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Tips on Performing in Hospitals

I volunteer on a weekly basis to go to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis. I visit patients, clinics, waiting rooms, and any place people are gathering. This is part of a "Humor Therapy" program by the Volunteer Services Department. I have also done other hospitals and burn centers. The following are summaries of things that I have learned doing this. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail me. If you think you would like to do this type of thing, contact the Volunteer Services Department of the hospital. They can contact their counterparts at Wishard Hospital if they want further information from the hospital's perspective.

Mostly we think of rooms and waiting rooms but the halls are also important. I always have Drango when I'm walking the halls and he is very friendly greeting people as we pass. Mostly just a greeting but occasionally someone will stop to talk. It brightens up people's day. Even if you are walking without a character, greet everyone. That is part of spreading happiness. 

Don't forget the staff including service and maintenance folks. They are IMPORTANT but too often invisible. I always make a point of greeting and joking with them. It brightens up their day too, and they will get to know you and call you figure by name. That adds to your credibility with visitors. 

This is not something that you can just decide to do and not have to work at it. There are protocols, rules, and things you must do besides just visiting patients. Most of this will be from observations I have made doing this over a period of a number of years.

You need to start with the proper contacts, not just walking through the front door and starting. Usually the best place to start is the Volunteer Coordinator. Call the hospital and ask to talk to that person. Arrange a face to face meeting and be prepared to demo what you can do. At Wishard what I do is called "Humor Therapy". If any hospital wants to talk to Wishard's Director of Volunteer Services at (317) 630-7555. Please individuals don't call her. She very busy but she is willing to talk to her counterparts at other hospitals. (Unless you are in a position to volunteer with me at Wishard.)

Once accepted there are things that you will need to do, forms, briefings, videos, medical tests, background checks, et al. This varies with the hospital. You may not like it but IT IS THE WAY ITS DONE!

I have a Wishard Photo ID. They also made one for Drango and with their permission, I made a mini one for T'Karri. I was accompanied the first time and now I can go almost anywhere. You have to build trust with the staff. There is more on my Tips Site http://drango.com/tips

Somebody mentioned they were rejected because they were a Gospel Vent. This is a special problem. I am going to be blunt here! When you go to a hospital, esp. a public hospital, you are there to entertain, not bring people to Christ. You MUST recognize, and obey, the "separation" criteria of that hospital. I have seen "Gospel" entertainers go into these venues, and even after agreeing not to slip into the Gospel mode. This does three things: 1) You will NOT be allowed back. 2) Others who can do it right will now be banned. 3) It reflects poorly on Christians because they cannot be trusted. Thus the "good intention" ended up doing to opposite of what they were intended. If you can't control yourself don't do this.

I do get some opportunities to minister during my visits but I am very careful to do it ONLY when appropriate from the hospital stand point.

You are limited by the HIPPA Privacy rules. I don't find them a problem. I don't need to know names. If told I do use them but I never ask. Nurses will sometimes have a special request for a certain room certain bed. I do that.

I am all over the hospital. It is the 5th largest indigent hospital in the nation and has full hospital functions as well as a nursing home. 80% of the patients cannot pay and have no insurance. It is not fancy but the care is as good as anywhere. If fact some areas are outstanding. It has an excellent burn center and the Trauma unit is the best (unfortunately) for gunshot wounds.

Because it is so big I travel light. Usually T'Karri in in my hands or on my shoulder. Sometimes Drango goes with me but that has been rare because the hospital tends to be hot and I sweat inside Drango. (He hates that!) My Guayaberas shirt pockets are full of magic and I have a light shoulder case with more stuff. This allows me to freely move about the hospital going to rooms, clinics, waiting rooms, etc. I interact a lot with the staff all the way to the lowest paid people. I believe that is important. Smiles are infectious. When I make one of the housekeeping people smile, that smile may carry to others they meet. I am well known through out the hospital. They may not know my name but they know the guy with the owl or dragon

Here are some observations/tips for those who may be thinking about this.

Dress; light and comfortable. I wear Guayaberas shirts. They have 4 pockets and I fill them with pocket magic. Figures; light and soft. Cute with nothing the least bit scary. Funny is the rule. Case; light shoulder or back. I carry more magic and any characters I'm not using at the time.

Don't just walk in to a room. Knock or greet from the hall Give them a chance to say no. Respect privacy. Especially in Nursing Homes this is the only thing they can still have some control over. If it seems inappropriate then immediately excuse yourself and leave. I've come up to a room with a bunch of visitors only to find out the patient just died. About face and left. They never knew I was there! Also remember you are not part of the medical staff so don't touch the equipment even if the patient asks you to. Tell a Nurse the need. It may be they are not supposed to have what they want you to do.

Check in with Nurse and find out any restrictions. Follow what they tell you. Sometimes they will tell you to avoid a room or patient. I run into situations where the patients have the DTs and they don't want them exposed to a talking character. That could be a problem. I will not open a closed door regardless. If you start to get a negative reaction, leave.

Waiting Rooms; Make the rounds looking for the right person. There are three general types. (#1 wants to talk to you. #2 want to watch you talk to others. #3 wants nothing to do with you. There are of course gradations but these are the three basic types. You want to find a #1 as extreme as possible. Interact as you make the rounds. #3 won't look at you so skip, don't even try. #2 may respond but it is guarded. Don't linger here. #1 will want to talk and interact. Do this and then move on until you find the best #1. Do something with them, thick, joke, whatever. If they are good then you have a target for a mini show. Gradually move to a good position that the #1 and the other can see you. Then start doing your thing. The #1s and #2s will enjoy it and many #3s will become #2s. Don't stay too long. I usually do 3-5 tricks and dialog then I move on. Usually I will interact with some on the way out. This will work in patient rooms if there are visitors. Kids are especially good targets. Adults love to watch kids being entertained.

You can really be fooled by stereotypes. I've had wonderful #1s that looked like tough biker types just waiting to eat you alive. And vice versa. You have to make judgments quickly. You may make mistakes. So... If what you thought was a #1 turns out to be a #3 then move on right away. If you miss a #1 then you missed a #1. Don't worry about it.

There are a lot of inconveniences in hospital volunteering but the rewards are worth the effort.ave fun and keep smilin'.....

Here is a list of bullet points for visiting children (and adults too)  in a hospital:

Most of these apply to adults also...

You may have apprehensions but it will be one of the most rewarding (maybe not $$$$) but from other aspects. My first time to Riley was to the burn unit. I can tell you I was scared! I had to wear a gown. Since Drango couldn't, I borrowed a surgical mask from a doctor and hung it around Drango's neck. It turned out to be a fantastic experience for me. I been to numerous hospitals and nursing homes a number of times since. 


We were doing the patient rooms. I don't talk much. I let Drango do most of the talking after all he is the important one. I started in one ward and the first room was an older man, obviously in bad shape. They had him somewhat elevated so he could see around. Tubes sticking out and his face somewhat misshapen. Two ladies sat at the foot of the bed, I supposed his wife and daughter or daughter-in-law. I came in and Drango greeted him, wished him a Happy New Year, and did a little small talk. His eyes were open but other than that he was unresponsive. Drango then talked with the two ladies and we said goodbye. We went on through the rest of the rooms and then started to leave. There was a young man by the nurses' station who saw us and asked us to visit his father. I figured I already had but said, "Sure." He led me in to the older man's room. I greeted him again and tried to talk but got the same unresponsiveness. We turned to the son and wished him a happy new year and Drango said, "Give me a high five." He did and then the old man, his hand quivering, slowly raised it for his high five.