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Not just clowning around

This ophthalmic technician applies her sense of humor to entertain patients and teach other ophthalmic professionals.

I never saw myself as a “clown person,” until one day in 1991 when the director of my Florida church choir mentioned her husband had just started clown classes. For some reason, this got my attention and I decided to enroll in an eight-week clown course at a church in Fort Myers, FL. During the course, I learned make-up, balloon animals, how to develop a clown “character,” and, for our “graduation,” went to the Christian Clown Convention in Orlando, FL. The experience made me realize that I loved making people smile, so I stuck with it.

Becoming a clown

I named my clown persona “Turkleberry,” after a word that had become a family joke. It seemed only fitting to use it as my clown name.

Since becoming a clown, I have performed at children’s parties, retirement homes, hospital events, and other venues. Many of these I visited as part of a clown club, Caloosa Clown Alley, which also regularly participated in local parades.

My favorite acts are making balloon animals and face painting. For me, the most difficult routine is juggling — there’s just too much gravity!

I also had the opportunity to meet the real Patch Adams, the doctor for whom the Robin Williams movie was based, when he was attending an Arts in Healthcare conference in Gainesville, FL. While he’s not quite as big a character as Robin Williams, he shared several ways to help make patients smile, such as wearing fun scrub tops, socks, or ties, and using our tools to play games with kids, like using a pen light to allow a child to “catch” the light.

Still a tech by day

I don’t do as much clowning these days due to my other obligations, such as my technician job at Fort Myers’ West Coast Eye Care clinic, and helping at my husband’s Fort Myers store, which sells fishing supplies, skate boards, boogie boards and other beach gear. I still regularly include small bits from my routines at the clinic. As part of a typical ophthalmic workup, we techs check peripheral vision, which includes having a patient cover one eye, focus on my nose and hold up some fingers around the side. Sometimes, I will pop on a red, foam clown nose to help them focus on me better, and I will usually get a little chuckle.

When checking peripheral vision, Ms. Scanlon occasionally puts on her red, foam clown nose.
COURTESY SALLY ELLEN SCANLON, COT

Teacher Turkleberry

Since 2000, I’ve also had the privilege to teach a class called “Laughter May Be the Best Medicine” at both the annual and Florida regional meetings of the AAO and JCAHPO. Thinking participants might enjoy a light-hearted class, I wrote up an outline for a presentation on using laughter therapy to benefit both clinic staff and patients, and, to my surprise, JCAHPO accepted it. The class uses several of the lessons Patch Adams taught me, as well music therapy. At the end of the lecture, I hand out the red foam noses to everyone. This experience has been very fulfilling and has allowed me to use Turkleberry to teach as well as entertain. OP