Humor in healthcare | Gary Edwards | TEDxBrno

so yes I'm going to speak English today but I hope this is not a problem if if it is a problem just raise your hand and we will immediately speak only Spanish okay no one is raising their hand yet so humor in healthcare I can admit how somebody's raising their hand talking I can imagine that everyone in this room remembers a time when it was impossible to put those two words humor and healthcare in the same sentence and today well today humor in healthcare it's an idea worth sharing I would like to start with a personal experience I had here in the Czech Republic about 15 years ago I had just started presenting this idea of humor in healthcare at at health care conferences and I was running all over the country like a madman visiting hospitals as a clown was one of my studies was clowning I studied at the first accredited climate school in America like I said it's not my fault so I was presenting this idea and hospitals and children's words all over the country and then this one Hospital I came into the hospital and the first thing I would do is have a consultation with the staff to get some basic information on the patients that were there and that would help me in my work and so I was talking with the doctor and the oncology ward this hospital and he was telling me things I needed to know and then he said oh and there's Melissa in room 4 I changed her name by the way there's Melissa in room 4 but unfortunately the therapy did not work and she's in the last stages of the disease and her bodily functions are shutting down so she cannot see anymore and I doubt that she even know if you were present or not so it probably doesn't really make sense to visit her and I said well can I try and he said yeah of course so I continued my visit to the oncology ward there were actually two wards younger children and older children and and and so 3-4 hours later I was left with one room left that was room number 4 and Melissa so I knocked on the door no answer I opened the door slightly and asked if I could come in I saw Melissa laying in bed staring blindly at the ceiling she had lost all her hair to treatment her mother was sitting next to her wringing your hands obviously and a lot of stress so I asked if I could come in and her mother said yes so I came in and I started clowning for Melissa because she didn't see I was forced to use sounds so one of the things that happened and I never knew what was going to happen but we found a bird in the room Melissa like that so we decided that we should catch this burden and it was melis as I did to put it up the window so I'm racing around the room trying to catch this bird I did finally catch the bird so I caught it under her bed and put it in a plastic bag and open the window and let it fly but then it's me right back in so this went on and on and we couldn't get rid of this bird so finding the Lisa and I she was really enjoying this she was laughing and we're having a very good time and finally we decided that the bird would live under her bed so this was this is our decision together and so the bird finding lived under the lease is bad and and at the end I picked up my ukulele and I sang a little song about the bird that lived under Melissa's bed then I left the room I left the room with with my Lisa in bed smiling and and it was a very nice atmosphere as the door closed the door opened immediately again and her mother was chasing me into the into the foyer of the hospital and trying to give me money tears streaming down her face of course I had to say no I mean what I just received in that room was worth all the money in the world so I think that that what happened in the room actually Lisa and I understood the game and her mother was completely surprised she probably saw this as maybe the last time she would see her daughter smile and laugh I don't know but she was very emotionally charged so I went on my way I was continually visiting hospitals all over the country and so it took some time before I came back to this hospital so how many weeks a month I don't know I came back into the same oncology ward and I was met with the doctor on duty and he said Gary do you remember Melissa in room 4 I said yes and I knew what was coming I have lost patients many times I knew what was coming so I was half listening as the doctor was telling me that Melissa after my visit had turned 180 degrees all of her bodily functions had returned there was no trace of the illness and Center home now I know it I know what spontaneous remission means I didn't see this necessarily as a cause of my visit but but that moment gave me the resolve to continue with this work and today here in the Czech Republic there are 87 specially trained certified health clowns visiting over 75 hospitals institutions at least on a regular basis at least once or twice a week up to seven times a week we make more than 3,500 visits a year here in the Czech Republic in the meantime I was honoured to be able to open a project in Slovakia and now I work with red noses clown doctors international whose mission is to develop and to guide humor in healthcare projects worldwide so one of the one of the things we do is we've developed a certification process curriculum which involves all of the things that these specially trained artists need to know to do this work correctly we have an international school of humor in Vienna where the partners can come and get the best training in the world because it's we believe that that approaching this project in a professional manner is is really what it takes just like other people working in health care we see it as as very important to put energy into the training process red noses clown doctors is also advocating for child's rights the right to play specifically we all know that play is an important part of the development process for children and in hospitals they also recognize this so so what you'll see in children's wards quite often our play rooms but this is not inclusive for all children in the hospital consider children who must stay in bed they are not allowed into the play room so that's where our clowns come in they bring this atmosphere of play the possibility to play and the expertise to to draw the children into this play mode right to the children's bedside we work individually with children of all ages they are specially trained to work with children of all ages and we work individually with each child what we do what we do is is use these Hospital procedures and the environment and we make fun of it nurses and doctors love it as well will they be and by doing this we get around the mystique if a child can laugh about a procedure they will not be afraid of it so so our clowns are specially trained to work with children on an individual basis and as you can see they are very empathetic so so children's programs is that the basis of our work but we do work with other age groups we have also a project circus Patsy anthem where we work in the entire week with children in Seville without the clown nose teaching circus arts and magic and music you know these are things the children are readily interested in and I believe that if we can awaken an interest in whatsoever then we awaken an interest in life and an interest in life is an integral part of the health care process so circus pacientes process what they learned to learn something new they become interested in things and they become the stars at the end of the day so we even have circus tents as a circus tent set up on the hospital grounds which is very inviting for Children Hospital so there the big stars of the show audience includes their parents hospital staff other children besides children we also have developed projects working with the elderly because actually last year I reached retirement age hey I do not want to be in an institution where there are not clowns visiting on a regular basis so so we've developed a humor for the early born and and and quite often did this is exactly what they need they need to be brought back into life it's a completely different method and the clowns that do this project are specially trained specifically for this project now we use old costumes 50 year old costumes we sing the old songs a lot of it has to do with memory training you know picking mushrooms is very popular in the Czech Republic so so in the autumn we would come in with a basket of mushrooms just to smell it to remember it's a beautiful project and we have also many other projects caravan orchestra is a special scenario built for the multiple handicapped children in institutions and we have the humour baskets project which for adults I have seen magic work with this I have seen waiting rooms in an adult oncology ward and you can imagine what the atmosphere is like and we've come in with these humour baskets and the whole thing is changed into almost a Christmas atmosphere where somebody says oh this is a great book I read this and somebody says I read this oh let's change and we had some some real magic moments happen with this just lately one of the last projects I was able to do here for the struggle new Clara project here and also the project in Slovakia was to introduce something I'd seen in Israel and this is where clowns specially trained for this accompany children from the hospital ward to the operating theatre we call it NOS na operation sol to the operation that would have realizes there are specific stress moments in this process and so the clowns are trained to to interject humor at these stress moments if you can imagine being a parent in the moment this is not just for the children but at this moment when your child is wheeled through the operation room and the doors closed and you're left outside can you imagine what a stress moment that is so the clowns are specially trained also to work with the parents in this situation there may they may take the nose off and just be a human being when a human being is needed you know when I when I introduced this project I I was met with some skepticism but just after the the pilot period of three months I had nothing but positive feedback and so we are expanding the project even further humor humor is an international yeah here I was here red noses clam doctors international were invited to to speak at conferences in Saudi Arabia this is a picture taken in the in the hospital with the head of a pediatric ward so you know when I first started also helping to develop the project in Palestine I thought wow you know clown is not an element in their culture but but they learned that mean they know and and not we found it that that they understood immediately and went with us wholeheartedly we worked very closely with the hospital staff this is something I find very important what I how I see our work specifically is we are a complement to the fine work that the other Hospital professionals are doing and in in that vein I have also worked with medical students teaching humor and healthcare as a as a communication tool how to better a relationship with with the patient and I have worked with the Czech Association of nurses to teach accredited seminars for nurses because I really believe not that they are clowns but they can use humor in their work so the things we talk about are the types of humor relative to health care we talk about the developmental stages of understanding humor and children we talk about fear we talk about focus for instance if I was to take a blood sample you know that health professionals focus on their work and that's normal so if I'm going to take a blood sample may I just just stay seated the focus is here here where the procedure takes place but that is not necessarily convenient for the patient so what I do is introduce some other ideas may I see your other hand just one finger yes yeah so I'm never going to take a blood sample I'm going to take a blood sample your job is to make sure the bird stays flying yeah so okay just about so we do work together with the hospital staff this is very important and and you know what's interesting is that that now there are so many hospital wards which realize that that that award without humor intervention can't work so things have changed that much in the in the last 15-20 years and what this tells us in the global picture is that the healthcare is changing that healthcare is becoming more humane and more and more aware of the psychosocial needs of the patients and that is something to smile about thank you


  1. i'll make sure to hire only funny lawyers when suing your arrogant asses

  2. All I can think of is Patch Addams

  3. I really love this concept , would love to hear more from you

  4. Brilliant!!!

  5. NOTE: The House of God is back in print!

    In 1989 I was reading a book, 'The House of God'. I was an RN.
    My daughter was hit by a car on April 4th and medivacced into CHOP while I was driving home from work. I was forced into a detour to allow passage of emergency vehicles from Springfield, PA., the larger small city/town west of the really small town in which we resided.
    Whatever it was, was bad. Whatever it was somehow effected me. This is what every cell in my body was screaming. I kept trying to tell my brain to knock it off; the paranoia was very unnecessary. Still, I knew.
    I was forced behind the old Boeing plant where they used to make helicopters. Ironically they were loading a stretcher onto a medical-transport helicoptor. I saw that happen but from far-enough away that i couldn't view the victim's face. I didn't know I was watching the rescue of my child.
    When I finally pulled into my parking-lot, my neighbor was waiting to drive me into Philadelphia, to The Children's Hospital. I'd only been there once, while in Nursing school. You know–a long-ish ride in someone's car. Filled with people, laughter and conversations. The vehicle stops, the doors open and everyone tumbles out, a little wrinkled but none-the-worse-for-wear. Voilà! We are where we are meant to be. I had to give directions to a place I did not know how to get to! In rush-hour traffic. In the CITY! OMG! Triple panicked!
    When we got there my only child was in surgery, in a coma and not expected to survive the night. TBI. All the way into the city I prayed to whatever God(s) that might exist, "Please, God, not her head. Please, God, not her head… " I was a nurse. I understood brain injury. I feared it more than anything. I was Wiccan at the time and worshipped a very loving Goddess. Very nurturing. She was, like almost all pagan gods, trinitarian—the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone. I never questioned, "Why me? Why MY daughter?" I believed then and do now, All things happen for a reason. Even with all the things that have happened since: really bad marriage to a man met online; lost friends; lost belongings; lost career; homelessness; being hit by a car myself, left severely disabled and unable to work as a nurse; separations from family and friends; cancer; Phoenix! There is a lesson(s) to be learned in each of those situations. I hope I am learning the lesson(s).I do not want to have to repeat those situations again. EVER, in the next life/lives!
    It was six hours more before I could see her as she was transferred from Trauma to ICU. In a coma. Intubated. Being bagged until ICU, where she would be vented.
    My ex could not be located. My Mother-in-law drove from motel to motel in Central New Jersey most of the night before finding him.
    With TBIs, periods of frenetic activity take place as the neurons misfire. Erin kept extubating herself. Continuously pulled out the central and arterial lines. Staff kept replacing lines and the endotrachial tube. And she fought everything. She tore through cottony wrist restraints. They placed three splints under her elbow, stacked one atop of the other. They were over an inch thick. She kept breaking them as she bent her arm. It took six grown men to hold her down when they reintubated her.
    After the sixth reinsertion I said, "No more! Stop torturing my daughter!" They explained to me the necessity of reinserting the endotrachial tube. I understood all of that. If they didn't reintubate, she would die. With the extent of her btain injury and the fact that the brain stem was as swollen as it was, it would be an impossibility for her to breathe on her own. I acknowledged that but I told the doctors that there were forces in the universe greater than they. If my child was meant to live—she would live.
    I made her a 'no code' and signed all the papers for organ donations. I prepared my heart and my mind for her transition into the next life. If she died, her life would have meaning beyond the memories I would have.
    An hour later she once again thrashed uncontrollably and pulled out the ET tube. Everyone was very still, watching. Waiting. After almost a minute, her chest heaved and she breathed on her own. The staff was incredulous. "She can't be breathing. This just doesn't happen!" I said nothing to the staff, but to the Goddess I said my thanks. When my ex arrived 13 hours after her being struck and learned of my decisions, he was Pissed with a capital 'P'. I didn't much care. He was a terrible father.
    I wrote our custody agreement. My lawyer changed two words and submitted it to the judge. We were the second couple in the state of Pennsylvania to have joint-custody. I included several clauses, conditions whereby full and sole custody would revert to the other parent, if invoked. It took a little less than a year for him to act such that one of the clauses would be invoked. I had sole-custody of our child and he had no say in her care without taking me to court. For whatever reason, he chose not to do that.
    On Easter Sunday we walked into the neighborhood of The University of Pennsylvania to attend the Easter Eucharist at an Episcopal Church. Keep in mind that this is probably the busiest Sunday of the year for the Rector. Still, I approached the man post benediction and told him of our daughter's condition. Following his meal with his family he came to Erin's room. She was out of ICU but still comatose and in a monitored bed. The priest annointed her with oil, prayed for her, placed a literal crumb of the wafer on her tongue and a drop of wine beneath her tongue, measured with an eye-dropper. Three hours later my daughter's eyes opened.
    The following day my friend came into the city to visit her/me. Chris phoned her daughter to give her the phone number and instructions. She put the phone receiver to Erin's mouth and told her to "… say 'hi' to Mel." Immediately her lips parted and she responded, "Hi, Mel!" Melissa was Erin's bestie. Me, she ignored. Melsey, she speaks to! Don't even begin to think of telling me there is no God! I know better! God(dess), Yaweh, Allah, or the estimated 30-million Hindu Gods. Name and number are all man-made constructs—imagined with our limited intellect and understanding. But the being is real.
    After CHOP Erin went into a neuro-rehab at A.I. Dupont Institute in Wilmington, Delaware. I was reading 'The House of God" at the time of Erin's accident. Every doctor and nurse coming in to tend to her saw what I was reading and advised me, with honest sincerity, not to read it while Erin was hospitalized.
    It is the tale of interns and residents in a large teaching hospital; the stories of their rotations, their patients, their introduction to the reality of hospitals. It is gruesome. It is irreverent. It is honest and it is hilarious. My daughter, with the extent of her injuries, might well have been a GOMER at a smaller, less equipped and not-trauma-certified hospital!
    It's not written with patients and families in mind as prospective readers. It is written for medical personnel. It is now out of print and I want a copy—very badly! If you know where to find a copy, let me know, PLEASE!

  6. Dear Edward, this is amazing. Happy to connect on LinkedIn/FB . Salute.

  7. I find it strange that clowns are not naturally funny people so I find it weird that anybody would want to be a clown. I could see if it was a naturally funny person who naturally makes people laugh all the time going into clowning because they should but otherwise I find that these unnaturally unfunny clowns who have a forced sense of sense of humor just get on my nerves and annoy me. The last thing I would want to do while I was in the hospital was to expend energy trying to be polite and fake laughing so not to hurt their feelings. I can see how this is good for younger children though if they are feeling up to it. But I still find it weird to want to be a clown regardless.

  8. Amazing work!

  9. I agree with every point brought up by Greg Edwards. This is such a creative and fun idea for people all ages. With Greg Edwards having the experience he does with going to the first clown school ever created, he is able to offer so much to this industry. The first story told about Melissa in room four instantly brought you on board of Clowndoctors. All of Melissa's bodily functions shut down and she was completely inactive besides listening. When Gary performed his skit with the bird, and returned Melissa's sweet smile back onto her face, he also ensured hope into her mother. Melissa's mother, thinking her daughter was on her last stretch of life due to not being able to operate on her own, was given a chance to see her daughter smile and light up the room with joy. She offered to pay Greg, but he refused. He is there to make children smile, and by succeeding that, no amount of money can top it. Greg Edwards left that institution, and later returned to news that Melissa had made a complete 180 in her life and is now functioning normally and was sent home to live a normal life. This is what inspires Greg today and keeps him going and expanding his company. Hearing that story and all the emotions involved gives me no question to not believe that Clowndoctors is an amazing idea and should be carried on through every hospital and institution in not only America, but the world. Kids who are bedridden still deserve to have a good time and be able to live as close to a normal life that they can. But, because they are so sick that they are bedridden, Clowndoctors work one on one with the kids to make sure they can smile through all of the pain. I personally loved the story and example Greg gave during his presentation of the girl getting blood drawn. This is such a good example for him to use because it is so relatable to anyone at any age. I was beyond terrified to get my blood up until I turned eighteen. The way Greg brought humor into such a scary time for some patients and really involved them in an activity to distract them was mesmerizing. In conclusion, I agree with every point made by Greg Edwards. He was spot on and the way he cares about his patients is so inspiring. A lot of healthcare professionals could learn a lot from Greg alone, as well as healthcare systems learning from Clowndoctors.

  10. This is what health care needs. Physicians and nurses are trained to be professional which is necessary but it has become almost an extreme. It is very hard to build a personal relationship and bond with a patient when being professional makes the conversations almost uncomfortable. There is a time when seriousness is needed but when it is practiced in such an overpowering way it can make the whole atmosphere seem more stressful and anxiety filled. If nurses and doctors could make patients laugh and smile more instead of being so serious they fill the patient with worry, fear and anxiety would lessen. I love the example he gave about drawing blood. People are so serious when coming into a room to draw blood. They walk in, say hello, grab the patients arm and draw away in silence. How awkward is that? It's almost as if the patient isn't human at all. Making the health care system seem more inviting and happy for the people they are caring for instead of treating them as if they are just 'a patient' instead of a human being can make a world of difference.

  11. He's a great guy. He likes to go to his high school reunion and look for booty calls; he impresses his prey with his phony altruism and when his mission accomplished he returns to his life in  an eastern bloc nation.  He probably has booty calls in all the 7 languages he speaks all over the world.  My impression: Narcissist with a bit of sociopath.

  12. Great person. He does terrific work with hospice and chronically ill children with humor and cheer. 

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