Patch Adams, a physician and clown, considers humour and friendship part of the cure in any healing process. That’s why he wants to build his own hospital.
Tijn Touber | June 2004 issue
WHO? Patch Adams WHAT? The Gesundheit Institute, a hospital where doctors and patients treat each other as friends so they can get “better” together WHERE? West Virginia, United States WHEN? 1972 WHY? Hospitals used too many technological solutions, which led to the disappearance of the human element in the healing process
Hunter D. ‘Patch’ Adams is a doctor, social revolutionary and one-man comedy show combined. During medical school he regularly butted heads with the medical establishment, which in his view doesn’t treat the patient but the disease. In an effort to ease the suffering of sick children in particular, Adams put on a clown’s nose. A little while later he decided to make his daily rounds in a brightly coloured shirt, a polka-dotted tie and wide yellow trousers with suspenders. His huge moustache and pony tail completed the image. “Humour is the remedy for all ills,” he declares. “People crave laughter as much as essential amino acids.” Recent medical research has confirmed Adams’s once-outrageous claim that laughter in fact does stimulate the immune system.
Adams’ aims go further than cheering up patients. His dream is a hospital where people would be treated for free and where doctors and patients would be friends. For patients, this would be an opportunity to actually heal and for doctors a chance to breathe new feelings of joy into their stressful profession. To this end, Adams and a few colleagues founded The Gesundheit Institute. They have bought a plot of land in West Virginia for the hospital but a lack of funding means construction is still a long ways off.
After a movie about his life was made in 1998 starring Robin Williams, Adam’s ideas got more attention, but investors are still shy about funding a hospital full of clowns and jugglers. And yet that hasn’t kept Adams and his colleagues from treating thousands of people at home, without charging them a cent.
What marked Adams as a social revolutionary was his refusal to take out insurance against medical errors and conform to other ‘necessities’ of modern medicine. To Adams, the healing process is a loving and creative human exchange and not a business transaction. An initial intake interview at The Gesundheit Institute can take four hours. “Friendship is the best medicine ever discovered,” Adams declares. “It is the best and safest insurance against illness. Among friends, anything can be discussed and nothing is held back. Patients can find comfort in the knowledge that a friend is in charge of their treatment. This atmosphere is healing in and of itself.”
Gesundheit! Institute, PO Box 3134, Hagerstown, MD, 21741-3134, United States, www.patchadams.org.