Getting the Best Medicine, Plus Laughter

By Alice Reid
Monday, December 10, 2007

"I don't do well with vomit," admits Dr. J.J., sticking up his shiny red nose.

So when it happens on his rounds at Children's Hospital, he leaves the patient's bedside as fast as he can.

Fortunately, Dr. J.J. is "Chief Wiseguy" at the hospital and not chief of surgery.

Also known as John Dodge, a retired Baltimore police officer, Dr. J.J. is a clown. He and a team of colleagues from the Big Apple Circus have a contract with the Northwest Washington hospital to ply its halls several days a week, delivering something almost as precious as the most advanced pharmaceuticals: the medicine of silliness.

On the fourth floor of the oncology section one recent morning, Dr. J.J. and his partner Dr. Baldy, a.k.a. Mark Jaster, did their stuff for Caitlin Sax, 7, who faced a bone marrow transplant.

"I'm an animal specialist," Dr. Baldy announced. Any animal she wanted him to be, he would comply.

On her orders, he was first a duck, waddling around her room. Then she requested a chicken, then a sea gull, a bear and finally an elephant. Caitlin giggled from her chair, attached to a festoon of bags and monitors dangling above her.

"The elephant was the coolest" was her verdict.

The two clowns, wearing white lab coats, crazy ties and a hint of clown makeup, sailed out of her room and into another. Dr. J.J. entered first.

"I'm hiding from Dr. Baldy," he said conspiratorially to a lanky 9-year-old boy lying on the bed. "He's a big ugly guy, smells a lot. . . . " The boy began with a grin that grew to laughter as the two comics finished with a mock fight, tossing wadded-up wet paper towels at each other.

Next door was more challenging, an 18-year-old baseball player, not exactly into clowns. But the two brought him around with a hilarious version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

They finished up at the infusion rooms where youngsters receive chemotherapy. Jordan Smith, 4, who sat in the lap of her father, Brad, for the procedure, wasn't sure about these clowns. She snuggled up to her dad, hiding her face against his chest. The duo won her over with one of their tried-and-true tricks: lots of bubbles.

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