Red Noses and Red Noses Clowndoctors International have found a unique medicine to help children stuck in hospitals – laughter.
Visiting hospitals can be an unpleasant experience for anyone. For cancer patients, who typically experience lengthy stays and painful therapy, hospitals take a big emotional and psychological toll. Young cancer patients confined to an oncology department find it particularly tough to stay in their ward, rather than playing outside with their friends or spending time with their family. While necessary, these long hospital stays can prove detrimental to their physical condition, not to mention their spirit.
Recent research carried out at the University of Oxford has proved that the simple act of laughing can be used as an effective strategy for coping with mental and physical ailments, from depression to chronic pain. Laughter causes the body to release chemicals that act as a natural painkiller, helping people to feel better. The therapeutic benefits of laughter are especially beneficial for young patients dealing with difficult moments spent away from home.
With the aim of bringing more happiness and joy to ill children, Croatian NGO Red Noses saw an opportunity to improve the atmosphere in hospitals on an international scale. Equipped with an abundance of humour, jokes and tricks, professionally trained artists called clowndoctors take on the challenge of conquering fear and gloominess by visiting young patients at their bedsides.
With over 300 clowndoctors in 10 countries across Europe, Red Noses has organised ‘sessions of joy’ for children and the elderly in hospitals and geriatric institutions for more than 20 years. Since the program began in Croatia in 2010 it has grown at a rapid pace, but there was an urgent need to increase the accessibility and availability of clowndoctors. Red Noses sought help from Microsoft Croatia to provide IT services and technological support, while Hrvatski Telekom – major local Croatian telecommunications company and Microsoft Croatia’s partner- offered them a financial donation.
An initiative called Laughter is a Cure – Skype with a Clown was born. Kicking off in February 2016, the program uses computers with Skype and LCD TV sets in hospital wards, meaning more young patients can hear songs, enjoy magic tricks and play games with the clowndoctors. Microsoft provides the Skype licences as well as IT support before and during the sessions.
On a weekly basis, children gather in front of the TV in the common room of the oncology ward to meet and greet their clowndoctor via Skype. Equipped with the signature red nose, the clowndoctor takes the kids on a journey into a new reality where they can play, smile and laugh.
“We wanted to bring a much-needed dose of joy in the early evening hours, when the hospital corridors are empty, doctors’ rounds finished and the children have to confront their health situation even more intensively” said Mladenka Majerić, executive director of Red Noses Croatia.
Thirty years ago, hospitals were considered clinical and impersonal but this has changed significantly thanks to the efforts of hard-working doctors and hospital staff who have changed ward environments to ensure children are given the emotional support they need. Backed by a strong team of professionals in Red Noses who deliver high-quality ‘clown care’ programmes, this project has already been a huge success in two major hospitals in Croatia. Red Noses now aims to expand to other general hospitals with an oncology ward – the first one this autumn in the city of Osijek in the eastern part of Croatia – with an overall goal of reaching 140 more children through the Skype-based sessions.
Working together, a growing number of dedicated medical professionals, non-profits and technologists are now focused on alleviating the stress and struggle young patients bravely battle on a daily basis.