By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Several weeks ago, Javier Eisenberg of Rambam Medical Center in Israel arranged a trip to Chile. He packed up his uniform—flipper-sized shoes, bow tie, and large red plastic nose—and hit the road. His goal: to bring the Israeli model of medical clowns to South America.
“Marciano” is one of Rambam’s most senior medical clowns. For more than a decade, he has arrived every day at the hospital’s children’s unit to bring laughter and levity to young patients. For Javier Eisenberg, a.k.a. “Marciano,” this is a complex task based on accumulated training and professional knowhow.
Medical clowns have been active in Rambam Medical Center for more than a decade. Now they have entered the operating room, where they help children arrive for surgery calm, relaxed, and even happy. Outfitted with the latest medical equipment—a mock medical mask, imitation oxygen balloons, “Bermuda” (Zoya Hite) gets to work.
She may “argue” with children about their pajamas, take orders for a special dream, or act like someone who wants an examination. Through games, “Bermuda” acquaints children with the operating equipment, makes them laugh, and helps them pass the stressful pre-op hours. True miracle workers, the clowns create a fantasy world with the patient—usually a child—at the center. Bringing light to young patients and restoring their sense of self and security, medical clowns are an integral part of hospital treatment.
“This is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done,” Bermuda explains. “When a sick child smiles, you get immediate feedback. It’s addictive. In the hospital, children become powerless. They are told what to wear, what to eat, and when to take medicine. They are pricked and prodded.” Within this scenario, the clown attempts to return the child’s place of sense, center, and place.
None of the clowns have difficulty connecting with patients from different religions, cultural, or linguistic backgrounds. Often working without words, the clowns coax laughter from patients representing Rambam’s diverse populations.
Rambam Medical Center’s clowns work through Dream Doctors, an organization active in 17 hospitals throughout Israel. Rambam was among the first to become involved, and now has seven clowns who work with children, and one who works with adults. The Dream Doctors accompany children to surgery, and remain with them in post-op recovery and through treatments for burns, physiotherapy, psychiatry, and plastic surgery. They are also present in outpatient, dental, and other clinics.
A year ago, a delegation of members of Chile’s Jewish community arrived at Rambam Medical Center. During their visit, they met with various figures, among them “Marciano.” At that point, delegation member Dr. Alfredo Mizrahi, deputy director of Santiago’s Las Condes Clinic, decided to improve the quality of life for children in his country by importing this Israeli model to his own facility.
Over long months, the program came together. Several weeks ago, Eisenberg spent two weeks in Santiago, where he delivered an intensive series of lectures and workshops, and established a group of ready-for-work medical clowns at the Las Condes Clinic.
“I’m sure they will do fantastic work for the kids,” said Eisenberg, who continues to communicate with the new Chilean clowns, proffering advice and answering questions online. In the near future, additional exchanges between Rambam and Chilean hospitals will be held to both reinforce the existing team and train new clowns. v