For those of you who do not know, my weeks consist of doing shows in hospitals for sick children. I have been working for POD for a long time now and POD as a charity provide entertainment in hospital play rooms and wards for children at all levels of illness, from minor injury and illness right up to terminal cancer, They do about2000 shows a year in 141 different hospitals across the country. (Obviously I don't do all of those myself!)
When I tell people what I do as my 'day job' I am generally met by two stock responses. Firstly (and most frequently) people think that it is a fantastic idea and something worthwhile. (I am inclined to agree, although I am somewhat bias) There is however a small number of people that are a bit more sceptical and more 'purists' when it comes to medical treatment. I was talking to one lady about what I did and she replied "Don't you just get in the way?" to which I replied "No, I am a professional, I come in, I go to my designated area and I do my show and leave, if they need me to move I move, if they need me to set up somewhere different, that is what I do. No fuss, no hassle, just compliance on every level" or words to that effect (I don't think I was actually that direct) - anyway I quickly removed her naive ignorance and she actually came around to thinking that the idea was a good one.
I did meet another lady (why is it the middle aged female population seem to have an issue with fun?) and she was certain that although "nice" (I do hate that word) my role within the hospital did not actually serve any real purpose and the time could be much better spent actually doing therapy and treatment on the children instead. This took a lot more persuasion and I don't think I did a very good job. However, I have been thinking about it a lot today as I travelled home from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
Firstly, you cannot treat children every minute of every hour of every day. Sometimes it is not appropriate as drugs and medication need time to work, sometimes they need relief from the discomfort of the healing process and also they need to generally eat, sleep, go to the hospital school and allow the staff to treat the other sick children. So, in hospital, a lot of their day is actually spent waiting. There is only so much time can be occupied by watching TV or doing colouring in and painting and playing with the toys and jigsaws that people have donated to the hospital. I come in during the day, usually just after or just before lunch (when naturally no new treatments would be started so as not to interrupt the nourishment or so that the food has been processed before new medication is given) and perform for them. I spent 1 hour in each hospital, I do some magic, I make some balloons and I generally try and distract them from the pain they are in or the boredom they are experiencing.
Does it help? Yes, I am utterly convinced that laughter is good for you. It is so good to see the children smiling and laughing when I know they are (some of them) so ill. It is a good feeling that I am making their day a little more diverse and a little brighter. I remember once I was at Oxford JR Hospital and I performed for one little girl at her bedside. She was too ill to come down to the playroom and so I spent some time with her and her parents in the comfort of her own room. To start with she was very quiet and reluctant to join in with the magic (it was obvious that she was not at all well) but I carried on. I made my balloon animals and did my tricks and left. By the end of the routine she was joining in, smiling and at one point she even managed a little laugh. One of the nurses came over to me and said "Thank you so much, she has not said a word since she came into hospital two days ago" - it was an amazing feeling. Here was a little girl that was so ill and scared that she had not spoken for 2 days, not even to her own parents. Here was me, a complete stranger doing a silly job wearing a silly costume, coming in and breaking up the day and giving her something to smile about. As I was walking out of the door I heard her chattering away to her parents. Laughter had broken the cycle and she was obviously more upbeat than when I had arrived.
I suppose it is true within my own life too. If I am feeling ill or utterly exhausted but know I need to be somewhere or do something and need to get my energy level back up - I always turn to my collection of comedy DVDs and get cheered up by the likes of Michael McIntyre and Bill Bailey. I am lucky that I can do that in the comfort of my own bed and not away from my family in a hospital bed.
Laughter is very important. It can make us feel good, it can distract us from any pain we are suffering, it can connect us with others on a new level and it can make us feel relaxed and at ease. Laughter is a good thing. I am very pleased to be an exporter of it.
Please spare a thought for POD - they are a charity run totally off of the donations of the public. You can find out more about them and the work that they do at www.podcharity.org.uk - and if you feel the call you can donate online too. Make some children happy at your local hospital.