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Paediatricians at PGIMER, Chandigarh, dress up as clowns for their patients.
Seven-year-old Tanmay (name changed) is looking forward to meet the clowns, Mr Ha Ha and Ms He He, and their buddies. Not at a circus, but at the Advanced Paediatrics Centre (APC) of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh. The clowns are not performance artists, but practising doctors, and their buddies are paramedics. Tanmay, up and ready since morning to "tour wonderland", as his mother puts it, walks with his family into the hospital's OPD, which looks more like a scene out of Cartoon Network. Doctors and nurses have their noses and cheeks painted red and white; holding puppets of Mickey Mouse and other toons, soft toys and balloons, they prance about animatedly, and make silly facial expressions. Tanmay and other child patients laugh and play with them, before the show is over and it's time for serious business. The doctors walk back to their rooms, take off their make-up, and talk to the child about his/her illness.
Tanmay feels comfortable answering questions posed by his paediatrician
Dr Bhavneet Bharti, who was dressed up as a clown sometime back. The "clown effect" is still working, and he happily gives the follow-up of his medical condition, epilepsy. Five months ago, when Tanmay was first brought to PGIMER for treatment, he was nervous and would not speak up before the "scary aunt with the white coat", despite comforting glances from his mother. He was, what doctors call, suffering from the "white coat syndrome" — a fear of doctors among children.
It is to remove such fear and help children open up about their condition that APC — which treats children with serious ailments like cancer, epilepsy, neurological disorders, trauma and liver diseases — in association with Childline, an NGO, came up with the idea of "clown doctors". "It is agonising not only for children but also for parents to visit a doctor. So after some brainstorming, we came up with this concept," says Dr Bharti. With the child opening up about his condition, clown therapy helps in diagnosis. "In many cases, the child is hesitant to talk about his medical condition for various reasons — he may be hearing the family discussing the illness, or his peers may not be too friendly with him due to his ailment. So, it gets difficult to extract information from a child. After the clown doctor sessions, children's responses help us in understanding their conditions better," says Dr Bharti.