The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DR. PATCH ADAMS - Dealing with Suffering

All you have to do is read the news. There is some sort of major disaster and tragedy taking place at any given moment. You may feel uncomfortable and wish to side step it. The easiest way to cope with bad news is to turn a blind eye. So you don't make eye contact with the homeless or those suffering. Don't turn on the TV when reports of natural disasters hit. Don't read about war, violence, and riots. Don't spend any more time at hospitals or nursing homes than the occasional obligatory visit to a loved one.

Walk into any public place and you are bound to run into a problem of one sort or another playing out before your eyes. Parents fighting with unruly kids; customers complaining about one thing or another; people getting into fights and brawls. Just driving somewhere, it's impossible to avoid road rage. Turning away and tuning out may give you a moment of solace, but it doesn't erase the truth. It may temporarily shelter you from negativity allowing you to languish in your own narrow sense of positivism. However, how can you really feel pride and self confidence when you are contributing to the problem rather than stepping in to lend a hand?

Everyone makes excuses! We've all heard them echoed time and time again. "I've got my own problems to contend with!" "That's their country's problem! Let them tend to their own!" "They deserved it!" "You can't solve the world's problems over night!"  "It's not my business to interfere!" "It all media hype." "Damned bleeding heart liberals!" "I'm just one person. What can I do?" "What is it you want of me?" "I'll be dead by then so what does it matter?!?" Go ahead.  Don't you let other's suffering ruin your good day.

Conflict. Pain. Anger. Hostility. Suffering. Crime. War. Victimization, and yes... Hatred. There is too much of it! Doesn't that make you mad? Of course it does if you have an ounce of humanity in you! But how many of you have actually stepped up to the plate to make a difference? Huh?

Last night I sat in on a lecture by a truly amazing man. Dr. Hunter Doherty Patch Adams. He is the man who brought laughter, humor, and compassion into the field of medicine. He has worked for 40 years as a Family Practitioner and has never charged so much as a dime for his services. He has never bedded up with Big Pharma, the Insurance Industry, Government Propaganda or Capitalism. He doesn't buy into the system and that is what makes him so incredible. He's not wealthy. He lives in a commune. But he's probably the richest man in the world! He has a wealth of goodwill and happiness.

He knows how laughter, a simple smile, clowning can bring light into the darkest places. He has visited hospitals, prisons, orphanages, referee camps, nursing homes, mental institutions, prisons, long term care facilities, and war zones worldwide. He responds to the calls of the neediest. He enters the most horrible nightmarish settings of monumental suffering where all hope is lost and has brought a ray of sunshine. He doesn't accept being put up in nice hotels, being fed anything better than the people he offers his own unique brand of support to and all money earned from speaking engagements goes to his foundation - the Gesundheit Institute, a hospital offering free care and natural therapies.

He explained how although holding a child who has never been loved or held brings tears to his eyes, it also offers him rewards that money could never buy. He is not a religious man so to say, but he prays with families of every background and culture, with love and respect shown towards their traditions. From Atheist to Zoroastrianism, his heart is open to spirituality of any sort, and for that moment he is one and the same with the suffering and those facing immeasurable pain and loss. He'll tell you - "Faith works!" He combines a deep reverence for all mankind with clowning to lighten the hearts of those in pain, and it works. He spreads love, the most important resource in this world, and yet as he says, "We can go from preschool to our post doc and beyond, and not once do we learn anything about its powers." The college students at Northeastern University agreed it's the one area of life they feel least prepared for.

So how do we learn to walk in his shoes when for most of us, they are far too big to fill? First of all we must change our perspective. Don't say I'd like to change; I could change; I should change; I'll try to change. Say I WILL CHANGE!!! It's a decision! Make it and stick to it!

Start small. It's in the slightest actions that we can begin to make changes that affect the lives of others in the most profound ways. Try holding a door for someone; smile at a stranger; laugh at loud for no reason at all (even if it's feigned) and watch genuine smiles come over the faces of those standing near by; clown around with a child who's crying and screaming and watch a smile come over their face. Don't be so serious, uptight and professional - dare to be goofy! Let the child in you come out and shine. Prehaps be a little bit naughty. Laughter is far more infectious than the common cold. It connects people on the spot, forming intimacy. Best of all it's FREE and easy to do!

Don't turn a blind eye to pain. It will always be there and someday, it may be you on the receiving end. Roll up you sleeves (or in Patches case, he rolls up the legs of his oversized clown pants and pulls the waist up under his arms). Be a clown and make them laugh. We WILL make a difference. We CAN make this a better world. WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO HEAL!!!


  1. The problem is, as a doctor, how do we do all that stuff without getting struck off.

    You seen the patch adams film? Obviously, its a dramatic hollywoodisation of the truth, but you know what: in the real world, patch would have lost his medical license faster than you can say "The Dean has no sense of humour"...

  2. Why not write to him and ask. P.O. Box 50125, Arlington, VA 22205 USA. He answers ALL his mail. And he hasn't bought into technology, so he writes long hand. Check out his web site If someday you are fortunate enough to have received as many accolades and awards as this man has you will be most fortunate.

    He is a very real, inspiring and still licenced practitioner at age 65. He says he was not completely pleased with the movie as it portrayed primarily the funnyman (to showcase Robin Williams style). He wished it had opened up minds by showing the immense suffering that takes place in this world and his philosophies.

    I make my comments based on the real man, and his real life. Not the Hollywood portrayal. Do you really believe that making a patient (or stranger for that matter) smile and laugh will get you struck off? Maybe you are at the wrong school or MAYBE you could decide to make a change.

  3. I personally was inspired by the movie years ago when I watched it with my mother who was 56 at the time and would not see 57. She wanted to spend her last days at Patch's Hospital, and wanted to swim in noodles. I was an ER nurse, and it was her wish that I would someday work for Patch at his hospital. Sadly that dream was never to be, but I did spend an amazing week with him on one of his clown mission trips. I fulfilled a wish and learned first hand from Patch what it really means to provide care to humans. I have never seen someone who demonstrated "Love Thy Neighbor" better than Patch Adams. He does answer all his mail, and wants to share the clowning experience to anyone who wants to learn what it means to love people and heal lives. I have pictures from my clown trip with Patch to Costa Rica last September on my website gallery page at