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February 4, 1998

When Healing Is More Than Simply Clowning Around

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JAMA. 1998;279(5):401. doi:10.1001/jama.279.5.401-JMS0204-4-1

I remember the first time I used the pouch, on a trip to Russia in November 1996. We were working in an orthopedic hospital for children who have tuberculosis of the bone. I have been a family doctor since I graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in 1971, but I visit these patients as a clown. For 9 years I have taken 30 would-be clowns to Russia for 2 weeks during which we practice the art of clowning all day long in hospitals and orphanages.

The pouch is a potent medical tool to relieve pain. Before its creation, we often would be in hospitals that could not afford treatments readily available in the United States. I found myself wanting to add something to my work that would be good medicine yet not detract from my clowning. I thought of myself as a clown-shaman. Since a symbol for a clown is the nose, I thought I could also use aromatherapy, an ancient healing technique. I had my costume designer create a rectangular flat pouch that resembles a fanny pack but holds aromas and other surprises.