Monday, February 11, 2008

Patch Adams

Last night I watched an amazing movie. It was amazing because of its depth, its beauty, the fact that it reflects so many values that I try to embody within my own life, and because it incorporated so many facets of ideas that I have touched upon or written about. It is a movie starring the always incredible Robin Williams, and it is entitled Patch Adams. The Dark Enchanter recommended it to me, for which I thank him.

Patch Adams is a movie based on a true story, that of a doctor whom I did not know existed, but whom I love all the same. It beautifully depicts what it means to connect with people, to really see them, to appreciate them and help them in any way possible, through any means possible. Hunter "Patch" Adams understands that giving is in and of itself a form of receiving. At one point of his life suicidal, Adams realizes that giving to others and helping others grants meaning to his life, and with that understanding, determines that he will enroll in medical school and become a doctor. The only problem is, medical school is not a place designed to teach such as he.

Brilliant, compelling, creative and original, Adams marks a firm distinction between the disease and the patient. Throughout the movie, doctors assess diseases, and refer to patients as "Beds"- there's a case in Bed 6, and symptoms and diseases are all that matter. Patch is very careful to inquire as to the patient's name, to try to fulfill their wishes and fantasies, to allow for laughter in the hospital and in the ward. The curative power of laughter is stressed above all things, as is the belief in a vision that is so grand, glorious and outright beautiful that one feels truly connected to this man who dares to flout convention in the search of a greater good.

Patch listens to people. He talks to them. He wishes them a good day; he thrives on their laughter. He understands how deeply people need to connect, that they need to feel as though they matter, and not simply their disease. He acts the clown, transforming bedpans and medical tools into modes and methods of entertainment. It is his imagination that transforms them- he does not need any particularly special items; he merely needs to act and think. He compels his friends to join him in his quest to treat and help others, despite their initial hesitation. He is a driving force.

And then he faces failure, as he must. This is failure that could destroy him; his vision, in which he believed so much, comes crashing down in an instant. The woman he loves above all else is taken from him, and why? She had wanted to help a patient, and that patient, being unstable, murdered her. "I killed her. I taught her the medicine that killed her." Patch grieves, and this is depicted particularly movingly when he argues with God, claiming that God ought to have created the world with compassion. He wants to give up, and will, until he sees a butterfly, his personal connection with the woman who has left him. She has symbolically come back to him and he perseveres.

The movie is filled with ridiculous antics, including the wonderful stealing of hospital supplies with a live man pretending to be a cadaver (he is covered with a sheet, under which are all the supplies), an interesting welcome for gynecologists, clowning around and many different forms of entertainment! Huzzah for non-conformists with passion.

The final scene is beyond incredible; you can watch it from 2:20 onward here (alternatively, watch the whole movie!) I love this speech.

All the ideas proposed by Dr. Patch Adams are ideas that I have intuitively come to on my own- having fun, spreading joy, healing through laughter, talking to strangers and seeing what they have to say, what bothers or hurts them and how they can be helped- and it is all so simple! I heard about a program for Medical Clowns that one can enroll in if they are in Israel (and I have a friend who did it)- this is something that I would love to do; does anyone know whether there are programs to become Medical Clowns in the USA? God knows if there's anyone in the world who should do this it should be me; I love wearing costumes, I dress up all the time, and this was precisely the function I served when I visited nursing homes in Chicago- only I didn't know it had been originated with this particular individual. It's interesting that one can follow in a tradition one never knew existed.

To learn more about Patch Adams, check out his website here!

Hurrah for the clowns, the dreamers, the people who say hello to strangers and who take joy in every minute of their lives! Hurrah for Patch Adams, and for you, and for me!


Anonymous said...

Hurrah indeed!!!

Chana,you always made me laugh.
You kindness and the desire to make people feel better is so precious! I know you love English and Literature. But,did you ever consider psychiatry as mode of expression of all your gifts? You would be absolutely superb!

Your secret male admirer

Moshe said...

One of my favorite movies...I hope to be able to touch patients' lives the way Patch did.

arade89 said...

i hope for your own sake that somewhere before or after that 2-hour movie u watched the 2-min clip i sent u or else i shall be extraodinarily vengeful

Anonymous said...

Wait...Patch adams was a GOOD movie????

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Hi Chana -

Just as an FYI, there was an interesting report on Medical clowns here in Israel not too long ago, where it was found that children are actually afraid of clowns! As a result, the medical clown interviewed on the radio said he now refrains from using a red nose.

Regardless, Patch Adams was a great film :)

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed the movie so much Chana! I enjoyed it too. I agree that it embodies many values and ideas that all healthcare practitioners, and truly anyone who works with people, should posses. About medical clowns, I used to do volunteer work in a children’s hospital in America, and I used to see clowns walking around and entertaining patients all the time! I have no idea what the training is for it or anything, but I’m sure the opportunity is available if you’re willing to pursue it.