I wanted to talk to him about his approach to health, but the voicemail I received in response to my inquiry took things in a totally different direction.
"If you want to talk about how the government has
ruined our chances of survival as a species...if you'd like to use this
topic as your approach to an article on health, then call me." Patch
Adam's voice was intense and not at all what I expected from my
experience of his character as played by Robin Williams in the movie Patch Adams.
a nerd," Patch told me when I called back. "I'm sitting here in my
small apartment and all I see are books. All I do is read and study and I
can tell you that we are heading toward extinction. In another 25 years
the demise of the human race will be unstoppable - too late! But nobody
Patch turned his attention to the newspaper I publish, Healthy Times. "I'm looking at your Healthy Times Newspaper here and I don't see any advertisers that really offer health to your community. What I see are a bunch of businesses that want to make money and are using health
and wellness as their angle. If you want to promote health, I have a
plan for you," the passion in his voice began to rise. "Require all of your advertisers to offer a free community health day at their practice or place of business. For just one day, they must offer their services for free to anyone who shows up. Advertise it in your newspapers and watch how the community responds. Then you will be promoting health!"
Patch was on a roll, "Everyone is focused on money and power and it is killing us. The environment may not be recoverable. The economy is not sustainable and real health care should be free. This is what I have always strived to offer. When they made the movie about me, they promised that my free hospital would become a reality. It is the only reason I agreed to do it, but it never happened."
I beginning to detect tones of resentment in his voice? Is this
comedian/doctor who travels the world dressed in a clown suit really a
cynic? Patch's dream of making the Gesundheit! Institute the world's first free health care system
with a hospital that offers 100 percent free service has been a work in
progress for decades. Garnering support has been tough and progress,
while ongoing, has been slow.
During our conversation I silently
wondered if the lack of support over time has worn on Patch or if the
reverse were true. Does Patch's natural
contrarianism prevent him from forging the partnerships that could make
his dream of a new health care society come to pass? Either way, the
project continues to this day, with Patch's free hospital as the
flagship dream. This from his website, patchadams.org:
The Gesundheit! Hospital Project
The Gesundheit! Institute started in the 1970s with a pilot project that is described in Gesundheit!
by Patch Adams, M.D., and was the basis for a motion picture. The
Gesundheit Hospital is a proposal for a model health care system aimed
at changing society: a forty-bed rural community hospital in West
Virginia, where care is free and is based on compassion and friendship.
I took from my interview with Patch had little to do with health and a
lot to do with what drives this man to change the world. It begins with
an uncommon intelligence and perspective on where the problems lie and a
clear vision of where things need to go. It is fueled by the deepest
kind of dissatisfaction and anger with the status quo.
What difference do you want to make in the world and what are you willing to sacrifice for it?
Adams holds onto his dream of free health care that begins with
Gesundheit! (which means "good health"). Whether or not it comes to
pass, Patch has given his life to the mission and has made an impression
along the way. Given the popularity of the movie about his medical
school days, it seems he could have capitalized on his fame and built a
commercial empire. Instead, he used it to help his radical cause
continue limping along. No selling out for Patch.
What about you?
Where is your passion for a better world and how are you making efforts
toward realizing it? What's your Gesundheit? It doesn't matter (so
much) what it is. I don't believe in offering free health services to
the masses, as Patch Adams does. However, Patch is an extraordinary
example to anyone with a dream. He is one of those rare souls who simply
won't sell out. He refuses to trade his dream and his values for money,
fame or the approval of the powers that be. This quality of person is
extremely rare and a gift to the rest of us, regardless of our personal
If you don't have a personal cause that you won't sacrifice for any amount of money or fame, you are not alone. Most people
are merely "working for the weekend" and don't want to be bothered with
radical ideas or risk sacrificing the luxuries of a steady paycheck and
regular Sunday barbecues just to champion some personal cause that
stands little to no chance of making a difference.
Look at Patch.
Millions around the world know his name and in 40 years he has still
not broken ground on his free hospital. What's the point? This line of
thinking catastrophically misses the point! The difference you
make in the world has less to do with what you accomplish on the outside
and everything to do with what you stand for and who you become. Patch
Adams' failures make most people's successes look bad.