Hospital clowns provide a special service to children’s hospitals (and sometimes for adult patients as well). Normally, this specialized service is provided by a non-profit organization outside the hospital, but it can also come from a volunteer with thorough training. This training should cover not only hospital orientation but should also address classic clowning (with makeup, costumes, gags, tricks and skits adjusted for a hospital setting), partnering, hospital hygiene (including proper hand-washing), privacy laws and sensitivity training.
Unfortunately hospital orientation must also involve learning the emergency codes established by the hospital that you will be working in. This may not seem necessary for non-medical entertainment personnel such as clowns or magicians, but it is critical for anyone regularly spending time in a given hospital, even if only to know what areas to avoid or step away from so the code team or security can have room to safely carry out their duties.
Some hospitals use colors, names or numbers for various codes and many times they use a combination of all of these. Thankfully they don’t expect memorization of the codes-they give you a card that you can hang on the lanyard or clip that already holds your hospital ID. With time, you begin to remember the more common ones. The bomb scare code is not called often, but it is becoming a more common occurrence.
One morning two of our clowns got caught up in a bomb scare at our hospital. We watched police activity in horror on television, not knowing exactly where our colleagues were located. Eventually we found out that some people had to evacuate to the hospital roof because it was the nearest exit, but it was frightening because the perpetrator was still in the hospital, having locked himself in a room on the second floor. After a short stand off, law enforcement and security personnel were able to defuse the situation without casualties, and our clowns had a story to tell.
It is imperative that we follow all established hospital rules, protocol and instructions before, during and after any given emergency situation for the safety of the patients, employees, visitors and also for ourselves. Our job is fun, but we must be alert at all times no matter what.
Lucy E. Nunez has been a theatrical performer since 2002. She created Nurse Lulu for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in 2014. She was a resident clown there and at Baptist Children's Hospital. For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds