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Making a connection with a sick child in the hospital is a special moment. There can be initial apprehension upon meeting, due to the serious environment and stress of treatments. Usually, within a few minutes, I can break down those barriers and elicit curiosity in either my upcoming magic trick or who is this funny guy saying my name wrong. For me, having a shy child participate in my show for the first time is incredibly rewarding. When I get laughs or even called out on a trick, I know we have made a solid connection that could last through years of appointments and hospital stays.


In one such case, there was a 7-year-old boy, I called him Bicycle. He immediately thought I Was hilarious. He was diagnosed with some form of cancer, (as I am just a clown, it would be a HIPA violation to tell me these private details) and our meeting was his first overnight stay in the hospital. He had a lot of energy, as a boy his age tends to have, and he channeled that energy into me and my show. He would rambunctiously grab an element of a trick and not want to give it back. In a normal setting, this kind of thing wouldn’t be tolerated, but for a child in treatment, as long as they are engaging in a way that brings them relief, anything goes. After knowing each other for some time he did settle down but on one occasion was so excited to help me with a trick that he snapped my wand right in half. His parents were sorry of course for the breaking of the wand but also so grateful for our connection; that he had an outlet for both his energy and his stress. I knew he broke the wand out of a desire to connect with me, not to be “bad” or undisciplined, etc. I knew he was channeling all of the trauma of his experience into our interaction and letting a little out with each trick. He was an incredibly intelligent child.


After a few years of struggle, loss of hair, and then having it grow back again, Bicycle was losing his fight. He was now 9 and a simple line self-portrait of him with no hair was now hanging in the hall near the playroom. I was impressed with how much it actually looked like him. On this particular day, I was training a new clown to work on the pediatric floor. The child-Life specialist whom I had worked with for 10 plus years was taking me around for bedside visits when she gently leveled me with the news. The bicycle was in a coma and this would most likely be the last few days. She asked if I wanted to see him.


We went into the ER section of the floor and Bicycle was in a bed with tubes helping him breathe and wires monitoring his stats. I went to him as if he was awake and went through the motions of one of his favorite tricks, the invisible deck. As I pretended he had picked a card, I fanned out the cards next to him for the end of the trick, to say I had found his card, and his hand thrust up from the bed and grabbed the cards and wouldn’t let go. As my clown in training watched over my shoulder and the child life specialist by my side we all shared a profound look. I used all I had to keep it together. In all of these years, I had never cried on the job as a clown. I always saved it for later when I was alone. I shoved down the emotion and instead channeled my thoughts to one of celebration for our connection. I was glad I could be with him in his worst moment and bring him some kind of comfort or normalcy. I was glad that he and I had become friends and up until his final moments he could be that spunky intelligent energetic child that he was supposed to be.


The child life specialist left me a message the next day that he had passed that night. His memory and our time together live on.

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