Dr Klown – Healing with a Smile

In 1998, the Hollywood movie ‘Patch Addams, starring Robin Williams as a doctor who uses humor to help patients through the power of positivity, was introduced to our screens. Although the movie itself received negative criticism, the idea of cheering up patients in hospitals and making them feel better emotionally, as well as physically, took hold. Patch Addams’ red clown nose, which he used as a prop to make children in hospital wards laugh and forget their pains and suffering for a moment, became iconic in that it brought to mind the feelings and thoughts expressed in the movie, that is that patients should be treated and cared for as human beings, and not just as a statistical number.

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This red clown nose is also the signature of Dr Klown – a Maltese Non-Government Organisation active at Mater Dei Hospital, which provides entertainment and stress-relief to hospitalized children through fun and laughter.

Dr Klown was set up in 2011 by Jean Paul Fabri and Jean Pierre Busuttil. The team is made up of a number of well-trained volunteers, who visit patients in their wards and give them individual attention, focusing on the adage that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Dressed in a colorful lab-coat, sometimes sporting a wig, and with the ever-present big red nose, the ‘doctors’ finest adornment is in reality a caring and mischievous smile. Hospitals are generally negative, sad places, where one unfortunately spends most of the time thinking about the issues and problems which led him or her there in the first place. The aim of this NGO is that of bringing in play the power of positivity, encouraging laughter, warmth, and at the very least, a momentary break from one’s worries.

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The volunteers who choose to become part of the team need not have any medical knowledge or background, however they undergo rigorous psychological and artistic training, attending a course in theatre and improvisation. Calling themselves ‘clown doctors’, the members of this NGO profess that for them it is the person who matters, not the illness.

In September 2017, to celebrate its 6th year in Malta, Dr KIown organised a fun-filled ‘’Dr Klown Day” at the Sliema-St Julians promenade, with the aim of increasing public awareness about the organisation. The event was supported by: H.E. the President of Malta, the Commissioner for Children, the Director General for Education and Employment, and delegates for Catholic Education, amongst others.

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As an NGO, Dr Klown is dependent on sponsors and donations to fund both the training of its volunteers, as well as sundry expenses such as the buying of necessary props, transport, hosting of activities, etc. Some people choose to donate to Dr Klown as part of their marriage celebrations, opting to share their happiness by purchasing Dr Klown donation cards and presenting them to the wedding guests, instead of the traditional wedding souvenir. A small gesture, but one which makes a difference to the thousands of children who each year, are visited in hospital by Dr Klown. 2018 is also the 4th consecutive year that participants of the Miss World Malta competition are officially raising funds through red noses for this NGO as part of their “Beauty with a Purpose” challenge.

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The moments Dr Klown members get to share with hospitalised children and their families are special and unique. Be it the self-stylized Dr Buttons, Dr Big, Dr Funny, Dr Happy, or any one of the many volunteers, you can be sure that wherever there is a red nose, a funny smile and an endearingly positive attitude, there will also be laughter, good cheer, and a willingness to get better.

For more information about Dr Klown activities, or if you are interested in donating, or becoming a volunteer, kindly visit – http://drklown.org/

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This article was written by me and originally published on LivingInMalta.com

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Herbs for Healing – Thyme

This winter’s spate of people suffering from the flu has definitely led to a surge in the purchasing of antibiotics. Primarily used to combat viruses and infections, antibiotics come in all shapes and sizes, but are generally prescribed by a doctor and bought at a pharmacy or hospital in the form of pills or pastilles.

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The use of antibiotics revolutionarized medicine in the 20th century, however what did people do before these started to be discovered and used? Before the onset of modern medicine, there were other, more natural means of affecting cures. In fact, many people still prefer to use these natural cures even today. I am of course talking about the beneficial and medicinal use of natural herbs and spices. These plants, which may have so many uses, both culinary and medicinal, are found in the wilderness and are, therefore, unlike modern medicine, free or very cheap to purchase from your local apothecary or health store.

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One of the most common local herbs which can be found around the Maltese countryside is Mediterranean thyme (Sagħtar). Being an indigenous plant, that is a plant which originates from the Maltese islands, not one which was imported. Thyme is generally to be found in rocky arid places, such as the garigue and the tops of valleys. Being a perennial evergreen herb, it can be found growing throughout the four seasons.

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Thyme has been historically used for a number of purposes throughout ancient times. The Egyptians used the oil extracted from this plant for embalming, the Greeks used it in incense form to lighten the spirits, and the Romans used it to purify their rooms and linens. Christians in the middle ages often burned thyme leaves during funerals and memorials.

Thyme can be used both fresh and dried. In Arab countries, it is very popular in culinary dishes, as well as to brew hot invigorating teas, since thyme retains its original flavor when dried better than many other herbs.

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Scientifically speaking, thyme is a natural antiseptic, since it contains ‘thymol’, which, when prepared as an essential oil contains a range of compounds normally used in mouthwashes and disinfectants. In fact, thyme was generally used to medicate bandages, before the modernisation of medicine. A tisane or tea brewed from thyme can be a gentle remedy for coughs, colds, arthritis and upset stomachs. It is a natural diuretic and appetite stimulant. Due to its antibacterial properties, it can also be used to help treat acne and fungal infections.

Thyme also contains Vitamin A and Vitamin C and can also help to boost one’s immunity system. A 2014 pharmaceutical study on thyme put forth an explanation of how this herb lowered blood pressure, and reduced the heart rate. Its fragrant perfume can also be beneficial in boosting one’s spirits, as well as refreshing the air – in fact thyme is used in a number of disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and washes. My favorite way of consuming thyme however, is by garnishing a nice plate of pasta with it, or using it when preparing fish or poultry in order to maximize its taste.

 

This article was written by me and published on the online magazine Living In Malta. To access the original article, please go here.

Solitude

When you’ve been bedridden for a long time, the sun only a memory, the fresh moving air of the big outside a far-off luxury, your state of mind inevitably changes. You start inventing small everyday rituals and tasks for yourself, not as a way to make time pass, though that’s a part of it, but as a way to keep your mind occupied and your life on a structured path. Being so cut off from everything and everyone also takes its toll. Now, I’m an introvert – I literally hate people, well most of them anyways. However this still gets to me. Ever since I’ve been in here, I started to loose time. To forget things said and done. I would think I’d told someone about a hospital appointment, when in reality I would have done nothing of the sort, and the conversation would have taken place only in my head. Similarly, I would forget physiotherapy appointments, thinking I’d changed dates.

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When you loose your notion of time, something transcendental takes place. It’s like you’re in a world of your own, with its own rules of time and space. Your bedroom becomes the universe, and anything extraneous is only a passing shadow. The mirror of a dream which was real, once upon a time, long long ago.

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Perceiving that one day, perhaps, all this will end and I will once again be part of the world outside is a far off glimmer. I know I am supposed to hope it will happen soon, but I cannot see it. I cannot imagine walking in the street, catching the bus, being in a roomful of people, many of them whom I’ve never ever met before. Strangers. I cannot fathom not feeling the humid warm recycled air of my house. Not being able to rest in bed whenever I feel pain, or tired, or just too depressed to even face the light coming from the balcony. 

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Falling into the soft embrace of tears each time any little inconsequential thing takes place, each time sadness disturbs the placid waters of my day to day life – I am not fit for normal human company. Will I ever be again? Will I ever go back to what I was? And even if I heal physically, will I be able to interact with strangers in a foreign environment, or worse with people who think they ‘know me’? 

Do I really want to?

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My Secret Fear

Are you afraid of old age?

Ever since I can remember, it was not the thought of death which really terrified me, but of actually growing old. The thought of not having complete control of my body, and not being able to function in a self-sufficient manner, has always been a nightmare. I hate depending on others and being a burden, and the knowledge and certainty that someday, this time will arrive (if I do not die young that is), has always terrified me.

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When I was nineteen, my grandfather, who was a writer, a poet, and a very intelligent man and whom I loved very much – had a stroke. He ended up in a wheel-chair, was not able to move the left side of his body at all, suffered from incontinence, and had to be lugged about, washed, cleaned, and taken care of by his two middle aged children and their spouses in order to survive. Day and night. Every day. For years. He begged us to let him end it. Twice, my mother found he had dragged his wheelchair to the window and was trying, ineffectually, to jump. Since assisted suicide is illegal in Malta, and since we didn’t want to let him go, we aborted his attempts. He suffered immensely for two years. And then, he had another stroke. A worse one, which caused him to actually forget who we were. I don’t even want to go into the agony I felt when my grandpa, who had been so independent, witty, and wise, who had survived the war and taught me to love books, reading and knowledge – didn’t even know who I was.

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Anyways, after four and a half years of terrible pain, my grandpa died. I know that for him, this was a relief.

My grandma, his wife, is currently over 80 years old. She suffers from severe arthritis, can hardly walk, is almost deaf, and blind from one eye due to a botched cataract operation. She is lonely and misses my grandpa a lot. All she does is cry, swallow her pills (she has many of those), and pray. I love my grandma, but I know she is waiting for death. And that terrifies me.

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It terrifies me because when I look at her, I see myself, as I will be, in some fifty or so years. It seems far away now… but time is short and flies quickly… and someday, that part of my life will arrive…

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It does not bear thinking about…