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Patch Adams spoke at NCNM


www.patchadams.org

He spoke on February 22, 2009, in the Great Hall. And the event was FREE. (No way was I going to miss that.) I saw the movie with Robin Williams, but Patch doesn't look anything like the actor. He calls himself a clown actor, and wears baggy mismatched colorful clothing. He is six foot three and lean but for a belly. His long white hair has a blue stripe and is held back in column by a series of hair ties. He is 64 years old and shows remarkable vitality, the most impressive aspect of which is his clarity and acute memory. He quoted us poems whenever there was a lull in the questioning. The very first poem he quoted was Mary Oliver's Wild Geese, a favorite of mine. He says "I don't do anything that drains my energy."

But let me back up to the beginning. When he first arrived in the Great Hall at NCNM, he walked to the front and remarked about the oddness of the room and the fact that there is a large empty space in the middle, where normally the audience would be. He started talking with the people in the front rows in front of me, being silly. He then told everyone "we haven't started yet" and slunk back out so that an intro could be made.

One of NCNM's students who has worked with Patch abroad came up and made a speech. She was excellent. I don't know her name, but she was well paced, and serious, and impassioned.

After the intro Patch got up there in his wild getup and proceded to be serious. He spoke of the shame in the fact that all the medical schools in the world don't bother to even try to teach compassion to future doctors. He said that love is the most important thing in life, and that we ought to learn how to love better. His programs, taking volunteers all over the globe to seek out suffering and alleviate it with laughter and human connection, are designed to give people the opportunity to practice compassion, in a concentrated way. People find this experience transformative.

Patch admits that his ultimate goal is to end capitalism. He is a socialist who would like to see government for the people based on the value of care, not commerce. He says he was an activist from age 16, probably kicked off by the death of his father in war. He said that he could not, would not refrain from likening Bush II to the Nazis in every speech he gave during the reign of Shrub. Now he says he expect to have many of the same issues with Obama. As long as our tax moneys are going toward war, he disagrees.

A recurring theme in Patch's talk was his embarassment to be a man, and his disgust with the behavior of men. He said that men are more dangerous than disease, and referred repeatedly to the incidence of rape and child abuse. He spoke of 5 year olds with gonorrhea, and the sadness of orphanages. He said that we'd be more likely to have the kind of government he envisions (based on care) if women were doing it. He said that from his experience, doing deep interviews with patients, he finds that 85% of men are not worthy of a woman's attentions. I was sort of sad to hear him say this, because it is one of my secret beliefs...that most men are lowly creatures...when Patch says it, it feeds my own impression. He is a student of history, and indeed when one studies history one discovers the evil of men.

Patch also disparages sports. He says that putting one's energy into sports shows a shameful disregard for the future.

He called his talk Medicine for Fun not Funds, and called himself a Clown Doctor. He practices improvisation, and clowns wherever he finds loneliness. He has been a political activist since he was 16 years old. His political beliefs are somewhere between socialist and communist. He says "I want to end capitalism." He enjoys whole system thinking, what he calls cybernetics. He wants us to base medicine, and in fact all of society, on our common humanity, which is the foundation for love and humility.

He asks if compassion can be taught. He says that if it can be taught, it should be, because loving is "the most important thing in life". He says that depression is loneliness, and community is an experience of connectedness. "Depressionis not a disease. Depression is a symptom of loneliness". He thinks our education should include a class called something like Person in Society 101, and cover things like voting. He says that "less than 10% of this nation's adults EVER think."

Patch is "not a religious person. I didn't grow up ith it and it didn't make any sense when I started thinking".

He spoke sporadically about his unconventional treatments, including a "barfalong" for bulemics, and a way of treating madness with madness--and humor. He asked us if we too would like a "fun death". He has found that most people do.

He does not carry malpractice insurance. He says that the purchase of such is based in fear and mistrust. He says he does not care if he is sued. He is up front with his patients that every treatment is an experiment, and that he is human and so makes mistakes too. He cannot promise a cure. He says that the unencumbered practice of care is an "ecstatic experience".

His practice is based in fabulous listening, tenderness, and a complete lack of hurry. The first visit with a new patient is 4 hours in length, and he asks about everything sensitive to life. He does not believe in privacy and confidentiality, because it limits his options in finding out about his person. He asks "Will your wife agree, when I ask her?"

Patch has been making trips to Russia for 25 years now, taking food and medicine aid to people who need it. He especially visits orphanages. He sends volunteer clown doctors into war, in bosnia and Afghanistan. He has trips available all over the world, including to Peru. Wherever he goes, he looks for suffering.

He says that he answers every letter that he gets, and has intentionally refrained from getting into anything computerized. No email. No computer records. Just in person, or hand written letters.

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