Some days, my eyes are more open to the gifts the universe has to offer, and to the extreme humanity I am privileged to witness in working with pediatric patients. First of all, every day spent in the Burn Unit carries an extra level of emotion due to the nature of the environment. When someone suffers from burns, their road to recovery is long and arduous. These young folks are facing a lifetime of recovery and learning to overcome their physical and emotional differences. For this reason, the people they encounter at the beginning of their journey greatly impact their ultimate success in learning to live again. One such person is their physical therapist. This person has to convince the patient to reach way beyond their reality to a future place where they can visualize themselves walking again and function as a member of society. I believe that description serves to set the scene for our visit last week.
A young boy of about ten years old, who suffered burns on over 90% of his body, had been in a state of semi-consciousness for nearly three months. During this time, we visited him weekly and played music and sang songs for him. I thought we had had a pretty heartfelt moment when we sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to him, and it seemed as though a tear was rolling down his cheek. In general, I felt pretty good about maintaining this presence, because from past experience I know that kids remember that stuff long after their wounds have healed. This made for a surprising moment when one of the other clowns shared with me that when they went to see him a few weeks ago, he was sitting up and able to talk when they arrived. The parents welcomed the clowns with happy anticipation only to hear him say in a tiny voice, “I don’t really like clowns”.
This kind of admission pulls me in two directions. On the one hand, our main goal is to empower children in a place and time when they have no power, but on the other hand, sometimes they say they don’t like clowns based on an image of clowns that has absolutely nothing to do with kind of clowning we do. For a burn patient in particular, the recovery process is so long and filled with so many moments of despair, that I feel compelled to find a way that we can be a positive presence in his life and help instill hope in his heart through the use of humor. So, when I was there last week, his physical therapist was working with him and called us into the room. Not being exactly sure how to proceed, I went straight for honesty. I said to him, “so, I hear you don’t like clowns. Is that true?” He said, yes, and so I took my nose off. “is that better?” I asked. He said yes, and then I showed him a magic trick, and he was engaged almost immediately. My partner and I were able to shift our work to his liking and before long, he invited us to be present for his therapy session where he would walk down the hall, sit in a wheelchair and shoot nerf darts at his doctors and therapists.
Here is where the truly magical moment occurred. Therapists, child life specialist and two clowns guided him through a painful twenty foot walk with music and encouragement and love, and when he arrived at his chair, he was clearly in pain. He sat in the chair, looked at his physical therapist, and through his tears said “I love you”. She said “I love you too.” He said, “And I’m not mad at you for making me walk and hurt because I know you are trying to help me get better.” And the physical therapist and he were locked in a moment of trust while my partner and I fought back tears of emotion. In that moment, the world was filled with only passionate people doing everything they could to help this child heal. It was so beautiful to witness. Of course, we do still look for humor and over the next thirty minutes we all took target practice with this young boy and took turns getting shot in the butt on the bull’s eyes we made just for the occasion. When we said good-bye, I felt an incredible bond had been formed between all of us, and cannot wait to be part of this continued journey.