World Of Dr. Patch Adams And Gesundheit!
by Ned Hamson
"You're not going to feel like your
life has meaning unless you're giving."
Patch Adams is the subject of a hugely popular
film about a caring doctor
who uses humor in his practice. A physician
who has piloted and created a
model for giving healthcare that is healthful
for patients, family, physicians, nurses and
the community. "So what does Patch Adams
have to do with my daily life?" If Patch
Adams was just the movie character, the answer
might be - not much. Patch Adams is not the
movie, however - not by a long shot. Through
his incessant search for the why of people
and systems has found that the 'ills' in the
healthcare system were a reflection of the
ills of the society.
His words and journey, energy, analysis, caring
methods, and 'clown
antics', whether applied to making healthcare
healthy for physicians and
nurses, or delivering a bit of joy and care
and sustenance to children in
Russia, Cuba, Bosnia, and soon in Afghanistan,
can, perhaps, make it easier for each of us
to see the 'ills' and possible 'cures' of
organizations and lives, as well as the impact
we have on the whole society
and world. The challenge of his life to us
is to be aware, not to close our
eyes; to take action if for no other reason
than to avoid extinction of our
'kind' within the next fifty years. And, as
one of his favorite funny
persons, Groucho Marx, might say: Don't forget
to laugh and have fun; life
is too serious not to have fun with it.
Ned Hamson: How would you describe what you
are about, to someone who has not read your
book or seen the film?
Patch: If I had to use three
words, I would say "peace, justice and
I want a world where no one alive can remember
what the word 'war' means.
Ned: What is a first step
someone might take to making war an unfamiliar
Patch: Well one can certainly
be peace and justice and care themselves.
Which maybe is everyone's first step. A lot
of people don't actually take
that step and they still do great things.
But one can be full of peace and
justice and care about themselves. I've lived
that for almost four decades.
Ned: What describes who Patch
Adams is and what drives you?
Patch: I'm about doing. I'm a raging doer.
I think inherent in the doing is
the energy for the doing. At least that's
been my life so far.
My life is one of social action. I want to
be useful. I thought by creating
this (healthcare) model I could sustain myself
and it would be thrilling to
do. I needed a place to practice where it
would be thrilling to be next to
human suffering every day, all day long. Because
if it's not thrilling, it
will eat me up.
The most essential question I've asked myself
was, "Can I look at injustice
and do nothing, or can I do something?"
With that Gesundheit! was born, and whether
it's clowning in Russia or Bosnia or Cuba,
it comes out of a
concern that in the luxury of all of our lives-and
in (the USA) even the
poor are living luxuriously compared to the
rest of the world-we all still
have to take the time to do the right thing.
For the last sixteen years,
the patient that I've been involved with and
making a house call on is the
community and society.
It's the job of the clown and the doctor to
walk towards suffering and not
be afraid to speak up. As soon as you stop
being part of peace and justice
and care, you're going to be lonely and your
life isn't going to have
You're not going to feel like your life has
meaning unless you're giving.
There you have it. Everyone makes choices.
I try to lead by example. To
say, look, I'm just doing my version. Everyone
has to find their own
version of loving. If you want meaning and
you don't want to be lonely, be
loving. Be your style and you might end up
in a motorcycle gang, or you
might end up in a nunnery, or you might end
up in an extended family. Who
knows; it doesn't matter. But at least within
your tribe, think peace and
justice and care. If you want to prevent extinction
then you have to think
it for everybody.
I answer all my mail. That's about 600 longhand
letters a month. I get
thousands of letters from doctors and nurses
saying such things as: "I saw
you speak ten years ago and I've been a free
doctor 2 days a week ever
since." Imagine the repercussions of
Just recently, an Italian film company raised
over $100,000 so I could take 22 clowns from
all continents to Afghanistan. They originally
just said I would get clowns from here, but
I said, No let's get them from every continent.
Then the question is how many tons of aid
can we bring. I told them I can't clown unless
we're feeding people if they're hungry.
Ned: I would have thought that the
film would have made building the
hospital easier and that news of your going
to Russia, Bosnia, or
Afghanistan would be a part of the news of
the day. Has the media been a help or a hindrance?
Patch: We put up fake, meaningless
heroes to completely divert intelligence from
our population. So, our kind of work, if anything,
is denigrated... After the movie, there
wasn't a single positive article about our
work or me. There were dumb, stupid, meaningless
things... it made my children cry. They actually
thought that they didn't know the person they
were reading about
I knew the movie would do this. I would become
a funny doctor. Imagine how shallow that is
relative to who I am. I just got back from
taking 17 clowns to Cuba, which was hit by
the worst hurricane in their history. The
month before that, we took 30 clowns from
7 countries, ages 16-65, to Russia for the
17th year in a row. I am goofy. During those
times, I clown 10-16 hours a day uninterruptedly.
Blissfully. But it's not the thing to say
in an interview. The important thing in an
interview is for a physician to say:
look, I'm speaking as a physician saying our
species is going to be extinct
if we don't convert to a society that puts
the emphasis on compassion and
generosity that we now put on money and power.
We're active in over forty countries. You
just can't imagine what we're
doing. The media says nothing. Read Robert
McChesney's Rich Media, Poor Democracy and
you'll be in the streets as a revolutionary.
I'm on the road 300 days a year. As many as
eleven lectures in a day...
universities, medical schools, commencement
addresses. I give sometimes
two- or three-hour question and answer periods.
When it's in the newspaper it's "Oh,
Patch Adams, the real Patch Adams, played
by Robin Williams in the movie."
I keep a list of 50 books in my wallet as
my card, so that when someone
comes up and asks me for an autograph I give
them a little lecture on pop culture and how
it's dummified our population, and its consequences.
Or that sixty percent of schoolteachers need
second jobs to support their
families, where ball bouncers are multi-millionaires.
And I say that I'm
not going to buy into that. So, I've never
given an autograph. I give them
that little lecture and then out of my wallet
I take my card which has ten
questions to ask yourself, ten ideas to think
about, ten things to do to
change the world, ten websites to visit, magazines
to subscribe to, and ten books to read to
introduce yourself as a political activist.
We define success in terms of Michael Jordan
and Bill Gates and Cindy
Crawford and Julia Roberts. And they're not
the success. Success is the
schoolteachers trying to teach math and English
in a society that's more
interested in spouting clichés. 54
million people are watching a fake
survivor show without understanding that their
own survival is at stake.
You now know that in talking with me what
I am about is ending the love of money and
power. I want the number one show in the country
if anyone's slow enough to watch TV then,
to be "Who Wants to Be a Good Friend?"
Ned: Tell us something about the
Patch: We wanted to build a hospital model
addressing the problems of
healthcare delivery. We thought we'd get funded
because here we were, a bunch of doctors ready
to work for free; we just needed a building,
and we could collect huge numbers of people
to help. For twelve years we did the experiment
and saw fifteen thousand people. We paid for
it. We worked outside jobs.... not a single
donation. Fourteen hundred foundation
I learned that it was right to be free and
intimate, and without
malpractice insurance and without third-party
reimbursement, and using a
mix of all the healing arts. All those things
proved to be correct. So, we
realized since we got no donation, that we
were going to have to go public and play the
fame and fortune game, until we bumped into
money the last fifteen years has been Gesundheit
connecting with the world. So, I've spoken
at most of the medical schools in this country.
I've spoken at most all of the chiropractic
schools, and naturopathic schools, acupuncture
schools, osteopathic schools. They know me;
People are interested in hearing something
about celebration of life, the
joy of service. Gesundheit is also connected
to environmental groups all
over the world. Volunteers come from all over
the world to our place in
West Virginia to be in an idealistic setting.
People know we're flaming
idealists out here, still trying. And there
aren't many forces out there
The fact is, I can't believe my life. I get
to go as a clown to Bosnia,
where it's my job to clown sixteen hours a
day, go cheer troubled people
up. Now, that's not what I set out to do,
in 1971. I set out to build a
hospital, and that's the most important project.
These other things are
The Gesundheit! Institute as an organization,
community, and activity:
(From the Institute's web site: http://www.patchadams.org)
We want to bring fun, friendship and the joy
of service back into
healthcare. We are working to replace greed
and competition with
generosity, compassion and interdependence.
Because they're healthy and fun, we want to
nurture the growth of grassroots, neighborly
mutual support and personal activism.
The Hospital is a stimulant to broaden the
dialogue on healthcare delivery, we want to
build a hospital/healing community where:
* All the healing arts will be welcome.
* All patients will be treated as friends.
* There will be no charge for health services.
* The healthcare experience will be infused
* No malpractice insurance will be carried
by the Institute.
* The health of the staff will be valued equally
with the health of the
Is it built yet? We have established the Gesundheit!
Hospital Foundation, and are ready to take
the next leap when big money arrives.
The good news is we don't have to wait for
a hospital. This new culture is growing today,
in the good works of a worldwide network of
people drawing inspiration and support from
our common vision. You are probably one of
them. You're helping to build Gesundheit!'s
foundation with creative personal activism,
our most accessible tool for change. Sources:
by Douglas Eby
Patch Adams by Caring People Magazine, Spring
Interviewed by Ellen and Larry Becker
Ned Hamson of the Élan Institute is
an independent writer, consultant and editor.
He is the former editor of the Journal for
Participation (USA). He is also the lead or
co-author of three books,
including Global Innovation and Managing Quality
both published by Capstone Publishing (UK).
Ned can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview appeared originally in News
For A Change (www.aqp.org) and is reprinted
here with permission of the interviewer.
This article was printed in New Renaissance,
Vol. 11, No. 3, issue 38, Autumn, 2002
Copyright © 2002 by Renaissance Universal,
all rights reserved. Posted on the web
on November 10, 2002.