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Dr Geehee is a 'laughter professional', a Special Clown bringing fun and jollity to sick children in hospital. She's a therapeutic jester hell bent on spreading the infection of smiles.  

By Vida Adamoli

 

Laughter, it is said, is the best medicine. It's the 'wonder drug' that combats stress, relaxes muscles, reduces pain, boosts the immune system, gives hope and helps create a positive emotional environment. 

Dr Geehee - aka Faith Tingle – has hearts on her cheeks and a big red nose. She was born in 2001 when Faith's professional life radically changed direction. After twenty years as a serious actor she turned her back on Ibsen, Shakespeare and Pinter to train as a Special Clown. Faith learnt magic, balloon sculpting, joke telling, juggling and developed her improvisation skills. It was all bound together by the wonderful art of Larking Around. There were also tutorials on infection control, pain management and the need for empathy and sensitivity in difficult situations.

The training spanned two years, four months of which were spent in the classroom and the rest shadowing a senior Clown Doctor on paediatric wards. Clown Doctors are experts at reading body language. They develop a sixth sense about whom to approach and whom to leave alone. Often they wait for the child to make the first move, before encouraging them to get involved with the fun and games.

When the time came for Faith to choose a name for her Clown Doctor - whose speciality is sillyology - she chose the name Geehee. Geehee is the phonetic pronunciation of Jihi, a Japanese word meaning to remove sorrow and replace with joy. Faith chose the name because it summed up the essence of her mission with poorly children. Like all Clown Doctors Geehee wears a white coat and has a stethoscope dangling from her neck. As well as the hearts and red nose, she sports a jumbo-sized bow on her bald head. The medicine dispensed by Dr Geehee is 'clown medicine' and includes red nose transplants, kitty cat scans and written prescriptions for laughter.

Clown Doctors can work on their own or in pairs. They work with children suffering anything from broken bones to terminal illnesses. Everything they do is improvised. They take their cues from whatever is happening at that moment, sparking off participation from the children, their parents and even the Real Medical Staff. Recently a child said to his mother, as Dr Geehee had them both in fits of laughter, 'Is this a hospital?'

Hospitals can be pretty miserable places, full of scary equipment and unfamiliar sights and smells. And children in hospital are powerless. They are subjected to frightening and painful medical procedures. To get well they have to put up with all sorts of constraints and invasive treatments. A Clown Doctor helps to restore some of that lost power. 'Blow me a balloon,' kids will demand. 'Do a magic trick.' 'Sing a song.' 'Come here.' 'Go away.' By asserting themselves they make contact with a part of themselves that is unchanged by illness.

'Doctors, nurses and the rest of the healthcare team focus on the ill parts of a child,' Faith explains. 'We focus on the parts that are well. They know they can say whatever they like to us. Often it's to a Clown Doctor that a child is finally able to express what he or she really feels. And that is so important.'
 
Faith's first experience of this was with Peter, a five-year-old cancer patient. This frightened, unhappy little boy was particularly upset because his mother had left him to pop to the pharmacy. He was running a high temperature and to check it a nurse kept sticking a thermometer under his arm. Dr Geehee tried cheering him up with songs and magic tricks. But although he liked the tricks, Peter was too tense to respond. So Dr Geehee waved a cheery goodbye promising to return another time. As she turned to go Peter passed wind very explosively. Dr Geehee burst into loud giggles and so did Peter. Children love toilet humour so she improvised a little skit holding her nose, flapping her hands and miming opening windows.

Then Peter stopped laughing and became serious. 'There's a little boy in the next room and he hasn't got any hair,' he whispered. 'That's going to happen to me, isn't it? Soon I won't have any hair either, will I?'
     
Dr Geehee drew close. 'No you won't,' she told him gently. 'But look at me,' she pointed to her own bald head with the big spotted bow. 'I haven't got any hair and I look beautiful, don't I?'

Peter nodded in agreement. So Dr Geehee suggested that they think of fun things he could do with his hair when chemotherapy made it fall out. Stuffing a cushion, for example, or knitting a jumper. As they chatted Peter began to relax. Laughter had enabled him to talk about what worried him most – losing his hair. And the physiological payoff was that his temperature returned to normal. From then on Peter and Dr Geehee were firm friends. His name for her was 'Potato Head'.

Faith often works with another Clown Doctor called Dr Doppit. Despite the fact Dr Geehee is black and Dr Doppit white they tell everyone they're identical twins. Kids totally accept this, saying, 'I can see you're twins because you've both got yellow eye shadow,' or 'She's the oldest twin sister because she's got a bigger nose.' In all the years of working together only one person has ever pointed out the difference in the colour of their skins - and that was a mother.

On one occasion Dr Geehee and Dr Doppit were the catalyst for bringing a thirteen-year-old boy out of a three-day coma. Noticing the Chelsea football sheet covering his bed, they asked his parents' permission to serenade him with the Chelsea football song, 'Blue Is the Colour'. They followed this up with an improvised rap. Suddenly the boy's eyelids quivered and tears leaked out, wetting his lashes. The room erupted with excitement. When Dr Geehee and Dr Doppit returned the following week the boy was out of intensive care and on the ward.

Clown doctors work in hospitals around the world. Faith Tingle trained in the UK with Theodora Children's Trust, which is a charity. Their Special Clowns – who visit eight hospitals on a weekly basis and two specialized institutions once a month - focus on comedic interaction, rather than just entertainment. Research has shown that the presence of Special Clowns benefit not just sick children and their families, but doctors, nurses and the whole hospital community.

Faith has been working as a Clown Doctor for the past seven years. Since then she has also developed another clown character, Silly Millie the Clown. Silly Milly spends her weekends doing kid's birthday parties, further spreading the virus of laughter.

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