SPEAKER Patch Adams Says Goal Is To `Care, Not Cure’ By Roxanne Tingir Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Patch Adams speaks to a capacity ICC Auditorium crowd on Wednesday evening.

Telling audience members to leave at their disposal because “you’re not going to disturb me, I’m already disturbed,” Dr. Patch Adams opened his speech about his method of health care emphasizing love and play. Speaking to an overflowing ICC auditorium crowd Wednesday evening, Adams discussed everything from love poetry to life advice, saying it is his job as a clown, doctor and political activist to “care, not to cure.”

Adams’ story was made into a feature film starring Robin Williams in 1999.

Prioritizing a “value system of compassion and generosity” over money, Adams combines his medical knowledge with the tools of performance arts, recreation and holistic care.

“Health is a happy, vibrant, exuberant life. It has to do with how you are facing life,” he said. “Diseases and problems are a nuisance, not who a person is. There are no diseases remotely as big as the person who carries them.”

Adams’ brand of treatment incorporates friendship, humor and above all love, he said. “We have barf-a-longs with bulimics; we are disrespectful of everything to make it fun,” he said. “People want fun deaths; they just don’t know it’s one of the options. So if you have a week to live, I’m your man.”

The death of his father as a soldier when Adams was 16 gave him his first cause: “I’m looking for a world with no one alive to remember what the word war means,” he said.

Unable to remain silent about violence and injustice and not desiring to live in a world where it was present, Adams was hospitalized in mental wards three times between the ages of 17 and 18. This all changed, however, when he became “an intentionally happy person,” promising himself that he would “serve humanity and medicine and never have another bad day.”

Confident in his ability to “love and care about people and make [himself] an instrument of connection,” Adams began to reach out to others. He reported spending one to two hours daily calling wrong numbers and riding up and down elevators with strangers in order to learn how to talk to people.

While studying at the Medical College of Virginia Adams said he strongly disagreed with the method of patient detachment ingrained in medical students and often expressed his disappointment. During his free time – which he explains was abundant as he was a self-proclaimed nerd – he researched the health care system in the hopes of creating a universally-accessible model. The result was the creation of the Gesundheit! Institute, a hospital and healing community catering to all medical needs free of charge.

Patch and his team, along with family members, transformed a six-room house into a full-time hospital, with not one of the approximately 15,000 patients seen by doctors over the next 12 years ever charged for services. “It wasn’t that we wanted to be free for poor people,” Adams explained, “we wanted to be free for all people.”

Dressed as a clown, complete with multi-colored hair, outrageous clothing and a fork earring every day for the past several decades, Adams said he will go to great lengths to produce a laugh that may help people regain or establish an interest in life.

The Institute never prescribes psychotropic medicine, which he joked was due to the fact that he never “didn’t like someone enough” to do so, but many of its visitors are mentally unstable. It is policy, however, never to screen potential patients, he said.

It is also the only medical institution in the nation that does not carry malpractice insurance and does not accept insurance of any kind because “We’re not afraid of people,” he said.

Ask Adams about organized medicine and he is not afraid to voice his opinion. “If you do accept them [HMO’s] they own you and they turn you into a liar. Every hospital is a liar because of insurance policies . It is impossible to love your practice in the corporate world of medicine.”

For 12 years Adams and his colleagues progressed without a single donation. They soon, however, saw the need for more funding to achieve their vision of a hospital facility.

In the 20 years since having gone public, Adams has been engaged in building the hospital, which is slated to begin construction this summer, and spreading his ideas around the world. Each year he brings a troupe of clowns to Russia to care for several hundred orphans in Moscow, and he has led clowning excursions to over 50 nations, most recently Afghanistan.

“For 31 years I’ve paid to be a doctor,” Adams said. “It’s so beautiful to practice medicine that it’s worth it.”

Adams was introduced by Seema Desai (MED ’04) and Steve Silvestro (COL ’02), leader of “G-town Clowns.” Silvestro has been clowning with Adams at Washington. hospitals and nursing homes for the past year.

The speech was presented by the Pre-Med Society, the School of Nursing and Health Studies Academic Council, The Corp, Med School Class of 2004, GERMS, the Lecture Fund and the G-town Clowns.

Students interested in more information on Patch Adams and the Gesundheit! Institute can visit www.patchadams.org.

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