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Smile under the face mask: This is how clown doctors comfort young patients

Just a few seconds ago, Dr. Pustekuchen and Dr. Smile and storm into the hospital room at the pediatric clinic in Varisano-Klinikum Höchst – all the eleven-year-old patients Hana and Douaa’s sad thoughts have disappeared. Your worries have been split like the temporary works of art from Dr. Pustekuchen’s bubble machine, lost in the girls’ laughter when they asked Dr. Smile warns against falling out of bed as it could have consequences similar to falling off Mount Everest – “it really hurts Bobbes!”.

The sisters are also happy

The real names of the two unusual doctors are Stefan Fogel and Axel Schwenk and they are among the clown doctors who regularly visit the city’s clinics to cheer up the little patients (see info box). Anyone who accompanies them through the clinic is amazed at how easily they fit into the medical business. Here’s a smile for a passing doctor, where a chat with a nurse. After a brief handover by the medical staff, who explains what needs to be considered with the young patients, the two literally fly down the corridors and into the rooms.

No two visits are alike: improvisation is the key. Sometimes slapstick, sometimes a riddle, sometimes a song – and yet they evoke a smile in every room. The ability to engage in a situation that is never the same and to strike fun sparks from the moment is especially in demand due to pandemic restrictions, as Stefan Fogel explains. Because the clown actually lives off his smile – but it falls away when the mask covers his mouth and half his face.

“Even under the masks we get very panting,” adds Schwenk. “We have to do without many classic elements in our performances,” reports Schwenk. Touches such as patting the hands of the “high five” with the young audience are forbidden, as is blowing soap with the mouth. To avoid the dangerous aerosols that occur, the clowns use a mini fan that produces the shimmering bubbles. And they usually entertain the children from the door to follow the distance rules.

Good for mental balance

But all this, emphasizes Stefan Fogel, is easy to accept – “as long as we get the reactions from our audience”. After a long Corona break, visits by clown doctors have only been possible again since the summer of last year. “Before that, it was a tough time for me,” says Fogel. Not financially, because he could concentrate on his part-time job as an educator. But mentally, because: “I noticed that my clown foot is simply part of my mental balance.” It was similar to Schwenk: During the forced Corona break, he turned more to his job as a gardener and produced clown videos on YouTube. He soon realized: “It’s just not the same thing but a live audience.”

Throw out clichés

During their visits, they often throw old clown clichés overboard. For example, that only young children are receptive to their comic art. So Fogel tells about sisters who cried for him. Clowns, he explains, come from another world, removed from everyday life – “it makes it easier for many to open up to us”. As the doctor who always observed him with a skeptical, distant eye on his visit: “Until I addressed him as ‘Schatzi’. It broke the ice and we have been best friends ever since,” says Fogel. “I think he was disappointed that I did not bring flowers on Valentine’s Day,” he adds. And laughs. Michael Forest

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