Two months of commuting into London has conditioned me into a familiar pattern: head down or eyes closed and avoid at all costs making eye contact. If you do make eye contact, look away very quickly and pretend you were actually looking outside! I caught myself in this subconscious habit and realised that we all put up barriers to protect ourselves but reflecting on my observations with the Giggle Doctors, letting people in is where the magic happens.
Who are the Giggle Doctors? They are specially trained performers at the heart of the mission of Theodora Children’s charity. Their goal is to improve the experience of children in hospital by giving them with a chance to play, use their imagination and give them back a sense of control in an environment where this is limited. My first experience with Theodora’s Giggle Doctoring was observing Dr Oui Oui (yes, she is French!) at Southampton University Hospital. I was quite lucky that Pauline had a chance to express herself regarding her work as a Giggle Doctor before I saw her perform so it created some context for me on how my pre- conceived ideas were going to be vastly different than what I actually experienced. A common trend is for people to assume that anyone can make these performances but the reality is that to prepare to enter the hospital for the 1st time, they must complete a rigorous year long training and train for a further year with a more experienced Giggle Doctor before they receive their Dr’s coat.
Our first stop was the High Dependency Unit and I prepared myself mentally for what I would see there. I was surprised to find that I was struck with some emotions that I was unprepared for. It was a powerful feeling of being helpless to do anything while these babies, children and families were going through so much. I watched as Dr Oui Oui quietly washed her hands in observation of the hospital’s strict protocols.
On this ward, many of the children were too poorly to interact but she soon approached a child with severe disabilities. This little boy could not speak and was bound to a wheelchair. Dr Oui Oui asked his father, may I sing him a song? She quietly sang a song in French as a way of introducing herself as he could not communicate in words. She said to him, I am so glad to see you today and lightly touched his arm. For me, she was saying to this little boy, I see you. I see you even though we can’t communicate with words. I see you and not your illness. I am 100% present with you here. I am here only for you in these moments. She took out a small toy that blows tiny puffs of air and lightly blew air into his hair and on his arm for several moments. His face registered the sensory experience and I was caught as an observer to this powerful moment of connection that I was deeply moved by. After a time, the father looked up and simply said ‘Thank You Dr’ and like that the moment was over.
How to capture the impact of moments such as this? I fear that my writing does not do them justice but I am left with a feeling of excitement at the work that the team at Theodora Children’s Charity has applied for me to do. My role to help improve the impact measurement for the organisation and we are working very hard to look at ways to understand the needs of the children more clearly so that we can do more of what is going brilliant and learn how to change to better serve the needs of our beneficiaries. I am excited about what’s to come for Theodora Children’s Charity in the next year and how this work can only enhance the amazing work that they do for children.