We met him the first day we came down to 6. When we were initially admitted it was to the 7th Floor – only because the sixth floor was too full and had no room for us. Floor six was oncology/nephrology. You never want to be in the IWK. But you most certainly never want to have to press the elevator button for 6.
But down to 6 we went. And smack. Everything was all too real. The IVs, the wheelchairs, the sheer number of staff and, of course, all the little bald heads.
And then HE came through the door.
Well – he didn’t so much come through the door as he ran into it. Pretty much face first. And then once more with feeling.
I couldn’t quite get a handle on him at first. Who WAS this guy? He resembled a clown I guess, but not in the way you first think of them. He had no mask on, nor any big clown feet. No horns or balloons. He wore a baseball cap sideways, an oversized plaid blazer and his nose just had the smallest red circle on it. His eyebrows were blue. Not fake pasted-on eyebrows, they were real eyebrows, they were just painted blue.
He was not loud or boisterous like you traditionally think clowns to be. But instead he was actually calm in many ways. He had a soft way of speaking, but in the goofiest tone. He always asked if he could come in and if we would like to play. He was possibly both the most respectful and yet foolish person I had yet to meet. Ever. He was such a juxtaposition. Who was he? A volunteer I assumed. I would later learn that he wasn’t of course.
His puns were never ending, and as an adult absolutely ridiculous, but I constantly found myself laughing out loud despite myself. I never really understood why. Because let me tell you – these puns and jokes were lame with a capital L to a thirty three year old woman. But laugh I did. Again and again.
But my laughter didn’t matter. What mattered was what Mark and Megan were doing when he was around.
And so he quickly grew on me.
On the surface I guess it was because he made my children laugh. Laugh out loud every day. But of course laughter was just the tip of the iceberg. Laughter wasn’t why he became the most important person in our lives for five years.
No. Not really.
He became that because of all the things that I didn’t see at first, all the things I didn’t know were important, but of course became important all too quickly. All the things that become – frankly – everything.
Things are sometimes different in a Children’s Hospital than what you first think. We were not followed by one doctor, but instead an entire team of doctors. We never saw only one nurse, but sometimes a dozen all in one week. Nurses, doctors, lab techs, all of these people came and went – different ones different days or weeks. But Buddington remained. There weren’t two or three or six or ten of him. There was just one Buddington. And when you are young, having consistency in people is pretty important.
Levity, not just Laughter
Many adverse events happen all around you when you are literally living in a hospital. Adverse events to you and to so many around you. Pain, relapse, secondary disease, illness, death. Levity – the kind that twinkles in your childrens eyes and that causes them to laugh out loud – well that is a gift.
Every single staff person that steps through your hospital room door wants something from you or your son. Each one is incredible and each one we built amazing relationships with, but still, each one needed something from us. A procedure, a poke, a transfusion, a report on bowel movement! Except him. He just wanted to play. And only when we wanted to.
In a hospital setting, especially when you are in patient for six weeks at a time, you are so very aware of how short life is … but on the other side of the very same coin, ironically, also how long a day is. Buddington gave us something to look forward to in a day that is 24 hours long in a tiny little room that isn’t home.
Those are just some of the reasons Buddington became so important to us.
In my “head” I have always tried to respect the boundaries that come with a patient/family/staff relationship. It is not always easy – and is an entire book in and of itself – but it is important for staff, and healthy for families, and I understand why.
So in my “head” and in my conversation with others I talk about the Therapeutic Clown Program. Because that is exactly what it is. There is best practice and evidence that supports its implementation in children’s hospitals, and to refer to it as anything less than that undermines what Buddington is all about. A trained child-life professional who has specific knowledge, qualifications and skill sets. A health authority employee who researches and stays up to date on everything from pain management to chronic disease. The gratitude for the Clown Therapy Program and the support it receives from the IWK is immeasurable.
But in my “heart” he is just Buddington. He was, he is, in a word, perfect. And it was he – not peers or docs or nurses or patient navigators or psychologists or other parents – who became the most important person to us over the past ten years. The gratitude I have for this man is endless.
He was … the one we never expected.
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