BEAUMONT, Texas — Every week, Larry Thompson dons a crisp, white doctor’s coat and sets off from his home in Port Neches to make rounds at Baptist Hospital in Beaumont.
The Beaumont Enterprise reports he’s always got a smile on his face.
It’s painted on, actually, a broad, colorful complement to his rainbow-colored cap, bright green wig and matching green nose. With an oversized stethoscope that hangs round his neck, Thompson — aka, Dr. U. Getwell — walks the hallways carrying not a clipboard but a leash for his invisible dog named Spot.
Thompson waves at staff and stops in waiting rooms to talk with patients and families as he makes his way from one end of the hospital to the next. His rounds include the pediatric unit, adult in-patient units, the oncology department, surgical waiting room, and the hospital’s testing lab.
The treatment he brings comes in the form of jokes, prescriptions for hugs and laughter, and colorful balloon flowers.
“When you get people to laugh, it takes their mind off their sickness,” he says.
In the 930 hours he has logged since he began clowning at Baptist 11 years ago, the retiree has dispensed nearly 20,000 balloons and countless smiles to patients, families and staff.
It’s a different kind of medicine in an often difficult time.
The comfort he provides isn’t just for those receiving care, but also for those charged with providing it.
“This guy comes in every single week and makes us a flower. He brightens our day,” lab worker Leisa Freeman says.
Her office, like many throughout the hospital, is decorated with Thompson’s colorful creations.
“A balloon flower when you’re having a rough day, it makes a difference,” adds Vicki Holcombe, director of Volunteer Services.
When Thompson took up clowning 30 years ago, he did what most clowns do — worked parties, church and social events, did face painting and learned to make balloon animals. In 2007, he and a handful of fellow Golden Triangle Funny Bones clown ally members began volunteering at the hospital.
Thompson is the only one of the group left. Others dropped out for health reasons.
Despite having his own health issues, which led to going on disability and an early retirement in 2013, Thompson chose to continue volunteering.
“I get more out of it than I give,” he says. “It’s really a blessing for me. It always gives me a good feeling.”
One of the encounters he remembers most is meeting a woman in the waiting room of the intensive-care unit. She was waiting for her son to arrive, and would be breaking the news that his father, her husband, had just died.
“There were tears in her eyes, but I started clowning with her and brought out a smile,“ Thompson recalls.
“Even in the toughest of circumstances, you can bring out a smile,” Holcombe says.
Thompson views his work as a kind of ministry.
“God just put it in my heart to do this,” he says.