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A Joyful Interview with Dr Patch Adams

42 Minute Read

The inimitable Dr Patch Adams hasn’t had a bad day in 50 years! How does he stay joyful and get results in hospital?

Dr Patch Adams describes love for himself, love for his family, love of his patients and his love of all people. How does this love translate to his approach to medicine? How does his approach affect his patients, both young and old, male and female? And how does he use laughter to connect with a patient?

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Transcript

Announcer:
Welcome to the Heart-Based Medicine Inspirations Podcast with Professor Dr. Jan Bonhoeffer and Dr. Patch Adams.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Thank you, Patch, for being here. Thank you for joining us at the Heart-Based Medicine Summit.

Patch Adams:
Well, I’m having fun and it was the strangest trip to a gig I ever had. I’m glad I made it.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
You had a lot of delays at the airport when you came.

Patch Adams:
Yes, it was a four-tiered delay …

Jan Bonhoeffer:
And you made it. You turned it into, as you said during your presentation, you said you never want to have a bad day in your life, so you turn it into-

Patch Adams:
No, I say I won’t have one.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
So it was a good day for you?

Patch Adams:
I got to read. I’m a reading addict.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Do you want to tell us what you read?

Patch Adams:
Well, it was by a man, Andrew Hayes, called In Love, written in 1953. It’s about one of those nightmare partnerships. The man is acting like an idiot and where is the in love?

Jan Bonhoeffer:
You mentioned in your presentation today how important it was for you to love yourself and to cultivate a loving relation at home with your partner. That was very much a foundation for you to feel full and being able to give.

Patch Adams:
Right. In a world where it’s not taught in school, it’s lab work. If the two of you, if it’s two people, are in love then what a fun laboratory. I think I’m the luckiest man in history that Susan loves me.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Beautiful.

Patch Adams:
I don’t think I’m exaggerating.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
She probably says the same thing about you.

Patch Adams:
I would say it as something that’s going to be part of my conversation. She does love me. She’s such a consummate activist that if it somehow fit into the activism, she might say it. But we don’t have an up and down relationship. It’s 28 years of bliss.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
So in your teachings, if you are going to schools around the planet, what is it that you teach the students about love and what you have learned in your lab?

Patch Adams:
Well, if we’re talking about romance, since I didn’t say but I have my own opinions. I think in your early dating, you’re discovering what’s important to you. What I recommend is that a person find out what’s important to them in order to have a great wonderful romance. Everyone’s list will be different. I have six things I need for … In my first marriage, my wife did not have them. She’s a wonderful woman. It’s just that if you’re trying to have an at-home and lasting romance, you may have 20. It’s particular to each person. When you have found a match with a person that has those things, then what I recommend is acute listening to everything that they ever say matters to them and do it 110% all the time.

Patch Adams:
So if Susan liked when I came home for me to put one shoe in the refrigerator and one on the shelf in the guestroom, I’d do that 100% of the time.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Wow. That takes a lot of discipline and dedication.

Patch Adams:
Well, for me, can we say a lot of romance? Discipline sounds military to me and sounds like there’s a punishment factor. I would much rather use words that enhance the relationship. I mean in romance or in relationships, discipline means B&D, bondage and discipline. I’m never tying her up and whipping her, even if she says, “More.”

Jan Bonhoeffer:
You describe love at home and love as romance. Love has so many expressions and one of them is the love for your patients, the love for the children that you work with, the love for the children that you visit in school.

Patch Adams:
Right. I would say that really connects to the love of all people. If you work for peace and justice and care for all people then it’s really what kind of relationship do you want to have with people? People walk down the street and don’t even look at each other. Or if one looks at the other, the other one might intentionally look away. So a clown like me might be obnoxious if the person tries to ignore me.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
What is love to you?

Patch Adams:
Half the poems I know are love poems. I love Neruda’s 100 love sonnets to his third wife, Matilde. It’s the name for the ecstasy of connection. How does that sound as a short definition?

Jan Bonhoeffer:
That sounds amazing. That sounds wonderful because it’s that ecstasy that we are missing in the kind of healthcare that I’m working in.

Patch Adams:
Right. Well, as soon as you make it a business and that you make a lot of business from this kind of medicine and not very much on this kind of medicine, you might find yourself wanting to do the kind that gives you a lot of business. You certainly won’t do four-hour interviews. I do four-hour interviews because I want to know a person. I’m not trying to make any money from them. That’s why I’ve read all of Dickens twice. I like the fat 19th-century novels. I love to make a house call for the same reason. I really like to know the person.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
What drives you to dedicate this much time and also to dedicate so much energy into actually manifesting your dream of the hospital you want to build?

Patch Adams:
I think it’s easy to say. Susan and I would say it’s all nested in wanting. I want. My big want is a world where no one alive knows what the word, war, means. They have to look it up in the dictionary and they don’t believe that humans were ever so self-centered, selfish, and idiotic as to hurt each other. So I want that world and it can’t happen in a lifetime, so it won’t happen in my lifetime. But I can act it out so that you live with sparkly eyes and a smile on your face, a willingness to greet. I’ve got all these toys in my pockets where I can get goofy really quickly on an elevator when I’m not clowning. When I’m clowning, it’s much worse.

Patch Adams:
Well, we look at the tricks on how to connect. Most adults, especially the males much more than the females, are suspicious of love. “What do they want?” Or they’re hierarchy-oriented, so they’re wondering of what use is that person to me and those kinds of things. Since I want a world without any violence, I know that if I am playing that that environment’s going to be lighter than if I’m not playing. That loving, a lot of our gender are nervous about it. Is it real love? “Patch, are you really loving people?” And those kinds of things. That’s why exaggeration can be so useful and consistency.

Patch Adams:
I love to take patients who think they’re not loving out in public and make them do things. That’s why I invite people on clown trips because if you saw the film that I mentioned, you see a vet going, “I never really thought I was the kind of person that would bring joy to anybody’s life.” He looks like that kind of person that would say that. Later you see him in a pink tutu. These vets, it was the first time for the pink tutu.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
I work in a children’s hospital. Three days a week there are clowns in the hospital. It’s a key element of healing to me. Many times actually it feels like what happens in the togetherness and the resonance with the clowns is way more important in terms of true healing than what we’re providing as doctors.

Patch Adams:
And one wonders when they see what you’re saying, how are they incorporating it into how they’re being in the hospital? Because if the clowns are bringing it and they’re who are bringing it and I’m not bringing it, they don’t get it. You don’t watch love and appreciate loving. You see what you can take from it and how to be loving. Now clown groups are going in hospitals in 140 countries. I think our work has been the major impetus for it. For a lot of them it’s a part-time job, and a lot just really like doing it.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
There’s something that happens when the clowns enter the room and there’s the child. What is it that happens at that moment?

Patch Adams:
Well, maybe the child’s thinking, “Finally, an adult that’s fun to be with,” instead of coming in, drawing blood, and doing a blood pressure and fixing the blinds and that sort of thing that a lot of our gender … A lot of more women are funny naturally or are loving naturally and this sort of thing. But huge numbers of men are never loving naturally and never funny naturally. It’s not fit for their position. It’s funny. People think when they hear a clown they think about … I love clowning for children. I prefer to clown for adults. Their life experience is much larger, their sense of humor much larger. I find that it’s a really powerful connecting, where a kid, it’s another clown. Kids love fun.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
And adults do too.

Patch Adams:
Well, I think males need a context, so at a board meeting they might laugh if they’re comfortable with the people in the board meeting. But if they’re out on the ward, they may not play. That’s why because of the fame of the film, if I go to a hospital and the chief of the hospital, usually it’s sphinctoidal male, wants to come and meet The Patch Adams, I instantly get out my big underpants and put them in the big underpants. They always get in the big underpants. I have a little pair of underpants that fits on as a nose. It’s so interesting to see. There are serious things like hunger and war and those sort of things. But why do a lot of males choose to be serious?

Patch Adams:
Clearly, it’s a hierarchical thing that you are, if you’re playful then you think the person is on your level. If they’re your boss, you are worried about playful unless you’ve worked up to it over time because you don’t want them to think less of you because you’re playful. They’re really serious. So kids love adults that are playful.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
What’s in the way of loving?

Patch Adams:
Well, I could say maleness is in the way of loving. Most men think sex is a three-minute experience for them. So huge numbers of partners will say how they’re not getting off. Men love power and money more than they love other people. They love position and those kinds of things. In growing up, there was almost nothing I wanted to be. I grew up in a military family where the men were men and bah. So unless a male is not normal, they’re thinking of position, money, power over first. They like their friends that they get together on Friday night and drink in the bar and crack jokes and are loud and boisterous.

Patch Adams:
You can bet they’re equal on that ladder and that if a person who is over them walked up, you would see a dramatic change in the activity around the table unless the person say, “No, go ahead,” and gave permission for them to do that. I mean I tell my audiences. I think 85% of men are dangerous to women and no audience member, male or female, has ever argued. 5% would be horrible. I don’t know. Do you know when women in history were given the right to vote? No country thought women were citizens until …

Jan Bonhoeffer:
I think Switzerland was the last, the country that-

Patch Adams:
1972 in Switzerland and nobody believes. “Switzerland? 1972?” I mean how is it from the beginning they weren’t equal? Because they certainly did more work. Childcare was the first job and women did it. Well, the first country was New Zealand, 1893. The US, 1920. I mean how far was their head up their butt for that to be true? Inconceivable that they weren’t equal from the beginning. Some would call that shortdickedness.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
So about values, somehow there was a value set in place that was very male-driven.

Patch Adams:
Well, money and power over have been the markers for men in a group, the alpha male in primate language. When did that rebel? They would kill the girly boys or contraries or whatever they were called historically. It was there from as long as I’ve known history. History was there where you grew up in a family and you wanted the first to be strongest and respected much more than laughed at. It’s one reason the clown is often thought of or the humorous person, the person who has privilege, because people who do not do funny things can’t believe the clown is doing a funny thing, the fool.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
When you are vulnerable, when you’re willing to show up as a fool-

Patch Adams:
All the time. I’m always vulnerable, which is why I’ve been beaten up many times. I never hit back.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Is vulnerability something that takes courage for you?

Patch Adams:
No. It felt natural until I was told by men it wasn’t natural. I did see that women liked it, not as a dating device certainly in the teen years, but later they really like a man who’s gentle. I think the room showed it today. If you don’t know the treat of being called a fool and having that character, they say the fool is the strongest tarot deck card. To be publicly humiliated is the last thing that a man wants. So courage, all of those other things, I’m a proud coward, proud to be a coward to the max.

Patch Adams:
(singing) it’s dental equipment, which is why I always have this one here. I like to hang a [inaudible 00:20:45] on it.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Yeah.

Patch Adams:
If you walk down an airport with this in a nice big [inaudible 00:20:52], this is happening everywhere.

Speaker 4:
I love it.

Patch Adams:
Maybe I’ll show you one other thing because it’s a relatively new project. Farting is the number one funny thing in the world. All us guys used whoopee cushions growing up a lot. I have the normal size in this pocket. In my carryon I have the new large size. This I called the Grandmother Toot because grandmothers don’t let out boomers. They poof. So this is the latest in whoopee cushion poofosity, grandmother. Just like Granny. Grannies laugh, by the way, if they do that. They don’t laugh at their own farts, but they understand that that’s their fart and that if there’s a grandchild present, she’ll never live it down.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Patch, you were talking about vulnerability. When you went to medical school, part of the spiel is to absorb all the knowledge. Part of the spiel of absorbing all the knowledge is that you’re very much busy with your head.

Patch Adams:
Well, let me just interrupt here. When you say all the knowledge, I was trained to do a medical history in six minutes. You don’t get all of anything in that. I do four-hour interviews because I wanted everything. So you are left with chief complaint in medical school. That was my experience. The idea of asking a patient, “Well, what do you love?” And boy, was that a variety of answers. I mean I first found my vulnerability through cowardice because bullies would beat me up and I didn’t hit back. My style was to fall on the ground and beg for mercy. It worked a lot of times because a bully doesn’t get many points kicking a person laying on the ground going, “Please don’t hurt me again.”

Patch Adams:
As I aged in high school, speaking up became much more vulnerable. I grew up with the N-word. I can’t say it. When I came back to America and saw that it was on public drinking fountains, I went school in Virginia in ’61 to an all-white school that was a public school in a city of 22% Black population. So it was a lie that it was a public school. Every time the N-word was said in class, which in 1961, ’62, ’63, was a lot of times because a lot was happening, that I would scream really loud and really long till I saw everyone in the classroom hate me. And then I would say, “You can say that word, but I have to do this to live with myself.”

Patch Adams:
Eventually the teacher would say, “Don’t say that word any more.” So vulnerability, what I’m loving is that climate change is showing humanity its vulnerability. We will be extinct probably in 100 years, and we’re called the intelligent animal. I don’t know if you know about geoengineering where they’re pumping aluminum into the atmosphere in order to bring down the heat. Used to be one in 10,000 children that was diagnosed autistic, ADHD, and now it’s one in 50. I mean how is it even though women are teachers, how is it that they still use grades in school? They do nothing but torture or create arrogance.

Patch Adams:
School isn’t about being judged or graded for what you know, it’s for the opening up of a mind, which you heard me say that I think no more than 15% of adults in the US ever think. But what I mean by thinking, they do it one day a year.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Is this something that is trained in medical school?

Patch Adams:
Well, it’s trained in all this television. People can sit there. The number of men who love sports who are married, who they use their wife for sex, they’ll tell you that. But I want to get with the guys to spend time watching my team. Multimillionaires playing with their balls has become interesting to them. So it’s in the training. It’s in the news. There’s no daily good news newspaper. I mean the New Age put out a few, but I’m saying every city has … New York Times, the Chronicle, the blah blah. It’s all about bad news. Good news is that your multimillionaires played with their balls and won.

Patch Adams:
If you are a capitalist and you are designing a society to concentrate wealth in the fewest number of hands, which we are, the 1%, then it’s doing a magnificent job. Wow. In all levels of society, money talks. Why is anyone interested in it? I love it that people say they’re a Christian or a this or a that and 30,000 children die a day of starvation. One ball player could make a foundation so that none died of starvation. It’s not interesting.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Why is that? Why is it? Why is it that you build-

Patch Adams:
Well, the society tells you what to be interested in. Be interested. I mean how did Trump get elected? He is a bad word idiot. He actually is a prime example of a person that, in my mind, never thinks. He has robotically taken advantage of the capitalist world that we have and become president, but people elected him. I mean some women even voted for him. How is that possible unless their husband said, “If you don’t vote for him, I’ll beat you?” How can you have any respect? I can’t name a government on the planet I respect.

Patch Adams:
TV’s message is a giant sledgehammer of money and power over. My partner, Susan, is 69 and she is beautiful. I don’t say that because I love her. She is beautiful. Beautiful at 69 is different than the beautiful of 18 but yet, almost all of the features of beauty at 18 she has.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
You see the beauty in people. This is what you nurture in people. This is where you lead people to health and focus on health rather than on disease. If you were just to fast forward 20 or 30 years and you were imagining the kind of health system you would like to see, what would it be?

Patch Adams:
We have disaster courts, disaster schools, disaster hospitals. They’re all reflecting the capitalist system. So I would certainly never have a world where the ball player who’s nobody makes more money that the schoolteacher. I mean in some ideal, unless we change the system and don’t need money, I’d like everyone to have about the same amount, whatever that would be. But the idea that there are billionaires and the way people fawn all over them is an embarrassment to intelligence.

Patch Adams:
I don’t know of any public school that doesn’t give grades. For me, that’s cruelty. It isn’t just bad and stupid and all of that. It’s cruelty to give grades.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
You’re clearly outlining a health system that is way beyond the consultation room. When you talk about health, you see this as a systemic effort, as a collaborative systemic effort. If I understand you correctly, you would like to see health questions being addressed way more upstream rather than at the end when it comes symptomatic in a patient.

Patch Adams:
I’d like it out of the business sector.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Out of the business sector.

Patch Adams:
And a service to its people, like education. Out of the business sector and in medical education, teach the thrill of loving other people. That’s what we taught when we were open. I can give you a strong example. I’m sorry for the dirty words. But in our society, many times the police are called because a man is out in public yelling fuck you. I worked at St. Elizabeth’s for eight years, so I know that a lot of people are brought in because they’re standing in public yelling dirty words. We had at least 15 the 12 years we were seeing patients. We’re not going to tell them to leave.

Patch Adams:
There was no physical violence, no hard drugs. Everything else was okay. There they were in the living room yelling it loud. So I would grab three medical students and maybe three patients who thought no one suffered as badly as they did and I would say, “Okay, we’re going to surround this guy. We’re going to put our arms under our armpits and we’re dance around going … fuck you, fuck you … fuck you, fuck you.” Nine of them laughed. As soon as they’re laughing, they can’t do it any more. So then we had the other six to deal with. One of the things I like doing is to pretend I’m giving … Have people sit and grab, because there are always people around. Say, “Let’s pretend he’s giving a lecture.”

Patch Adams:
So you can raise your hand and say, “Bill, the inflection you used on the you, were you thinking of a female sheep?” So that might get two more to laugh. It’s a challenge. They realize the ridiculousness of what they’re doing. The truth that some people are driven that far that they clearly didn’t have my mother. As Mary Poppins, one of the great philosophers of the 20th century said, “In every job that must be done, there’s an element of fun. You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game.” (singing) We would trick people through fun and laugh and play to like what is going on.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
You have a vision for your project. You have a vision for your hospital.

Patch Adams:
Yeah.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
When you go to other hospitals, when you visit other hospitals as a clown or as a guest, they invite you for speeches or to meet their staff-

Patch Adams:
Sure. I’ve been in 82 countries and every state many times.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
When you go to these hospitals, where do you see or do you see any value in change within the system?

Patch Adams:
Well, I see loving people try to bring loving, especially women, especially nurses, nurses’ aides, cleaning people. Almost all the niceness of history came from women. So they’re trying in the worst of situations. I think there are a lot more men now in medical school that have more heart than did when I was in school. But I haven’t found one fun hospital. They can be the day that clown comes in. Often they’re sent to pediatrics. Why aren’t they sent to neurology? There are straight corridors. They haven’t look at Gaudi’s architecture.

Patch Adams:
There just isn’t this idea. They know love is important, but they don’t … I’m going to guess they don’t have any idea how to design it into it because they know doctors want to be on top rather than be fun to be with. “I earned my degree and I want to be called doctor. You will call me and address me as Dr. Porter.” I mean I found within one month of medical school that there was nothing right about hospitals in the United States. I mean it was right that they helped people, but they did it against the gradient of toxic environment and expensive.

Patch Adams:
I’ve been with many families who lost their home because of their medical bill. Imagine how hard it is to find them say nice things about their experience in the hospital.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
To what degree do you think we can decentralize the healthcare system?

Patch Adams:
Put women in charge of everything for the next thousand years. That is the most honest answer to your question. I certainly tell wealth that extinction means them too because when your 20,000 private army that’s protecting you and your family in your little fortress that some places already exist, that when they’re not cared for they’re not your army any more and they’ll come after you. It’s just so hard for … I would say more men like their team winning, which are multimillionaires. If they had the choice between having really bliss at home or their team winning, they’d rather have their team winning. For me, it’s funny.

Patch Adams:
The number of the families that I’ve dealt with that had a suicide. We heard about one today, a wonderful … one of the camp counselors at Camp Winnarainbow, who everybody loved. Why did he kill himself? We need radical change. Capitalism stole the word rich. Rich is having a friend. Rich is having your health, especially if you’re a geezer. Rich is being able to sit under a tree and notice all your worries go away. Rich is all of the arts. That’s why I have a gigantic library of the literary arts, the movie arts, the visual arts, the architectural arts. All of them are, in a way … Once a tribe, once they got food down and warmth and safety down, some weird person drew a drawing and people liked it. And then they built a little tent over it.

Patch Adams:
Then it became a thing you could see. And then maybe somebody took some charcoal from the fire and drew a picture and it was a picture somebody took home.

Jan Bonhoeffer:
Thank you, Patch. Thank you for exemplifying so beautifully what it means to live a heart-led life.

Patch Adams:
I want to say right to the camera, I am not special. Anyone can do it. It really helped that I had a great mother and that I lost my father to war. And then I could list thousands of writers who have touched me and other kinds of arts that have shown me other ideas. I want to say I’ve never thought about God once in my life. It felt like a male creation. I know there are feminine goddesses, but I mean where is a Christian if we’re at war? One of the commandments is thou shalt not kill. So if you’re killing, you cannot be a Christian. You can say, “I am a Christian,” but that doesn’t make you a Christian.

Patch Adams:
Why am I so laudatory of women? Because when I look behind the ugliness, it’s mostly men. I know women rape men. It’s such a small number as to be almost adorable to meet one. If only that many men raped women, then what would men do with a woman? Most men think sex is three minutes because that’s how much they need. They know that the partner, if she’s vocal, is not satisfied but he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. So please, anyone can do everything I do. I don’t do anything special. I’ve decided to love life. I’ve decided to care and have decided, like John Lennon, no countries, no religion.

Announcer:
This has been a Heart-Based Medicine production. Thanks for listening.

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