Returning a Smile to Every Face (Cory Ko)
In order to better understand the work of CliniClowns, Feng Shi, myself, and our editor at Mirror Fiction went to a children’s hospital to follow two CliniClowns on their early morning rounds. Since we weren’t allowed in the patients’ rooms, we had to quietly listen from outside as the CliniClowns played with the children. For each patient they created a unique performance tailored to the child and whatever level of interaction their condition permitted. Every single performance required overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. This wasn’t simply horsing around with kids!
I had only observed from the wings, but after two hours I was exhausted in body and spirit. The two CliniClowns, however, continued their mentally and physically demanding work on into the afternoon.
A video interview with the mother of a former patient also left a deep impression. From the smile on this mother’s face, you would guess her child had made a full recovery, though, in fact, her child had already passed on. She described how the CliniClowns gave her son a chance to be a kid again, to feel like a prince among boys. Still smiling, she said his fear of death had diminished, and that she had found comfort in the midst of her grief. I feel certain her son had passed that smile on to her, and that the son had only found his smile again with the help of the CliniClowns.
In fact, that is the mission of the CliniClowns: returning a smile to every face.
And thank heaven!
Though I could never be a CliniClown myself, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to create the art for this graphic novel and help people to better understand and appreciate their work. This has given me the chance to put something positive back into society, insignificant though it may be.
Everyone should to give this graphic novel a proper read! (waving goodbye!)
The Magic of CliniClowns (Feng Shi)
As a child I was devastated when my grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia and went into treatment at the veteran’s hospital. My mother became his primary caregiver, but she often brought me to the hospital with her. My family was afraid that my stubborn grandfather would refuse treatment, so we had to put on a ruse: we told him he only had a minor illness, and he would soon return to live at home. But with the gloomy atmosphere at the hospital and all of the cancer patients living together in one ward, we feared my grandfather would soon discover the truth. In the end, however, my grandfather was far more obliging than we had imagined. Even as he lay dying of late-stage leukemia he never asked his children why he was staying at the hospital instead of returning home.
He endured his treatments, constantly vomiting and slowly wasting away until he was finally brought home to die. I think my grandfather must have known the truth, but being the man that he was, he remained the pillar of our family to the very end.
Unfortunately, the memories of that time gave me nightmares for years to come. I dreamed of endless corridors lined with empty hospital rooms and blood-splattered washrooms. Our memories of those last days with my grandfather became something no one in the family cared to revisit.
Of course medicine at the time did not place a priority on palliative care and the psychological well-being of the patient. It was only thanks to the CliniClowns of Dr. Rednose Association that my perspective on those times began to change. On my first visit to the children’s hospital to observe them in action, I found, to my surprise, that the stitches of those early memories were being prized apart, and color and song began to enter in.
As the CliniClowns performed room by room, many of the children became exited, laughing and running around no different than healthy children. No matter how sick they were, they still had imagination, laughter, and the capacity to play. When the CliniClowns appeared, the hospital was instantly transformed as if by magic. Gloomy hospital rooms became amusement parks where children could play with their parents. The children clearly wanted them to stay as long as possible; it was heartbreaking to see them finally wave goodbye. These children obviously needed these brief periods of joy and laughter.
As difficult as the body is to treat, healing the heart can be even more challenging. In the process of writing this story I observed CliniClown trainings and performances, and I interviewed each CliniClown to learn what had motivated them to take on this work. All of this gave me the opportunity to go back and face my own memories. Hospitals have always been a place of healing, but the colorful presence of the CliniClowns is needed to transform the atmosphere. They also transform the memories of patients and their families, giving them happier hospital experiences to reflect on in years to come, much as this story aims to do.
May we all avail ourselves of every opportunity to say farewell, even if we fear it might be our last.