How a hospital clown helped one Israeli terror victim breathe again

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How a hospital clown helped one Israeli terror victim breathe again

More than 200 victims of the terror attacks are in Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem, where one of its resident 'medical clowns' this week performed a ‘miracle’

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Leah Weiss, the Medical Clown at Shaare Zedek who sang to a terror attack victim and roused her to life
Leah Weiss, the Medical Clown at Shaare Zedek who sang to a terror attack victim and roused her to life

In a country where laughter is a forgotten sound, a clown on a hospital ward cuts an unlikely figure. But not at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem. Here they have resident ‘medical clowns’ who this week perform a ‘miracle’.

The medical clowns usually work on the children’s’ wards and in ER, PICU, Surgical and Dialysis. Since the Hamas attacks on 7 October, the clowns are needed in all departments to bring smiles and comfort, however brief. In the Intensive Care Unit, Leah Weiss was the clown playing guitar beside the bed of critically injured terror victim, Lihi, a 20-year-old IDF air force officer from Kibootz Holit in the south of Israel.

“She had been on life support for a week and had just come off , but she did not wake up,” explains Leah. “They could not rouse her and her friend also from the military was talking to her. She was trying to wake her, but there was no response.”

The moment the miracle happened at the hospital

Leah and her medical clown partner offered to sing to Lihi. They chose the song Ray of Sunshine by Israeli composer Benaya Barabi.  “When we got to the line “don’t cry ray of sunshine, it’s your time to live“, I truly felt as though I was directing all my intent towards her.

“Then tears started falling from her eyes, and suddenly she opened her eyes wide, and they were beautiful.

“Then she took a deep breath. It happened in an instant and we were so shocked. From the way her friend and uncle reacted we knew we were witnessing something very a miracle.”

It was an emotional moment for Leah.

“Lihi looked so confused and her friend immediately tried to reassure her with calming words. But she came back to life. And we kept singing softly, then we left to let her recover.” Leah started crying as she left the ICU. “I thought of the horror Lihi had witnessed when she last closed her eyes and I prayed for her.”

The praying hasn’t stopped at Shaare Zedek. The hospital is currently caring for more than 200 victims of the current war: soldiers and civilians injured in events in the south; victims of a rocket attack that hit multiple sites in the Jerusalem area and victims of a terror attack on a road just outside the capital.

For the first time in several decades, an adjacent athletic field was transformed into a helipad and patients were transferred to the hospital via civilian and IDF helicopters.

Director general of Shaare Zedek Ofer Merin

Now, with the country preparing for an invasion in the south and rockets being shot from Lebanon in the north, Ofer Merin, director general of the hospital, has spoken of its staffing problems and being  short of supplies, as well as needing a new shelter to house another ICU unit with ventilators and monitors. “Our focus is on what might happen, and we know there will be more casualties.”

“The atmosphere in the hospital at the moment is tense,” says Leah. “In the first days of the attacks there was a feeling of shock and mourning. Members of staff were crying in the corridors. We felt we need to support them too. I don’t feel my work has changed, but we are more sensitive now.

“Unfortunately we are trained for these situations,” she continues. “The wounded are focused on healing, it’s a matter of survival, physically and mentally. Children have a strong sense of survival. They want to play and laugh and feel normal and we do everything to help them feel that way. When children or adults show fear, we try to understand exactly what makes them afraid. And then try to quantify their fear.  When you look fear in the eye it’s much less intimidating. And then we try to find ways to overcome the fear together.”

The medical clowns are needed in all departments now

Breathing together, thinking of things that make them feel good, and dancing and listening to music are some of the ways the clowns distract the children. “And everything will be in a clownish, foolish way,” says Leah. “But we are currently working more with the adults, helping them to escape reality and search for inner resources of strength.”

Leah knows that as a Shaare Zedek clown, she has  a special role every day, and never more than now. “Playfulness and humour help us get through the struggles of life,” she says, and when the enormity of the terror attacks overwhelms her, Leah remembers the words of her clown colleague Sancho: “When everything is normal the clown brings insanity, when everything is a mess the clown brings sanity.”

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