The One & Only-Dr. Patch Adams (no, not Robin Williams)

Back on Saturday, February 20, the real Patch Adams came to NYU.  Around that time, I was planning to attend NYU Alternative Breaks at the Gesundheit! Institute in West Virginia.  Basically, it’s a 1-week community service trip during school breaks. Last year, I went on a trip to Open Hands in Atlanta, where I served and delivered nutritious meals to home-bound, ill senior citizens.  This year, at the site, I would be part of a student group assisting in organic gardening, cooking, visiting and entertaining patients at a local hospital and nursing home, etc… regular service work where the desire to work comes from the heart.  However, my anticipation and excitement ended when I got caught in a spiderweb of uncertainty.  That is, I was still not accepted to medical school by the end of February and I intended to attend my 6th interview at SUNY Downstate.  Except, my interview was in the middle of Spring Break in mid-March!  Should I reschedule and risk pissing off the admissions office for being “inconvenient” (they cautioned rescheduling for special circumstances, and I did not deem my service vacation as that important to risk a negative repercussion)? I wrapped too many gifts during Christmas and raised too much money to support my trip to feel free enough to give up the trip. In the end, I gave up the trip, got acceptances in early March, and soaked up some sun in Florida during Spring Break.

So I attended his show with my good friend Stephanie, who also happens to admire him highly. Dr. Patch Adams created the Gesundheit! Institute decades ago to provide quality, affordable care to people who seek medical attention.  The staff practically works for free, relying on volunteers throughout.  His push for dramatic social change to the health care system rings loud and clear amidst Obama’s health care reform.  He is absolutely amazing in his personality, gradual development, philosophy, and vision for the future of patient care.  His ultimate goal is to build a free hospital for free, quality care, while he encourages compassionate and loving patient relations.

He is human; he hit some rocky points in his life and rather humble beginnings. He lost his father in war.  He was bullied to the point of depression and suicide.  After several hospitalizations, he saw the shining light ahead and forged forward with renewed energy:  “You don’t kill yourself, you make revolution.”  He is quite the character:  goofy, silly, admirable, respectable, educated, and compassionate.  In his multi-purpose clown outfit (it can fold into a skirt and he can hide completely into a human ball) and perky toys (ex. finger puppets!), he brings himself down from the level of a fancy, prim doctor to a personable, ordinary funny man who gets to know you.

I remembered he joked, “You’ve got food and a friend- what are you bitching about?” It’s true, we need the basics of life to reach our potential as active human beings.  And we are social beings, we seek companions and partners to be by our sides.  As he said, one thing medical schools do not teach is compassion, the element of connection and love.  We can be compassionate if we can be less selfish in today’s increasingly materialistic, modern world and experience life in underprivileged nations.  What I would like to achieve in medical school is to experience the poorer life and the patients in these areas.  I plan to take advantage of international opportunities abroad and apply my ongoing learning to the practical world and patients who need care the most.  As Patch Adams reminded everyone, we need to care and not necessarily cure. And particularly touching were two stories he shared with everybody.  In the video, there were two patients he visited:  Kathy with cerebral palsy and Sasha with terminal cancer.  Kathy was wheelchair bound and dependent; she could not control even drooling.  But Patch was right by her side, entertaining her with a plushy red nose and duck on his head. He simply worked to put a warm smile on her face. Similarly, Sasha was a little Russian boy bound to the bed.  It was so sad to see him weak and struggling.  And yet, Patch was right there to hold his hand and comfort him.  With Patch, the boy could feel like a happy kid.

In regards to the health care reform, Patch criticized the overwhelming politics and distorted beliefs.  For one, technology today is for the rich and privileged.  Insurance companies are business enterprises that can drop customers when they become sick.  Now what the hell is that??!! While his main point is to treat all equally, society is hard to change.  As technology becomes more fancy and expensive, it is all the more evasive.  A colonoscopy can be as high as $5000, but it is a very important diagnostic tool to catch early colon cancer and save lives.  It is not readily available to everyone.  In addition, the health care reform is not getting to the people.  Instead, the politicians making the law are only debating about the cost.  Cost is important, but the way to really save big is focus on prevention and people’s livelihoods.  The first step is universal coverage of US citizens because basic needs and care must be attained.

On a last note, here are some lasting Patch Adams’ thoughts:

1. Die having fun

2. Bring the healing arts into the dynamic medical field

3. Hold hands- show you care and love

4. Love the revolution!

5. Yes, starving people in the world is sad (and yet, US boasts the fattest people)

6. So are orphanages

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