A convalescing clown spreads his joy to other patients at rehab center
By JON MOFFETT
Vindicator Staff Writer
BOARDMAN — Though laughter may not be the best medicine, Jim Giles knows it certainly can help remedy what ails you.
Even after a serious medical procedure, the 79-year-old clown is still giving the gift of laughter.
“We’re very thankful we had a patient like him here,” said Tracy Stamper, director of nursing at Greenbriar Rehabilitation Hospital in Boardman, where Giles had spent the last week.
“He’s uplifted the patients’ spirits during his time here, especially with the holiday being so close,” she said. “He’s given patients the ability to be thankful. It’s been a blessing.”
Giles, more affectionately known as “Slim Jim,” has been a clown for 40 years and is a member of the local Aut Mori Grotto Clown unit.
He recently underwent emergency surgery to alleviate an obstructed bowel and was in intensive care before his rehab stint at Greenbriar.
But Giles will spend the holidays at home with family. Though he won’t make his annual trip to San Antonio, Texas, to meet family, he’s still happy to be home.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. “I’m very excited to be home.”
Giles is no stranger to hospitals. He and other Grotto clowns have made dozens of trips to hospitals to visit and entertain the patients.
But this was his first trip to the hospital as a patient in more than 20 years, Giles said.
“It’s a lot different than when you’re outside trying to entertain people than when you’re one of the patients,” he said.
Giles was not deterred by his stay at Greenbriar, which ended Wednesday.
He said the most important thing during his recovery is a positive mental attitude.
“Being a clown has really helped me a lot to get through a lot of things because I see how the other side is worse when I’ve entertained them,” he said. “I’m still a clown, and I still have the ability to make people laugh.”
Sitting peacefully in a recliner in at room at Greenbriar, Giles was surrounded by pictures, balloons — many of which he’s blown up and twisted into animals — and cards wishing him good health.
Giles also was surrounded by smiles from the patients and employees of Greenbriar, where he’d been for a little more than a week.
“He has been just a joy to be here,” said Stamper. “Ever since he got here, he’s been telling his jokes and singing.”
Giles also has taken some time to appreciate the perspective of the patient.
“How they live when they’re there, it’s like a regimented thing,” he said. “You eat at a certain time, and you have to get used to that.”
But while Giles would agree his previous condition was no laughing matter, it doesn’t stop him from clowning around with the staff and patients.
“I think the sense of humor he brings to the table helps tremendously with the patients,” Stamper said. “Slim Jim also impacts the staff’s attitude because they’re all so focused on making sure they’re getting their treatments done and giving their medication. But he kind of just slows them down by telling a joke.”
Giles shrugged and summed it up quite simply.
“I like to see people smile, that’s all,” Giles said. “That’s my main goal in life.”
Stamper said Giles’ presence has been particularly helpful for two men recovering from serious medical ailments. He has befriended them and changed their outlook.
“Both gentlemen had very serious surgeries and were kind of depressed when they came here,” she said. “But since they’ve been hanging out with Slim Jim, you can see their mood improving, and they’re actually coming out of their shells ... whereas before they didn’t want to come out of their room.”
But Giles’ jokes aren’t reserved. One of his favorites is to ask people who just came out of a rehabilitation session how they are feeling. When they tell him “OK!” he has a message for them.
“I’ll say, ‘I don’t like to tell you this, but they’re not doing their job. You’re not supposed to feel good; you’re supposed to be sore.’”
The best part of his day, Giles said, is making someone smile.
“I didn’t really realize it, but I think I’ve been a clown all my life,” he said with his own big smile. “I really, really love it, and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have clowning. I’ll be a clown until the day I pass away.”