Patch Adams Clowns Around with Healthcare

By Amber Sandlin

Sun Star Reporter

Photo by Nina Schwingham

Dr. Patch Adams spoke to a packed Davis Concert Hall on Oct. 6, 2010. Adams is famous for the movie "Patch Adams" which chronicles his life in medicine.

Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, self-described “naughty clown”, physician and social activist who promotes love and friendship, spoke on Wednesday, Oct. 6.  Over 800 people, young and old, some dressed as clowns, lined up outside the Davis Concert Hall to see Adams.  The National Association of Social Workers, Alaska Chapter and the Alaska Counseling Association partnered with the UAF Social Work Department and the Organization of Student Social Workers to bring up Adams to speak. The Inu-Yupiaq dancers opened the lecture with a dance. Adams entered the stage wearing a colorful shirt and clown pants, children giggled and many people smiled.  Adams welcomed the audience with a smile and a wave.

Adams spoke a bit about the life experiences that led him into his chosen field.  When Adams’ father died overseas, he and his mother moved back to the United States, he experienced racism for the first time. During his junior and senior years of high school, he was bullied and beaten. Adams said that when he experienced that violence, he decided he did not want to live in a world full of hate and violence. After Adams was hospitalized in a mental institution three times in one year for attempted suicide, he realized, “You don’t kill yourself! You make a revolution!”

From that point on, Adams set out to start a revolution of loving. Adams started spending hours on the phone to try to see how long he could get the person on the other line to stay and talk with him. Adams would spend 10 hours a week riding elevators to examine human behavior.  Adams said that he “got addicted to being naughty.” In 1971, Adams graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Doctor of Medicine degree, without ever earning an undergraduate degree. That is when Adams first started to pursue his dream of a completely free hospital.

Adams has very strong opinions on capitalism. Adams called it “the worst thing anyone ever came up with.” Adams said that his training of “normal” doctor behavior was to be a “white American prick.” Adams was determined to have the first silly hospital in history. “If you only have a week to live, I’m your man,” he said.

Adams said his hospital, the Gesundheit! Institute, “eliminates 90 percent of the cost.”  Every person in the hospital makes the same amount of money, whether they are the janitor or the surgeon.

About the Robin Williams movie that bears his name, Patch Adams is very bitter.

“The film promised to build our hospital and we didn’t receive a dime,” Adams said.  The only reason he agreed to the movie was that the producers had promised the movie profits would build his hospital, he said. Adams called the Robin Williams portrayal a “tame” version of himself. “The movie is so tame, I’m embarrassed!” he said.

The jovial atmosphere in the auditorium changed when the question-and-answer segment began. One audience member said, “What do you recommend for non-compliant patients?” Adams started yelling, asking the audience “What is compliant? Compliant is a standard set by society!”  The audience erupted in applause. Adams then told a story about how he would entertain the delusions of his patients.  The story was about a man who stood on a table in the nude, with condiments all over his body, yelling four-letter words. Adams said the staff danced around the table sometimes chanting the words, and throwing more condiments on him.

“As long as the patient does not harm another person, we allow them to do what they want,” Adams said. Adams also called himself a humanitarian, saying he would not harm another human being even in defense of himself or his family.

While Adams had a positive rapport with the crowd, he was much different in person. Adams refused all media interviews and was very curt with the people standing in line to get their books signed.  Despite promising a “human experience” for the book signings, Adams went quickly from one person to the next with short calls of “Next!” punctuating the brief conversations that were had.

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1 Response

  1. Julia Smith says:

    Don’t know why so many critical things have been said about this man. You do an artical on him and smash him at the end.
    I appreciate him. I am in school for nursing and also a 12 prof clown and is quite sad that a man that loves, laughs and gives to all would be torn by the press and the movie makers for not honoring their word.
    Thanks Patch,
    Julia Smth

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