Excerpt From A Medical Clown: Amelia Van Brunt

“I peer in the door’s square window from the hallway, see the patient laying in bed alone, eyes closed and mouth open, still and silent. I quietly creak open the door and my partner and I start by humming. Low, soft at first. It rises. The ukulele swings in and joins us. His eyes spring open, his toothless grin spread wide. “I must have died and gone to heaven. I’m in heaven.”

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
We begin the opening verses of ‘Imagine’ and the patient’s eyes swell with tears, brim and overflow as they fall to either side of his gaunt cheeks. He is blind, I know this because I’ve visited him in this room before, and I slip my little hand into his as his eyes move up glossed to the ceiling. He happily listens, sometimes singing along. I study his pleased, furrowed eyebrows; watch his smile sing and chortle out a surprising laugh. I study his features while I sing the high, lilting harmony of the song. I imagine what he looked like as a young man.
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Afterwards, standing around the bed he is strapped into to prevent from falling, we continue to talk music and the conversation turns to San Francisco. He regales us with romantic tales of this city in the 60s, 70s, 80s; paints ornate stories for us of Haight & Ashbury back then being wild, colorful, overgrown streets utterly filled with music and singing and dancing and smoke and flowers. The flowers. The theme in all of his stories. He recalls one woman and one moment in particular so vividly of her throwing velvety red rose petals on the ground. I watch his eyes close as the memory floods him, hear his voice quiver at the gravity of what he is revisiting.
Imagine all the people living for today
He tells us one final story before we go. The night of the earthquake here in SF. That night he climbed to the top of Potrero Hill and looked down at the sweeping city in blackness. Power out, nothing but the small flickering of candles in each window. He said he could feel something shift, could feel the comradery in the air like electricity. “This city was magic,” he tells me while squeezing my hand for emphasis. “This city was flowers, and music, and people everywhere making things. It still is. It was magic and it is still magic.”
A hard knot forms in my throat after we leave. After I close the door I linger at the window a little longer, watch his smile stay even after we are gone, still staring up, seeing nothing but always up to the sky. I am hit so hard with humility I almost stagger. Me, who can walk and see and breathe and feed myself and do what I love and pursue my dreams and yet still finds ways to complain, I am overwhelmed and humbled by how fortunate I am. How fortunate any of us are, who are not born into bodies that fail or restrict us. Every shift I am reminded of how grateful I am for my body, regardless of my issues with it. Every shift I am inspired to remember why I do still love this city and the magic that drew me here in the first place. And every shift I fall deeper in love with people, and our resilience in the face of our astonishing frailty.”