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LIVING & LEARN IN G


I would make a (love) revolution. At 18 I found my desire to serve humanity through medicine and made the commitment to myself to never have another bad day. I decided to be happy. I left the hospital on fire and pursued a couple interests while working for my medical degree. First, I wanted to go out and engage the


world as this happy soul. I started clowning in public and have done it daily since. Second, I set out to quench my thirst for knowledge by studying everything I could get my hands on. In order to become an instrument for peace, justice and care, I read thousands of books. I needed to understand so I could create solutions. I became interested in whole systems thinking, looking for ways to integrate it with the hospital-community concepts that emerged in medical school.


PATCH ADAMS


Yes, he’s a real person and he will be visiting Australia to present at the Uplift Festival in Byron Bay in December. He’s so remarkable that we felt you’d be inspired by reading his words about his life and work. “I am a doctor, but above all else I consider myself an activist for peace, justice and care for all people.” Patch (Hunter) Adams


GROWING UP My older brother and I were World War II babies. Dad’s career was in the army and he fought all of World War II and Korea. We grew up on army bases, outside the US during peacetime, and stateside during wartime. Our last seven years with him were in Germany where he died in 1961. He was so damaged by his war


experiences that he couldn’t connect with me. I had no father. My mother was remarkable. She loved us. She was a schoolteacher and fed me all of my interests, giving me self-esteem and making me a creative, loving man who cared for people. After my father’s death we moved back


to Virginia and I was placed in an all white school where I immediately was confronted with the ugliness of segregation. I got in trouble with my classmates and was beaten up for standing up to the racism that surrounded me. I was a strange, nerdy kid. In my late teens I was hospitalised three times because I didn’t want to live in a world of so much violence and injustice. Everything changed in the last hospitalisation when I decided that, instead of taking my life,


26 NOVEMBER 2014


GESUNDHEIT HOSPITAL DREAM I drew up a grandiose plan—having no idea how grandiose at the time—that I felt ready to commit myself to. Titled ‘Positive Thinking’, the plan was about providing health care in the best interests of patient and staff alike. A group-communal situation seemed the most promising approach. But I knew of no models in America for a therapeutic medical community that put humanism first. It was clear I would need to plan it out. The plan reflected my realisation that the


systems in which people live—capitalist, patriarchal, militaristic systems—affected not only their finances, choice of work, housing, education, etc., but also affected their health. So I envisioned a model of holistic medical care based on the belief that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the society and the world. The Gesundheit hospital would be a


health care community based on friendship and mutual interdependence, with a staff that lives in the facility with their families in a collective atmosphere of happiness, silliness, love, creativity and cooperation. The atmosphere would enhance healing and relieve suffering. The plan was to create a model that


addressed all the problems of health care in one model. I envisioned a community where people


with poor self-images could go, actively participate in the rebuilding of their lives, and re-establish love of self and of others— the most potent therapy of all. I envisioned a farm of about 75 to 100 acres


with a primary school, a library, dormitories for as many as 300 patients, and facilities for artists and craftspeople. We would have gardens to make the


community self-sufficient and a range of projects to make work a joyous game. The community would have a permanent


staff of doctors and a temporary staff of teachers. Most people would stay only a few hours or days, but those needing the community for longer periods would stay longer. My idea at that time (and still is, now)


was that this model hospital would not necessarily be copied but rather would stimulate other groups to develop their own ideal medical approach for their communities.


GESUNDHEIT! BEGINS I met my wife, Linda, in my last year of medical school (Medical College of Virginia, class of 1971). She was instrumental in the early years of the hospital’s functioning and I cannot imagine it without her. Together we had two sons, Atomic and Lars. With an amazing group of friends we


created the Gesundheit Institute, a pilot hospital model, which we operated for 12 years out of our communal home. We were always open for any kind of problem. Our policy was: 1) no charge 2) no health insurance reimbursement 3) no malpractice insurance 4) 3 to 4 hour initial interview with the patient


5) home as hospital 6) integration of all the healing arts 7) integration of medicine with performance arts, arts and crafts, nature, agriculture, education, recreation and social service


8) the health of the staff is as important as the health of the patient. We did this for 12 years and saw


thousands of patients. The experience was enchanting. Unfortunately we were so radical that we couldn’t find funding. The staff itself paid to practise. In 1984, we realised that we couldn’t continue operating this way. We needed a facility. In this context we decided to go public and I quickly became busy as a speaker. After separating from my wife in 1997,


I submerged myself in working to get our hospital built. Several years later the movie about my life, ‘Patch Adams’, was released. I thought it would build our hospital, but that hasn’t been the case. It did, however, bring a great deal more visibility to our project and opened many wonderful doors to new directions for Gesundheit to pursue. 20 years ago I became a student of the School for Designing a Society and over time I’ve discovered a passion for teaching. In the summer of 2011 we started


construction of our first big building, a teaching centre in West Virginia. This will allow us to see patients once again as well as providing a space to teach health care system design. In the excitement for this moment, I chose to move to Urbana, Illinois, to live with my beloved Susan, who has been and continues to be a precise mentor to me.


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