Welcome to Influencers!
Dr. Patch Adams may have solved many of the critical problems in the medical industry, but if people don’t notice, these insights may be lost and countless will go without care.
Listen To The Podcast Here:
Laughter Is The Best Medicine with Dr. Patch Adams
Welcome back, listeners. For those of you who paid attention last time, we have Hunter with us. Hunter, will you please tell us all about you?
I was a World War II baby. I was the second son which meant I was supposed to be a daughter. My Adams family is related to the president so they had a name Abigail because that was John’s wife. I was Abigail, and there I was born a boy. My father was fighting in World War II and so my mother wondered what to call me. Her maiden name was Hunter and it’s a good Southern boy’s name, Hunter Adams. I never felt right with the name and so in my later teen years I became Patch Adams. When I entered medical school, no one knew my first name. I’ve been Patch ever since.
You’ve got quite a bit of attention over the years, haven’t you? There was even a movie based on your life.
When I published my first book, Gesundheit!, it was wonderfully reviewed by Alex Chadwick on NPR. The next day, my mug was on the cover of USA Today. The next day, five producers from La La Land called me and said, “Movie idea.” It’s pretty clear Hollywood didn’t have a lot of great ideas for movies. I went out there and felt it was pretty sleazy how I was talked to, and so I called my friend Mike Farrell, the star of M*A*S*H, and who was a friend from a visit to Russia we had. He walked it through and so Robin was me.
For those listeners who are a little bit younger, when he says Robin was me, he means Robin Williams who played him, which is funny because how tall are you, Patch?
I’m 6’4″ and Robin is shorter than that.
By quite a bit.
I don’t think he was performing my height so much as my style.
While you were in med school, you dedicated your life to understanding how to solve a lot of the major issues in the medical system. Is that right?
The first reaction was a repugnance. I found 95% of my professors were rude, arrogant, beep beep. That’s a word that I would use. I was embarrassed, not only embarrassed for them, they were mostly men. There were only nine women in a class of 125 in my school. Now a lot more women are in medical school. It was just as embarrassing that everyone was silent. A doctor would walk in a nursing station, be rude to whoever they wanted to be and everybody was quiet. My mother said, “You are not rude, especially from a position of power.” I got in trouble for correcting them. If I hadn’t had really good grades and no patients complained, I’m sure I would have been kicked out of school. I started to look at our delivery system and I found it to be a vulgar, greedy business. Right now, your medical bill is a number one reason you lose your home and 60% of bankruptcies. For me, it was hierarchical so, rich, young, attractive were good reasons to be cared for.
I realized I had to work where healthcare was free for everybody. I could see that the reimbursement system was also horrible, and so I needed to work without any of the public or private insurances. I also realized we needed the right to make a mistake. We aren’t perfect in our practice and we need the right to make a mistake. I designed a hospital that didn’t charge money, didn’t accept third-party reimbursement and didn’t carry malpractice insurance. I realized that we were trained to see patients, in some countries, 5 minutes; in ours, 7.8 minutes. I realized that you need time with a patient, so I thought each practitioner should spend as much time as they need. I like three to four hours on my initial family doctor interview because people are interesting and complicated. I also wanted to have so much time with them that we fell in love with each other.
Currently you’re working on finishing building a hospital, is that right?
Every day for 47 years.
Where is the hospital?
We wanted to build it in the poorest state in the States for healthcare. That’s West Virginia. We have 327 acres in Pocahontas County.
The structure of it is completely different. It’s more communal focused.
All of the permanent staff who live there is a communal eco-villager with at least twelve units of twelve adults each that will be part of the communal structure, and then a hospital attached to it. My fantasy is that all of the family units are connected so a person doesn’t have to put on their winter clothes or their shoes even to go from their home to the hospital in case there’s an emergency. That will have 40,000 square feet devoted to the arts, a fully modern theater, ceramic pavilion, metalwork, photography, fine arts and fine woodworking. We’d like all of the arts represented. Everything will be free. I’d like to pay everybody the same, so the cleaning person and the surgeon would make the same salary, $300 a month. I wanted the salary to be so low it frightened people.
You’ll only get people who are truly committed at that price point.
Remember, they’re living in a multi-million dollar home. We already did eight clown trips last year. They can go on a lot of trips if they want.
When you say a clown trip, can you explain a little bit about what this is?
We don’t have one kind. Three of the clown trips are all clowning, two weeks to Russia in November, one week in March to Guatemala, and one week every other year in either April or May to Morocco. I partnered with Susan Parenti whose group started the School for Designing a Society. They teach non-violent social change. The school does three trips where it’s clowning in the morning and then teaching social change, and that’s Mexico City, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
When we say clowning, what this means is that you’ll take a group of people, regardless of if they have any experience being a clown?
They can be the most boring person from their country. We’ve taken ages 3 to 88 from 50 countries. We don’t require any training. We know that if you’re in a full clown costume, that if you stand there shaking and going, “I’m no good. They’re good. I’m a horrible clown,” that that’s a clown character. We also know from having done it now probably 160 times all over the world that the need of relieving suffering is so strong that no matter how unskilled you feel you are, you show up. Maybe six in our history did not work out.
You’ll take war veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, is that right?
This is an exciting new area of discovery for us. For years now, 6,000 vets are killing themselves which isn’t surprising because war is wrong. The psychiatric profession, the medical profession, the government hasn’t had an idea what to do for these vets. We’ve taken troubled people on clown trips. For years, I’ve tried to get the funding to take vets. I didn’t want them paying on clown trips. Two years ago, we got the funding and we took ten suicidal vets that we got from veteran organizations, asking for suicidal vets, to Guatemala for one week and it stopped all of their suffering and still two years later. We did another trip a year ago and it had the same effect. We’ve started on the first trip to make a film about it. We’re looking for funding to complete the film and also for future trips. It’s about $30,000 to $35,000 to do a trip.
You’ve done some incredible work between the hospital, the clown trips, all of this is absolutely inspiring. Are there certain stories that you really love or feel are important from these experiences?
Millions of them. I’ve kept a daily journal for 45 years. I haven’t missed a day. I just started Volume 78 and they’re thick. The stories of the vets are remarkable. I just got back from my 33rd annual Russia trip. There was one day we were in a hospice and the first person we saw was a ten-year-old girl with an osteosarcoma and she was going to die. I found out several things. I heard that she liked Bollywood, the Indian movies. I also saw that her feet were bare. Last year, I had a distal amputation of my left great toe. I had never done this before. I took off my clown shoe and sock, and there was her foot. We went off on a date, her foot and my foot, and that was a delight. I decided to become a director of a Bollywood film. My old friend, Marina, who always walks with me in Russia so I can talk Russian to the patients, she was my spouse in the Bollywood film. I was obviously the handsome daredevil. The mother of the girl became the affair I had. I don’t know if you’ve seen Bollywood films but there are a lot of this going on. Those were just two of the many events. I mention this because I’ve never done those things. I’ve clowned every day for 54 years. I’ve clowned in 82 countries. It’s an improvisational delight. I’m delighting with its own invention while I see this young ten-year-old who is dying, just be blissful for all the things we did. The mother, when your child is dying, to see them happy. That was the first of three visits at this hospice.
Then I was taken to a sixteen-year-old boy whose mother was there, and his story was that he fell in love and she jilted him, and so he hung himself. He lay there in a coma. He was in the third month in this hospital in a coma from this suicide attempt. There was the mother, and I could see quickly she wasn’t in deep despair. She was hopeful he was going to come out of the coma. Both with the girl and with him, we did Shamanic healing which is ancient. It’s thousands of years old. It’s probably what people did long before even maybe there was much in the way of language, where someone of a tribe would focus energy on someone who was hurting. I did that with the mother. I saw religious symbols. I’ve never believed in God myself. I can interpret what I do, hold true and have it come out whatever faith the person is. We prayed for her son and had a great moment there with this boy lying there in his heartache. If I went through my journal, I would have stories like that every day in clowning.
If people want to get involved or if they want to come on a trip, what can they do?
They can sign up on our website, PatchAdams.org, for the e-newsletter. The e-newsletter means that’s when we announce a trip that will come to their computer. I say this without having ever used a computer, but I know and understand that’s what happens. If you want an all-clown trip, then you want Russia, Guatemala or Morocco. We do not take new people on our vet trips because we’re looking for skilled staff. The three school trips, which if you’re really interested in social change and would like to be in a climate of very thoughtful people, would be Mexico City, Ecuador and Costa Rica. I didn’t mention the Peruvian Amazon where fourteen years ago, in one day we found three five-year-old girls with gonorrhea. Instead of continuing our tour of Peru, we said, “We’re going to stay here,” not because we know what to do but because we are very concerned with child sexual slavery, 20 to 50 million men every day. Now we have a doctor, a psychologist, and five artists living there. We’ve taken as many as 130 on that trip. They get involved in painting murals or doing street theater or clowning or whatever workshops. It’s a very active trip on its own. Also, our Italian team who are very much a part of this, Ginevra and Italo, have a similar project in Nepal and go there every year. Those are our eight yearly trips. Who knows what else will happen to the school. We’re designing a society that also does educational events in our building site in West Virginia and in Urbana, Illinois. Those are all our events.
What I find so incredible about all this is how much of a community is formed around this. From what I understand, you don’t have any money of your own, is that right?
I’m paid a salary. I make a huge amount and donate it for causes. I’m living extremely well in Susan’s home in Urbana, Illinois. I’m so thankful that I can help with other projects, our own and some that are not our own. I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
You mentioned that you’re looking at a sequel. The first film about you did about half a billion dollars, right?
That’s what I understand. They promised to build our hospital and didn’t give me $10. They sure did give me fame, and that’s why I’ve been on the road 300 days a year since the film, which was nineteen years ago. I can say I made a lot from it, not from the movie, but from speaking fees for being a famous person. The movie, however simply it was done, I was first embarrassed by it but I forgave it three years ago when I realized I have had over 100,000 pieces of mail from all over the world, telling me how that movie changed a doctor’s or a nurse’s life or a sixteen-year-old’s life. I realized that sometimes even the simplest of stories can have a dramatic impact. Being absolutely embarrassed for the last election that we had with clearly a bonafide idiot for president, and I apologize for whoever thinks he’s a good one, I just am so embarrassed for where we are in this country in so many ways. I thought maybe we could get a lot more strongly peace and justice film out of a second movie. Also, I’m still trying to fund-raise for a hospital. Fillers are out there and we’ll see what happens. I can’t help but think that ultimately, since the first one was such a financial success that a second one will be easy to create.
I’d be first in line to see it if it comes out. Patch, what can we do? You have all these incredible programs. Clearly, we can sign up for the newsletter or join the trip. What can people do more locally within their own communities?
The first thing they can do is to see and be aware of where our country and globally we are in our health. Read some books on climate change and global warming to look at why am I so embarrassed for this president, where are we, so that they can speak to the needs of their local society, their state society, their country society and the global world, and to know that they are involved in trying to change it, whether it’s through donating for different projects that they like. I certainly want to introduce people to the ecstasy of volunteering, whether it’s helping single mothers or elders or however it is, to get involved and feel the thrill of giving.
I haven’t sacrificed anything. I have tied into the ecstasy of giving, and it has made me a very vigorous old fart at 72. That’s the first thing I would want them to think about, how to help themselves be part of helping the world. If anyone says they feel they have some excess of small amounts or large amounts to help our work, I promise you, donations go to serving humanity. Imagine if our hospital were built, it will show a fully modern technological hospital operating at 10% of the costs, where all of the permanent staff live together as a communal eco-village. The worst sociological move in history was nuclear family. I’ve asked in 82 countries, the social workers and psychologists, what percentage of their couplings are happy and they never say more than 15%. It’s not our natural state. Our natural state is communal.
In this country where economics is of great concern, let’s just say that ten nuclear families with two children decide to live together. Their economics totally changes. If you have twenty wage earners in a group home, fifteen can lose their job and still support themselves. It’s unheard of where right now, both of them have to work and put their kids in daycare. You create a level of economic and social security by grouping up. You also learn how to get along because you have to learn how to get along when you have twenty adults living together. I recommend, in order to work at the Gesundheit! staff, if we are funded, when we are funded, and you wanted to be staff, there’s a requirement that you decide to live six qualities of life: happy, funny, loving, cooperative, creative and thoughtful. That will be our tribe. If you say you are that and you aren’t, then you will be asked to separate from the community because we know that if we have a tribe operating under those six qualities, we will be scary to anything serious that comes our way.
Patch, this was an absolute treat to chat and hear all about your philosophy and what you’re doing. Listeners, there are links provided to PatchAdams.org plus anything else that we can find that will give you some information on how you can participate in upcoming trips and to donate.
It’s really important for people to know that I am not special. I simply am a person who decided to never have another bad day at eighteen, to live the six qualities: happy, funny, loving, cooperative, creative and thoughtful. If you do that, your life will be rich. Please understand that it is not me that is special, it is the qualities of healthy living that are special.
Thank you so much, Patch, for all that you do. Listeners, please stay tuned. We have an anonymous interview coming up.
About Dr. Patch Adams
Patch Adams is a medical doctor and a clown, and also a social activist who has devoted over 50 years to changing America’s healthcare system. He believes that laughter, joy, and creativity are an integral part of the healing process, and therefore, true healthcare must incorporate those aspects of life.
Anonymous Guest Interview
Listeners, now for my favorite part: the anonymous interview. We have Zak with us. Zak, thanks so much for coming and joining us.
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
I want to dive right in and give the listeners a few hints about who you are so that they can give us their guesses. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New York City, in Manhattan, born and bred. I lived there until I went to college.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Wesleyan University. I met my wife there. I moved to LA right after college. That’s my travel history.
Was there an incident or a teacher that inspired you to go into screenwriting?
I don’t know if there is a teacher that inspired me to go into screenwriting. Certainly, I had a number of different professors and teachers who inspired me to start writing plays at a young age, both in grade school and in high school, which is when I started writing. I knew I wanted to get into movies before anyone suggested I do it. I was nineteen when I’ve decided that’s what I was going to do. It’s more the various people who taught me creative writing and playwriting over the years that pushed me along.
Is there a certain accomplishment in your career that you’re most proud of?
I would say probably the next thing that I wrote that’s coming out is the best thing I’ve done and the hardest I’ve ever worked on a movie, and the most complete involvement I’ve ever had. It’s good to hit that at 49 rather than at 23. My writing partner and I wrote our first script when I was 22 and we sold it when we were 23. Selling that script was pretty amazing.
You had a major Box Office hit that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, right?
It wasn’t a hit. It was a bit of a disaster, which was good for a variety of reasons. It’s only in retrospect that people think about it that way. It was actually considered one of the biggest disappointments of the decade. We got rewritten, so I lost screenplay credit on my own original screenplay and ended up with a story credit, which would have been a nightmare except the movie was so poorly received that there are articles about how it wasn’t our fault. That what must have been a good script went awry. It was good to get humbled early. That was very important for me.
To give a sense for listeners of what you look like, who would play you in a movie?
It’s bad but my sister always says I look like Louis C.K. I just think it’s the hair pattern and beard. That is a tough one. Ideally, a younger Ed Harris. That’s what I’d go for, but I’m just fooling myself.
You’re too slim but you could maybe pass for the guy from Billions.
Yeah, Paul Giamatti. That’s less flattering. That would certainly be the other end of the spectrum, although I wish I had his talent. He’s a great actor.
There are all these great Hollywood stories of how people took on some crazy stunt or did something unbelievable to lead to their success. I think Jon Chu snuck into The Oscars and ended up meeting all these famous people which eventually led to his success. Do you have anything crazy like that?
Probably a couple of different things. First of all, I went on a game show when I was in college called Remote Control which was on MTV when I was younger. I won the grand prize and I won a car. I sold everything that I won and used the money to make my way to Hollywood. That one worked out for me.
Listeners, if you want to succeed in Hollywood, all you have to do is win a game show so you can afford to go out there. That’s an important lesson learned.
The problem is some of them are really hard. When I first got out to Hollywood after that, I tried to get on Jeopardy! and it’s so much harder than you would imagine. I do think that was an example of something where it seemed like a crazy idea to do and I did it anyway. Certainly, the way my first writing partner and I went about getting our agent, we had written the script, Last Action Hero, and we basically called our friends who were assistants around Hollywood at the time because we had just gotten out here from college, and we got them all to hype it up at the various agencies saying, “I heard ZA is reading the script of Last Action Hero.” Then we coordinated it, timing it so that everyone got the script at the same time. That built up a lot of interest in the script itself. If it hadn’t sold and been made, it wouldn’t have mattered that much. When we eventually signed with an agent, he said, “The fact that you went to all this effort to agent us is good. That means we want to represent you.”
Zak, what hint or riddle would you give people to figure out who you are?
The current project that I’m working on is all about hints and riddles and clues. If you can track down the upcoming movie that is about tracking down the clues to somebody’s life, you will find me on the poster or on the trailer. You also could do some meta-analysis of people who’ve worked on superhero films and you would eventually come up with my name.
Listeners, you have between now and the next episode to figure out who Zak is. If you can, you could win an invitation to me here and hang out with cool people like Zak. Good luck.