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 - A Hard Act to Follow

Dr. Patch Adams brought laughter, humor, and compassion into medicine, where it belongs and is sorely missing. There was once a time, not so long ago in history (at least in smaller towns and cities), when your physician was also a friend of the family. You shared both the good times and the bad times and helped each other out. Who better to face bad news and loss with than someone who truly cares?

Medical schools today, teach future doctors to keep arms length at all times; plant firm boundaries between them and the patient; regard clients as helpless dependent children and to be professional and analytical keeping emotions in check. Why, they are so brainwashed they can deliver news such as “you have two weeks to live and there is nothing we can do” without batting an eye. I tend to think this cold, steely approach is nothing more than a coping mechanism designed to help “the doctor” rather than “the patient”. It’s often not until they themselves or a loved becomes a patient, that the negative impact of the physician lacking in compassion is understood.

I was hospitalized recently at a teaching hospital. Although I didn’t mind, I felt like a guinea pig used for interns to practice on. There’s one doctor though I will never forget. She stood out above the rest. A female neurologist came in with her group and introduced herself with a smile. While going over my case, she reached down and held my hand. Such a simple gesture, yet it made a world of difference. Such a caring demeanor is a rare find. Give it a try. You may be surprised at the reactions you receive. It in itself has healing powers.

Now we’ve all heard the phase, “Laughter is the best medicine” and indeed, it is. Doctors who employ humor into their practice can boost patient’s immune systems; raise energy levels while reducing pain. It's a powerful antidepressant without any of the nasty side effects besides the occasional wetting of one's pants.

Patch Adams told of a mother who was tenderly and patiently dealing with the endless screams of her child who was dying from myeloma, among the most excruciating pains one can experience. He walked into the room in his silly clown clothes, a red rubber nose, cheek spreaders, fork earring, and fake snot hanging from his nose and the child looked up and smiled for the first time in ages. He sat with the mother and talked, while clowning with the child. A full hour went by without a single tear. If that’s not a compelling story, what is?

Patch has helped countless people with mild to severe mental illness without the use of Big Pharma’s bounty of magic pills, many of which that they still don’t know how or why they work (among many that don’t). These patients have no where else to turn. They have no money, no insurance, and they do not live in areas that offer free clinics. He indeed takes risks inviting these people into his hospital, which up until recently, was his home. Although there were a couple of tragedies experienced along the way, there were thousands that were helped, able to resume their lives and be functional, even happy. As he points out, much of what we call depression is not a chemical disorder. It’s is the loss of hope, loneliness, troubles that given the proper care can be resolved.

The best doctors I ever encountered had wonderful personalities. One moment they could hit you with an uncomfortable concept, and next leave you chuckling. They were straight shooters, yet never left you feeling angry or abused. It was in this beautifully intertwined approach that you could face painful realities and turn around laughing at the obsurity in them. Like Mary Poppins would say, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in a most delightful way.”

One doctor wrote on his blog that he attempted to engage in humor and told a joke at the beginning of a session to "break the ice". The patient was indignant. He stopped doing this as a result. WHY?!?  Just because one patient broke his funny bone and like a screcrow has a rod stuck up his pants, doesn't mean he should stop trying. There are many types of humor, just as there are many forms of therapy. You can't please eveyone with the same joke. Also, it takes time to warm people up, especially when they've come to expect distance.

When I was at the hospital I turned the tables on the staff.  I was the witty one. At first they were not quite sure how to respond. But quickly, they sighed a breath of relief and began to laugh, commenting that it's not often they have a patient with such a good outlook on life. If you have a patient who takes life too seriously or is depressed, reccommend for them to take Laughing Yoga or to join a Laughing circle. Even the utterance of a feigned laugh can lead to a good case of the giggles. It's healing. And if you have a problem with laughing inappropriately, just tell people you have to for medicial reasons.

His hospital is a community of people from all walks of life, no different than society functioned just 100 years ago. Everyone contributes something, whether farming, cooking, cleaning, repairing, babysitting or building. It is NOT required, nor is it barter. It is merely a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself, being productive, accomplishing things, connecting with others, helping your fellow man. Is this model outdated? Maybe, but note there was not the scourge of mental afflictions back then as there is today.

He takes time to know his patients, spending up to four hours with each newcomer on their first day. They talk about everything, not just their chief complaint. They become “friends”. This isn’t to say he doesn’t ask the hard questions, but he does so in an air of compassion and empathy. People relax and feel free to open up and be themselves.

Yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, meditation, play, theatre, arts, nature, education, and social service are all incorporated into treatment and TREATMENT IS FREE. The whole hierarchy created by the business model of medicine, creating a debt between patient and practitioner is removed. Everyone is equal. The interplay of healing is emphasized. Doctors also benefit from positive interactions and can learn from those they treat. If you really think about it – each patient offers free continuing education to a doctor. Who is he to charge for this service? Yet, in modern medicine, bureaucracy and capitalism rules; and money is the name of the game.

Patients are trained to help themselves. Unlike modern psychiatry whose motive is to use a band-aid effect, numb you up with often toxic drugs, addict you so you have to keep coming back for more and more and then dissuade you from seeking complimentary alternative healing. It’s all a sham pulled over our eyes, to support profits. Note: There are some who suffer from severe or acute conditions, where this approach is necessary because time is of the essence. Once under control though, alternative methods should be employed.

Agreed, being that our world no longer functions in a community setting; it is no longer one for all and all for one. Now it’s a system where everyone has to look out for themselves. Doctors, like any other professional, have to make a living. The economy has forced even the most compassionate doctors to resort to the 7 ½ minute visit, processing patients as if on an assembly line. Laws, malpractice, insurance regulations, 3rd party payers have turned this once honored practice into a system without a heart or soul. Yes, we are grateful it’s there. Some believe the U.S. model is the best in the world. Many disagree.

While it would not be practical or in most cases, possible to adopt Patch Adam’s model for healing, some of his methodology and philosophy can easily be incorporated into any practice. Break down the walls of hierarchy, smile, hold a patient’s hand, give them a hug if they need it, learn to use humor, and clown around once in while. Compassion is beginning to be taught in schools here in the U.S., something that was always taught in Europe. It’s time to put the egos to bed and behave as what you are without the diploma hanging on the wall – an average, everyday American; hopefully one with humanity, humility and the ability to laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Big shoes to fill! Small steps in a modern society. Like with any mind-set it takes time and effort to walk the talk! Awareness is the key word here and willingness to change will make the difference.