“She has her back turned to me, facing the wall. With love and patience, I spread lotion on her hands. But sometimes it seems like she doesn't want me there anymore, my presence seems to bother her. I hear someone singing, they enter the room, she turns around, but she decides to ignore them too. But, little by little, she turns around and starts interacting with them. And answer them! She sits up in bed. She looks like a flower blooming. To their sense of humour, she responds with her characteristic sense of humour. And she sits even straighter. And smiles! I haven't seen her smile in such a long time! And after so much suffering and struggle, here she is back, my best friend... And the clown doctors leave, but she stays. She seems to be reborn! And she smiles at me.” This is the message left eight years ago to Palhaços D’Opital, an association with professionals that spreads love and joy to those who need it most in Portuguese hospitals.

Hospitalisation is always a situation that carries fear, nervousness and takes away the joy, not only of the patient, but also of family and friends who accompany the patient's journey, who is often just lying in bed waiting for what is going to happen next. However, all this anguish can be forgotten when the Palhaços D'Opital arrives.

Focusing on seniors

Isabel Rosado, CEO and co-founder of the association, in an interview with The Portugal News, said that the idea came when the “Clown Doctors” realised that “many hospitalised people are adults and seniors and that the 'cultural offerings' are all aimed at children, but the age group that has the longest hospital stays and that burdens the National Health Service (SNS) the most is seniors.” As such, the founders focused on innovation and the Clowns D'Opital brighten the lives of those who are often abandoned by families in hospitals and have already gone through the peak of their lives.

Professional artists who are dedicated to “The Art of the Clown and Doctor Clown” work in the association, with an impact on the hospital environment, particularly on patients with dementia, Alzheimer's or with any cancer pathology. The work of the "Clown Doctors" aims to make "the patients forget they are in a hospital, forget their disease, free themselves from the anxiety and nervousness that being hospitalised causes." With the interventions made by the professionals, happy memories are created not only for the patients but also for those who are in a waiting room anxious for a professional's diagnosis. Messages are sent to Isabel Rosado from doctors and nurses who say that patients ask when the next visit is and if they can book appointments and treatments on "the day of the visit of the Clown Doctors."

The Association has partnerships with five hospitals in the Centre of Portugal: Centro Hospitalar Baixo Vouga (Aveiro); Figueira da Foz District Hospital (Coimbra); Portuguese Institute of Oncology of Coimbra (IPO Coimbra) and at the Tondela Hospital Center (Viseu). Partner hospitals are units that have a collaboration protocol with the association. According to Isabel Rosado, hospitals do not pay for the presence of Clowns Doctors, leaving the association in charge of developing “partnerships with companies” to cover the expenses required to pay the Clowns Doctor salaries, as well as other expenses such as travel to hospitals and weekly singing and ukulele training.”

Virtual clowns

The Covid-19 pandemic ended up becoming an obstacle to the presence of Clown Doctors in hospitals, however, the association continued with its work, reinventing itself in the virtual world. In March 2020, the Palhaços D’Opital stopped making face-to-face visits to hospitals, but at the end of the month, they launched a YouTube channel “D’Opital TV”, where original digital content is published. The CEO of the association told The Portugal News that "in April these videos started to be shown on televisions in the waiting rooms of the IPO Coimbra." Given the project's success, the videos were sent "to all hospitals and institutions that work with seniors in Portugal."

The association has already produced two miniseries: in 2020 the “Coimbra dos Amores” and in the summer of 2021 “Um Prédio do Avesso”. The content is made available "for free” and is used by various institutions "to create moments of joy, humour and affection."

As a non-profit association, Palhaços D’Opital accepts help from anyone who wants to be supportive. Anyone can become an Amigo D'Opital and make a monthly donation, or a spontaneous donation can be made through the MBWay platform to the mobile number 938 780 202. However, sharing is also a useful tool, through social media, the association's work can be shared among friends and family to share the work of Palhaços D’Opital.

To The Portugal News, Isabel Rosado reveals that she feels, just like her colleagues, privileged to have "the most beautiful job in the world." The Clown Doctors look to the healthy side of those being treated in a hospital, through a mission that aims to “bring joy, humour and affection” to the elderly and, consequently, to hospitals.

Readers of The Portugal News can learn more about the association's work on the official website https://www.pdo.pt or on social networks Facebook, https://pt-pt.facebook.com/PalhacosdOpital/, Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/palhacos_d_opital/, or LinkedIn https://pt.linkedin.com/company/palhacosdopital.