certified hospital!
    It's not written with patients and families in mind as prospective readers. It is written for medical personnel. It is now out of print and I want a copy—very badly! If you know where to find a copy, let me know, PLEASE!

  6. i'll make sure to hire only funny lawyers when suing your arrogant asses

  7. This man is doing what he loves and seems passionate about. Great work. Thank you for sharing

  8. Why this doesn't have more comments and views is beyond me! I would LOVE the opportunity to talk with him! What a pure and great soul destined to change lives!

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