Study: Clowns Reduce Anxiety During Operations
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now something from the wackier side of medical research. A clown in a surgical unit might sound like the premise for a comedy routine. But for children on their way to the operating room, it appears to reduce anxiety; no joke. A study of 40 children published in the journal Pediatrics shows the presence of a parent and a clown helped ease nerves before anesthesia. Children who were only accompanied by a parent didn't relax as much. Dr. Andrea Messeri wrote the study. We called him at Children's Hospital in Florence, Italy, and asked just what do these clowns do.
Dr. ANDREA MESSERI (Children's Hospital, Florence, Italy): They are blowing the bubbles. They are playing with the tricks with the red nose. They're doing the usual things that they are doing with the children.
NORRIS: This--it's easy to imagine how this might be distracting for the doctors in the OR.
Dr. MESSERI: Doctors and nurses--in the beginning, they were not so happy to interact with the clowns. But after a while, they realized how important for the family to have a distraction activities and is becoming quite accepted. Not accepted as animals. Animals, for instance--we also have dogs; not in the operating room, but in the other wards, in intensive care, as well. And dogs are accepted much better than clowns.
NORRIS: If a hospital didn't have a clown, would it work to have a video of a clown or have a child watch a cartoon or something like that?
Dr. MESSERI: Oh, you know, yes and no. See, it's--because I think it's very important, the human touch, interaction between a child and a person--it is very, very different. So I'm not sure that a video could be the same.
NORRIS: So there's something to having eye contact then?
Dr. MESSERI: I think so.
NORRIS: Were there ever cases where the children were afraid of clowns?
Dr. MESSERI: Yeah, we have some of them, especially the youngest. Our study was performed in children aged between five and 12, which is not so young. My now experience is the younger sometimes can be afraid by the clown; you are right.
NORRIS: So they're there to entertain the children. I wonder if the doctors and nurses are chuckling as they watch these clowns, too.
Dr. MESSERI: Is not part of the study, but normally they entertain also the doctors and the nurses, as well. But is not part of this study published in Pediatrics, but they do.
NORRIS: Dr. Andrea Messeri is the chief of the pain and alternative medicine department at Children's Hospital in Florence, Italy.
Doctor, thanks so much for talking to us.
Dr. MESSERI: Thank you.
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