The Story Behind The Real Patch Adams

humanityDr. Adams, who himself played the part in the movie of the catatonic patient with his arm sticking up in the air, was depicted by Mr. Williams as a simplistic medical student. In real life he “shares his home” with 12,000 books and 120 periodicals including Food Insect Newsletter, Experimental Musical Instruments, and Funny Times. “If I had made it, it would have been a deep movie about compassion,” he says.

Nevertheless, he says, “the consequences of the film made me love it,” with over 3,000 people starting projects to help humanity. Thousands of mentally ill have written to say he helped them. But never in 30 years has government or the business world taken an interest in his hospital, despite the film.

An army brat who grew up in various parts of Europe, Dr. Adams was “a happy-go-lucky nerd and class clown.” His father, who had “practically nothing to do with my life; when he was home he was away a lot,” died when Patch was a teenager; his very caring mother was the real influence in his life.

“I’m just my mom run through the ’60s,” the 6-foot-four, 200-pound physician explains, his grey ponytail hanging to his waist and an earring made from a road-killed skunk’s jaw dangling from one ear. “My whole appearance is to engage,” he explains. “We’re such an alienated population, we need a skunk jaw to initiate conversation. But it’s better than a geezer doctor in a suit.” As a teenager he got involved in the civil rights movement and became depressed. “I didn’t want to live in a world of hate and violence; I attempted suicide and at 18 checked myself into a mental hospital. There I made two decisions: to serve humanity in medicine, and never to have another bad day.”

After obtaining his MD, Dr. Adams moved into a house with 20 adults and children, three of whom were physicans. Over the next 12 years they treated 1,000 people per month, with five to 50 overnight guests at a time, especially the needy and the lonely “living bizarre, scary and tragic lives.” The staff had to pay to work there; he worked an outside job. “We gave up our privacy and our bathroom. There would be someone at the sink, the toilet and the tub and several waiting at the door.”

As in the movie, his closest classmate was murdered by a patient. Over the years, he himself wrote seven or eight goodbye letters to his wife and two sons. But the work went on. “Trust is a decision,” he declares with sudden intensity. “If a kid is mowed down, you’re not going to blame yourself. If you want to save your family you have to get politically active to make a society that is loving. Christ said: Get off your butt and serve. I write to several people on death row. Love can win them over. I want to understand what makes a beautiful little baby into a murderer.”

“Many people give love on a debit/credit system,” he continues. “You just have to give it out. People give back as they’re able.” In a society that worships money and power, he says, “caring is for suckers. I predict that, unless we change, we will be extinct by the next century.”

Mental illness–which he describes as anything less than vibrant, enthusiastic living–is “the most selfish act a person can commit. Their mantra is ‘Me-me-me.'” His solution? Certainly not Prozac; he has never given a psychiatric prescription because he “never disliked a patient enough to give it to her.” Instead, people must be helped to look outside of themselves and to laugh. “I took miserable people down to the morgue, gave a corpse a whack and said, ‘Don’t you feel a little bit better than this guy?’ If they didn’t laugh, I knew they were really in trouble.”

Dr. Adams expects to finally break ground this month for the Gesundheit! Institute, which will open to dispense free healthcare within the next five years. And yes, he does still require donations

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