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"Rehabilitation Improvisation"

By Dr. La Foo

The clown doctors were making our rounds on the Hematology/Oncology ward when we were summoned to "Marcy's" room by her mother. Just out of brain surgery, Marcy was non-responsive, agitated and fearful. When anyone approached her, she would turn her head to the side and scream, "No! No!" We played the ukulele and sang, which seemed to calm her.

A few days later, we passed by Marcy's room and were again invited to enter by her very excited mother. Marcy had just opened her eyes and responded for the first time since her surgery. When her mother asked "Who am I?" she had answered, "Mom." "Who are we?" I asked. Marcy eyed these two odd looking characters with their mismatched colors, red noses, and white coats, and smiled, "Clowns."

"What do you want us to do?" we asked. "Sing," came the weak little voice from the bed.

We began, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Car..." "No, it''s star," Marcy said. "Like a teacup in the sky..." "No, no," Marcy hesitated, " diamond in the sky!"

We continued in this manner as Marcy, ever more quickly, corrected our mistakes. We followed with "Mary Had A Little Ham," and other familiar tunes, as her mother wiped away tears of relief. We were all singing "I've Been Lurkin' On the Railroad," by the time Marcy's doctors arrived.

Marcy's year-long rehabilitation and follow-up chemotherapy were a painstakingly slow process. Neurons had to be regenerated, basic tasks relearned, and side effects of treatment overcome. For months, progress was followed by setbacks. Yet, throughout her forty-eight weeks of outpatient chemotherapy, we always seemed to be there at the right moment. "It seemed like every time Marcy said, 'I need to see my clowns,' we'd turn down a hallway, and there you were!" her mother said.

Marcy used her encounters with us to discover ways to rebuild neurons in fun and playful ways, putting her frail little body and mind through a valiant and spirited battle. She especially liked our magic tricks. At one point, Marcy's legs were very weak, her walk was wobbly and she had to have braces. I played "Skip To M'Lou" on the concertina as my partner clown and Marcy tried to skip. Though she could lift her legs only a few inches off the ground, very slowly, she told her mother, "I'm going to practice that so I can do it next time I see the clowns!" When I tossed my hat from my foot to my head, Marcy decided to practice the trick with the flowered floppy hat that covered the long scar on her head.

Soon she was telling friends, "I'm going to the hospital to see my doctors and my clowns!"

One day, after the last of her forty-eight weeks of outpatient chemotherapy, we ran into Marcy and her mother near the hospital cafeteria. The braces were gone. The cancer had not returned. She said good-bye and skipped out the doorway, laughing.

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