You’re walking across campus, perhaps trying to make it to your next class. Are you running late? Has class started without you? Suddenly, you see a small red ball in the grass on the Greenway. When you pick it up you discover that it’s a…
…A clown’s nose?
Then, you see them. A mass of nursing students all wearing similar bright red clown noses and funny scrubs with caricatures of clowns drawn all over them.
What are all these shenanigans?
Students and faculty lined up for a chance to meet Patch Adams, who came all the way from the Gesundheit Institute to speak to the medical members of Wilkes University about the power of healing through humor in his Humor and Humanity Tour.
As students filed in and took their seats, red noses still dotting their faces and smiles stretching from ear to ear, they were greeted with a funny graphic that began to dance on the giant screen overhanging the stage.
A short inspirational video gave you an instant impression of the man who was about to speak to our future doctors and nurses, as it revealed a compassionate man who traveled around the world to over 70 different countries, spreading happiness joy wherever he went.
As the chipper music ended and the video concluded, the screen rose and balloons came pouring out to reveal the man himself, staged brilliantly in vibrant colored clothing, blue hair, and a handlebar mustache. He stepped out to greet the sea of energetically applauding masses.
“I could have worn a gray suit and cut my hair short,” Adams remarked, “But then I’d just be another boring face who came to talk about medicine.”
Adams explained that the reason for the wild attire was the unending desire to be noticed, and not for the sake of attention or ego. Rather, he found that more people are more likely to start a conversation with you if you wear something outlandish or bizarre.
He acquainted himself with the audience by opening up about his childhood and early life as a boy who lost his father at a young age, overcoming the awkward alienation of coming back to home he had not been familiar with, and combatting in a most unique way the problem of bullying at school.
“I was a strange boy. I was a nerd, not very good looking, and awkward with people. I was the perfect target for the bully,” Adams said. “But I found that if you’re funny they won’t bother you. They’re not going to punch you if you can make them laugh.”
So that is what he did and has been doing ever since.
Patch also commented on the topic of suicide. He revealed that in his teenage life, he had contemplated suicide on a few occasions and was institutionalized as a result. It was then he had an epiphany that this was not the right path for him. This was not what he wanted.
It was time for a change.
Time for a rebirthing.
It was time for Patch Adams to do what he was meant to do. He wanted to help people, and so began his journey into the world of medicine.
“I don’t consider myself a doctor who happens to be a clown,” Patch said. “I’m a clown who is a doctor. You can decide who you will be. It’s only a decision. I dove into the ocean of gratitude and never found the shore. I’m grateful for the billions of things I have. Ocean is the perfect metaphor too, because of you’re not swimming, you’re sinking.”
The distinction is crystal clear as Adams discussed the importance of compassion among doctors and patients. He asked the crowd to raise their hands if they could think of anything more important than love.
As one member of the audience did raise their hand, she announced, “Peace!”
“They sound like the same word to me,” Adams replied.
Adams adamantly emphasized that the most important thing not being taught in any school in the world, graded K though 12, was love.
When Adams opened the presentation for questions and comments from the crowd he was asked, “How do you keep smiling when you have to tell someone that they are going to die of a terminal illness?”
How indeed? How do you shake the cold stoicism that a doctor wears on their face, lest they rick the chance of transference – that is the transferring of one’s emotions to another, better known as ‘empathy?’
Adams asked the student what his focus was and the student replied, “I’m focusing in neurosciences.”
Immediately the clown-prince of medicine spun a response that made this young man an example for his classmates to follow.
“Are you a caring physician?” He asked. “A lot of doctors say they try to be. That’s a wimpy answer. Your patients want to hear that you are a caring physician.”
Adams cited the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, where you are present, present, present, present.
“That you dare as a neurosurgeon, does a week ever go by that you’re not deep into life and death?”
Adams acknowledged the student with a roaring round of applause from the audience that his daily efforts in the medical profession be not easy but worth the pursuit to save a life while knowing that though not all can be saved some can be comforted compassionately. We need only remember that we are human beings.
“I’ve said that it’s the job of both clown and surgeon to walk toward suffering. That you dare to be at the worst of illness all the time, and you chose to walk toward it., you chose no weeks off from all the nightmares that a neurosurgeon is with every day.”
Patch Adams’ words resonated especially with one student who had completely reimagined his college career and his future as a medical professional by coming to Wilkes University to speak.
“When I came to Wilkes I wanted to join the pharmacy program because it meant security. It meant I’d be secure for the rest of my life,” Alex Miner said.
Miner is currently undeclared, but hopes to pursue a major in the Pharmacy program at Wilkes University.
“But, after hearing Patch speak today,” Miner continues. “It makes you think about the humanity and compassion that a doctor needs to have. It makes me want to make a difference in people’s lives and be there for them.”
The presentation concluded on the greenway, at the center of the campus where the John Wilkes statue was decorated in clown attire.
Here, Patch Adams had everyone gather in close while he mixed conversation about modern medicine with a poetry smash, where he and others stood before all out in the open and quoted from their favorite verses of poems by some of their favorite authors.
President Patrick Leahy of Wilkes University spoke highly of Adams’ presence on campus.
“I think that having Patch Adams here with us today is another example of offering students varying viewpoints on a whole range of issues,” President Leahy said. “Patch Adams brings a very unique approach, in particular to healthcare and it’s a revolutionary approach.”
President Leahy continues to explain that Adams’ messages takes individuals back to the fundamentals of caring for one another.
Adams’ message is a unique one that turns the medical profession on its head and asks doctors to do the one thing they do not do enough.
Get to know the patient, not simply for their symptoms, but as a fellow human being. Make them smile. Hold their hand. Offer comfort in place of false hope. Instill confidence in the person. Don’t let them mourn their own death. Allow them to celebrate life.
“If you only have a week to live, I’m your man. I’m fun to die with,” Adams said. “If you don’t want a fun death, what do you want?”