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Hospitals go the extra mile to bring smiles to their young wards


CHENNAI: Hema Malini is nine years old and blessed with a vivacity that fights through recurrent cycles of 


, to discover little joys in day-to-day hospital life. Previously, these moments came while basking in faint rays of the sun that beamed through her ward, or when visited by a favourite uncle.


Now they have expanded to include a goodie bag of clothes, books and toys that are wheeled in every week, thanks to the new initiative, ‘Anbu Ratham’ (wardrobe of love on wheels), which Institute Of Child Health director Dr A T Arasar Seeralar launched in collaboration with Aathichudi, an NGO, last month. "I found my top there," says Hema Malini, showing off a colourful spin toy. ‘Anbu Ratham’ is the latest in a series of heartwarming gestures that social workers, artists and NGOs across the country are developing to help ease children’s hospital stay and facilitate their recovery. And Hema Malini from Trichy, who is being treated for blood cancer at ICH for the last seven months, perfectly fits the category of beneficiaries Aathichudi aims to build — "Kids who come from outside the city and are forced to stay in the hospital for months together, without access to fresh clothes or recreation," says R Kavitha of Aathichudi, who has joined the ICH team to also set up ‘Anbu Suvar’, a shelf full of clothes, toys and colouring books replenished by visitors and volunteers every few days. "Sometimes, diagnosis for a child takes months and when they have something exciting to engage in and look forward to, they focus less on the illness. And this invariably ups the morale of the parents too," says Dr S Gangadharan, health educator at ICH.


For Aurovilian couple and medical clowns, Fif and Hamish, the reasoning lies in combating the psychological and emotional implications of an illness by constantly reminding the child of life’s better things. The couple, who set up the Komali MeDiClown Academy in Auroville in 2013, have worked with children in emergency, trauma and 

palliative care

 for more than three decades, employing tools of distraction therapy, laughter and active listening, "with a lot of compassion".



"You never look at the disease. A powerful part of clowning is shifting perceptions. We work with these kids through one-to-one conversations and laughter. We always say that once a connection is established with a child, it’s important that the same clown engage with them over a course of time, because the child starts looking forward to them and the relationship evolves," says Fif.


Fif and Hamish are often invited by doctors to engage with a child who is getting an injection or sutures. As a rule, they avoid using heavy make-up, and start by walking through the hallways with swinging chimes or gentle singing. They may then go on to do improv acts or little tricks, depending on the need of the hour. "Clowning also has to be age-appropriate; while a two-year-old would love some peek-a-boo, for an older child, we would probably blow birthday candles and throw around some magic dust," says Fif.


What’s working in most of these situations is the fact that children are inherently curious and active, says city psycho-oncologist E Vidhubala. "And this is no different for a child who is sick. Unlike adults, most times, when the child begins to feel even slightly better, they try to spring back to normalcy and want to play. And that is when such safe spaces inside hospitals are needed," she says.



In February 2017, the Adyar Cancer Institute opened the ‘Happy Place’, a play park to keep young patients in high spirits whenever possible. The space, set up by the Madras 


 Round Table 3 and the Madras Mylapore Ladies’ Circle 4, sprawls 4,000sqft behind the hospital’s paediatric ward, and is complete with colourful flowering plants, bird houses and a lively play area. Every morning and evening when the sun’s still soft, it gets flooded with kids who hop off their beds and take up swings and slides, chatter, compete and do everything that a hospital’s forbidding atmosphere may keep them from doing.


For nine-year-old G Sibi who’s almost through with his treatment for 


, this is one memory of the hospital he would take back home to Erode. "He’s mostly exhausted from treatment, but after play time every weekend, it’s a feat to get him back into the ward. His energy levels just shoot up being in the outdoors," says his mother.


"These spaces aren’t just positively transforming the psyche of the child, but also the parent, caretaker and everyone associated with the wellbeing of the patient. And that’s perhaps their biggest strength," says Vidhubala.

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