Mollypenny the hospital clown retires leaving a pair of big shoes to fill | TBEN radio


The current6:45 pmHow clowning can help sick children

As her alter ego Mollypenny the clown, Nurse Ruth Cull has spent twenty years bringing joy to sick children at an Ottawa hospital while helping them process what they are going through.

“A little boy wanted to send his cancer into space,” says Cull, who will retire next month when she retires from CHEO.

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Doctors had tested the boy and were waiting for lab results, she said The Current’s Matt Galloway. The child, who may have believed the tests contained the cancer itself, insisted that the report be returned to him so that he could mail it.

Mollypenny wore her bright blue wig, big shoes and shiny red nose and was happy to help.

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“We went to a secret location…and he launched it with balloons, and there it went,” she said. “I think he might be 24, 25 now” [years old].”

Mollypenny talks to kids at a CHEO event. (Submitted by CHEO)

Cull started in 1974 as an operating room nurse at CHEO. When she retired, she took on the role of Mollypenny in 2001. She will retire on October 31. CHEO is now looking for a new therapeutic clown to help patients .

A hospital press release quoted the clown saying it’s time to “climb aboard the MollyPop starship,” and join her close friends JelloHead and Tonker in (the fictional) Galaxy Sprinkle — recently “for the first time.” imaged by the James Webb Telescope,” on the edge of the (very real) Cartwheel Galaxy.

During her 21 years as a therapeutic clown, she has helped hundreds of families, including Catherine Sands and her now 15-year-old son Gabriel, who was treated at the age of eight for a severe burn at CHEO.

Gabriel remembers that he was always tired, but Mollypenny “gave me energy every day.”

His mother Catherine also remembers her impact.

“Mollypenny just walked into the room one day and I saw my son light up,” she said.

“She didn’t have to say anything, she just walked in and he was like, ‘Hey, this is a cool place to be.'”

LISTENING | Mollypenny meets one of her biggest fans, Gabriel Sands:

Ottawa morning8:37Mollypenny’s Final Act

‘Great distraction drug’

Cull wanted to get involved in therapeutic clowning as a way to use humor to help sick children. She took a class at clown college to prepare for her therapeutic work, but found that the classes focused on theater and performance. So she had to learn on the job, counting on a lot of help from her colleagues.

If a child was upset or didn’t do what doctors and nurses needed, Mollypenny would pay them an unannounced visit.

“I went in and sat there sometimes, and Brenda, [a nurse,] would come in later and she says, ‘Is this clown bothering you?'” Cull said.

Mollypenny then protested that she wasn’t bothering anyone, started bickering with the nurse, and “pretty soon the kid would laugh and try to figure out what’s going on here,” Cull said.

Improving the child’s mood usually meant easier treatment, and Caul always strived to make the hospital a fun and friendly environment.

She always focused on empowering the kids and listening to what they had to say.

A great pair of red clown shoes
When Cull retires, she leaves a pair of big shoes to fill. (Hallie Cotnam/TBEN)

That included “giving them the ability to tell me to leave if they want to, because they have no control within the hospital environment,” she said.

dr. Donna Johnston, chief of hematology and oncology at CHEO, said Cull “will be missed more than she can imagine.”

Mollypenny offers “a great distraction drug that works better than a lot of things we do,” she said.

“She’s changed the way our kids are treated and she’s changed the way we treat kids — and really for the better.”

Clown also helps parents

Melissa Holland, who works as therapeutic clown Dr. Fifi, said her work is also helpful to parents.

“The child’s nature is to want to play, and so, you know, whatever state they’re in, we’re trying to find a way to play with them,” said Holland, co-founder of the Dr. Clown Foundation, which places clowns in hospitals and long-term care facilities throughout Quebec.

VIEW | Therapy Clowns Spread Joy at Montreal Children’s Hospital:

Therapy Clowns from Montreal

Therapeutic clowns use improv and physical comedy to put smiles on the faces of sick children at Montreal Children’s Hospital.

When parents see their child having fun, it goes a long way to help them recalibrate and say, “Oh yeah, okay, this is a while. My child is still a child and needs to play,” she said.

That might “help them reset and have more game elements, and be more playful themselves,” she said.

Holland said the practice of therapeutic clowning has grown around the world over the past 30 years. In 2015, Argentina legislated all hospitals in the country to have one.

Cull said she feels “truly blessed” having played the role of Mollypenny and using humor to help families.

She said she will miss her job at the hospital, but could reprise the role from time to time. As Mollypenny said in her retirement announcement, “The great thing about being a clown is that space travel is so much easier than it is for regular astronauts.

“That means I can come back every now and then to visit CHEO and my Earth friends.”

A badge that says Temporarily Out of Service
Cull will retire on October 31. (Hallie Cotnam/TBEN)


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