US Doctor Champions Humor
and Love in New Medical Model

USA, West Virginia

Patch Adams was initially the subject of ridicule and excommunication by the medical establishment, followed by praise and ultimately a popular movie based on his life. His affinity for unbridled humor & humanness set him on an early collision course with the traditionally stuffy medical school curriculum that taught that you should always maintain a professional distance from patients.  Not so, countered Adams. "The best therapy is being happy. All the other things doctors can do are at best aids." Health, he held, is not the absence of disease, but rather living a happy, vibrant, exuberant life every single day.  Having come full circle, Dr. Patch Adams is now a much-in-demand lecturer at medical schools throughout the USA and a household word within the health care community as a result of the 1999 release of a very successful movie about his life.

As if to play on the former criticism, Dr Adams promotes his philosophy of health care through a stage show in which he plays a 19th century snake-oil salesman. His 'products' include nutrition, exercise, wonder, curiosity and love.  Joy, he says, is more important than any other drug.   As a part of his "snake-oil" teachings, he says that "'We will never talk in terms of cure rates. People are always 'in process' until they die. You don't cure depression. You help a person find happiness, according to their own definition, and hopefully you help them to perpetuate that."

Banish your stereotypes of starched white medical interviews, tons of forms to fill out and the all-important question. "Are you insured?" Unless it is an immediate emergency such as arterial bleeding, you are more likely to take a walk with the good doctor or go fishing or jogging while explaining your problems.  The first goal, he says, is to establish trust, and that process should be enjoyable for both the doctor and the patient.

Dr. Adams dream began to take form in 1971 when he founded "the Wellness Institute." For 12 years he essentially ran a hospital out of his house, providing free care to an estimated 15,000 people, 24 hours a day, and never charging a cent.  By 1983, the need for a real facility became apparent, and his focus shifted to raising the money necessary to build a new healing center based on the principles he was promoting:

  • Free medical care
  • No malpractice insurance
  • A nurturing facility combining farm, theatre, craft center, and recreational opportunities.
  • Staff & patients living together in a warm home-style environment.
  • A healing community teaching the skills of cooperation, compromise and interdependence.
  • A silly, fun and playful place that ignites the innate joy buried beneath the illness experience.
  • An inter-disciplinary hospital that utilizes the services of many kinds of healing practitioners.
  • A facility whose underlying ethic is that of living healthy lives and not just conquering sickness.

Thus was born the Gesundheit Institute, a hospital and health care center on a 320-acre farm in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. As he explains, the institute is meant to be both a stimulant and an irritant.  As a successful working model of joy-based health care he hopes to stimulate the medical community into looking into viable alternatives to the current system.  And his humorous approach to life and work will likely continue to be an irritant to the overly pompous and serious professionals who fear their own humanness and that of their patients.

(Source: The Guardian.  For more information, contact Patch Adams, MD, The Gesundheit Institute, 6855 Washington Blvd., Arlington, VA 22213, USA (tel. 703/525-8169), or volunteer coordinator Kathy Blomquist, Gesundheit Institute, HC 64, Box 167, Hillsboro, WV 24946, USA (tel. 304/653-4338). Note: Patch Adams is not on e-mail. He is trying to raise up to 20 million dollars for his hospital project. The Gesundheit Institute puts out an occasional newsletter called 'Achoo Service!' ('Good health is a laughing matter - and that's nothing to sneeze at!'). Those wishing to make a donation can send a check made out to the Gesundheit Institute at the above address or can put their names on a list at www.patchadams.org)





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