Patch Adams and a sick me

Arshid Malik

Munnabhai M.B.B.S. was a major Bollywood flick that swept the Indian cinema buffs off their feet in December 2003. It was the element of “hilarious hooliganism” taken over by “puppy love” and eventually by “gleeful compassion” for mankind that struck the right chords amongst the Indian audience. Munnabhai M.B.B.S. was a lesson in life and like all major Bollywood blockbusters a copy of yet another Hollywood smash hit, Patch Adams. Patch Adams is a fact-based story of an unconventional physician who attempted to heal patients with laughter. Robin Williams stars as Hunter Adams, a troubled young man who commits himself to a mental institution in the late 1960s. His experiences there convince Adams to become a doctor, and he enrolls in medical school, where he is appalled at the cold, clinical professionalism that alienates patients from their caregivers.

Now, the actual unconventional physician whose life and works inspired the Hollywood flick, Patch Adams, and more than a decade later, the Bollywood flick, Munnabhai M.B.B.S., was actually Hunter “Patch” Adams, founder of the Gesundheit Clinic, a clinic which deals with their patients with humor and pathos. The film starts with Hunter admitting himself as a patient in a mental ward.

Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams was born into a strict military-like family which was constantly on the move. His family’s mobility provided Patch the chance to visit different regions and that taught him to accept differences in people while he made friends very quickly. Hunter was closer to his mother than his father and she instilled in him a “serious” sense of humor. As Hunter started school, he became known as the class clown.

Some misfortunes in Hunter’s life depressed him and he dropped out of college. He was hospitalized, thereafter and while in the hospital, Adams made many friends. The patients in the hospital changed him. One of the patients, who was suffering from loneliness, was very close to him Adams and made him realize that he was loved and he was not actually lonely.

It is said that this patient gave Adams the nickname Patch. With all this Adams discovered his passion for healing people with pure laughter. When Adams came out of the hospital, he was sure now that he wanted to help other people. He applied for medical school and got admitted three years later. Adams loved to visit the hospital patients. He would make them laugh with his funny antics.

His teachers and doctors at the hospital did not like his behavior. But Adams was iron-willed and the strongest of criticism did not make him to abandon his passion.

Adams was of the belief that the medical system was altogether twisted and capitalistic in nature. So, he decided to build a hospital of his own. His dream came true back home in West Virginia, where he proved by actually practicing them in the public eye. At the Gesundheit Institute, as he christened it, he speaks about patient care where laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process. At Gesundheit doctors and patients relate to each other on the basis of mutual trust.

Hunter ‘Patch’ Adam’s philosophy of healing is completely different than what we see around us. He believes that laughter is the best cure. He “thinks every doctor should be a heart specialist – a merry heart, that is.”

Having been peculiarly sick for the past one month I have realized the value of people, thoughts and philosophies that put the patient at the center. I have realized that growing sick on this planet in the present times is a “curse” in itself. Our doctors as well as healthcare institutions are squalid to such an extent that a sick man grows more sick over the very thought of having to go to a healthcare institution because of the “sick” attitudes and “sick” systems involved. I am telling you, if you happen to be sick and visit a hospital you will be overtaken by depression.

Almost all the doctors I have visited in the past month carried snobbish attitudes and never cared about what I had to say about my state of health. They adjusted themselves to their own comforting thoughts and never paid heed to my intentions. While I was always trying to be thorough they were trying to shrink away.

While I would not even have spoken about the “dis-ease” I suffered from, their grouchy ball point pens would start wasting ink. All I would get in the end of every medical examination session would be a long list of medicines, list of lab tests to be conducted and nothing particular about my state of health except the notion that they did not have enough time on their hands to handle me. And it was not all about me.

While I sulked in the clinics of medics I would watch long trains of patients flowing in and out with no sign of comfort after the consultation. I gleaned that people I would get talking to while waiting in the “waiting hall” I would find them smiling and cutting jokes, but once they would go in for the consultation and step out their faces would be long and their general disposition – well, freaked out.

As far as the hospitals are concerned, I did not come across a single soul working there who would seem to care about what the patients wanted. They would stand or sit there, just conducting and controlling traffic around the hospital. No one was willing to listen to and the faces of the hospital staff only sent the message across, “we do not want to be here and we do not want you here”.
With such a state of affairs, sick people would find it feasible to stay home and perhaps “die” there rather than visit a doctor or a health care institute. We strongly, especially our doctors need to develop a holistic sensibility towards healthcare and follow the philosophy of Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams.


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