Clown doctors warding off frowns

  • Nation
  • Monday, 15 Jul 2019

Send in the clowns: Iskandar (right) who is also known as Dr Bubbles, and Latfy, or Dr Lat, posing with a child during their visit to cheer up children at the cancer ward of Hospital Sultan Ismail in Johor Bahru.

PETALING JAYA: The narrow space next to the bedside of a sick child is their “stage”.

And a dose of laughter is the me­­dicine prescribed by the “clown doctors” of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Red Bubbles Children Entertainer Society (Red Bubbles).

The non-profit organisation set up by its chairman Iskandar Syah Ismail, Latfy Anuar Latif and a few other friends in 2011, currently has three professional healthcare clowns working to bring joy and laughter to seriously ill children on a weekly and monthly basis at three hospitals.

Healthcare clowns like the Red Bubbles are trained specially to attend to the psychosocial needs of hospitalised children, said Iskandar.

“Our interaction with sick kids is basically to help reduce their stress and anxiety during their treatment.

“We work to distract children during painful or frightening procedures through constant interaction of play, imagination, music and physical comedy.

“Some of the kids really look forward to seeing us during their routine dialysis, and complain to us on Facebook if we can’t make it to see them on regular days,” he said.

Iskandar recalled a doctor once apologetically telling them that “we hurt the child through our painful procedures, but you come to heal their emotions”.

The idea to form Red Bubbles was mooted after Iskandar read a report on the first clown doctors programme in the world given to him by a friend.

It inspired him to start the initiative in Malaysia.

When it was first set up, they visited the kids on weekends and held monthly birthday parties for child cancer patients in hospitals.

“We only started going to children’s wards on a regular weekday schedule in 2015.

“This was after we felt that our continuous presence in the wards were being accepted by the hospital’s audience such as patients, families, nurses and doctors,” he said in an interview.

The most beautiful moment experienced by the clown doctors was when they entertained a six-year-old boy with a brain tumour, said Iskandar.

“The tumour pressed on his optic nerve, and he lost his eyesight. Yet, he still enjoyed our performance by asking us to sing him songs.

“And I can still see vividly how he patted his chest repeatedly as he was so happy to hear us singing his favourite songs.

“When we left his bed to go to the next bed, we all (the clowns) cried behind the curtain because that particular moment was the most beautiful moment we have ever had. It was like a miracle from heaven,” he said.

Iskandar trained to be a healthcare clown in 2003, when he atten­ded the Clown Camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and has since then continued to train to enhance his skills, studying theatre clowning from master teachers such as Aitor Basauri, Hilary Chaplain and Angela de Castro.

The Red Bubbles also had a chance to study mime from renowned French director and physical comedian Jean-Claude Cottilard.

Last year, they visited the Le Rire Medecin’s clown doctors programme in Paris, France, and are currently trying to raise around RM15,000 to bring in expert Lory Leshin from Le Rire Medecin to teach theatre clowning skills in September.

“Healthcare clowns in France work alongside doctors and child psychologists and the police during abuse case investigations.

“In Israel, clowns accompany traumatised children to see the gynaecologist during rape case examinations.

“In Spain, clowns even accompany sick kids during minor operations. We want to be like them one day in the near future as currently we are basically visiting and cheering sick kids in the wards,” he said.

Noting that there was still a long way to go, Iskandar added that they are confident with their professionalism and skills, they will gain the trust of healthcare practitioners.

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