Spreading the universal love

“I clown with a child that has had their face burned off, and all I see is a beautiful face,” said Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, speaking to an eager crowd of pre-med students, professors and locals on Friday evening from a stage in Hoffman Hall.

“I clown with a child that has had their face burned off, and all I see is a beautiful face,” said Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, speaking to an eager crowd of pre-med students, professors and locals on Friday evening from a stage in Hoffman Hall.

The doctor was featured in the 1998 film Patch Adams. Robin Williams played Adams and the movie featured the construction of the Gesundheit Institute, a free hospital created by friends for the sick and crazy.

In real life, Adams is 63, the hospital exists and his life is more incredible than one might think.

“He is not just a medical doctor, but a social activist and humanitarian, and a clown. That is very unique for a doctor—no one is like him,” said senior pre-med student Theresa Han, who remembers watching Patch Adams when she was little.

Adams, with the right side of his shoulder-length grey hair dyed a bright cerulean blue, stood before the curious onlookers wearing a vibrant rainbow colored shirt with a yellow smiley-face tie. His handlebar mustache, single dangling earring and red glasses completed his eccentric appearance.

For the last 40 years, in addition to running the Gesundheit Institute, Adams has traveled the continents with a team of other clowns and physicians, starting humanitarian relief projects, building medical schools, and injecting happiness into the masses of poor and suffering victims of war with the healing power of laughter.

“His approach to medicine is very different than traditional doctors. It was a good experience not just for pre-meds, but for people to see how laughter or a smile can end suffering for someone,” Han said.

Ecuador, Italy, Peru, Japan, Romania, Russia, Cuba and Afghanistan are just a few countries where Adams and his clowns have driven their beat-up white bus that leaks pink, green and yellow balloons, into horrific scenes of war.

Spilled bombs and raining bullets have just battered a population of people when the clowns arrive, armed with bubble-blowing guns and squeaky, red noses. The hospitals they visit have no food or pain medicine, so they must make do with balloon animals and dances.

“We are tired of people not loving people,” Adams said.

Adams presented a documentary video in which he and his team visited a hospital in a war-torn area of Afghanistan. The clowns, with white painted faces and goofy outfits, entered rooms where babies sat quietly with bandaged heads and a girl stood on a stretcher, erupting in screams as doctors clipped away burned skin that enveloped more than half of her body.

One clown sat near the door playing the violin. The soothing notes embraced her painful shrieks and for a few moments, she stopped crying.

Pain relief to Adams involves being universally loving.

“I’ll care my butt off for a person,” he said. “I don’t have an agenda. If they don’t want it, I’m happy not to be there, but it doesn’t happen that often.”

Anela Puljic, a senior pre-med student and president of the Portland Pre-Health Society, said she enjoyed the aspect of being able to get a bunch of different-minded people all in the same room, including students from the more conservative St. Mary’s High School, to listen to Adams speak openly about his views on medicine.

“He was able to talk to people without sugar-coating,” Puljic said. “I think the video was eye-opening to those who had a prettier, more idealized image of what it is like to go abroad”.

Adams has been to 67 countries and seen 10,000 deathbeds, but he said he hasn’t “had a bad day in 45 years.” He advised students of medicine to follow the beat of their own drum.

“Once you have your M.D., you say, ‘Am I going to suck up to corporate medicine and be a piece of shit, or am I going to do my own thing?'” he said.

Adams earned his doctorate of medicine in 1971 from the Medical College of Virginia. His untraditional medicine practices inspired him to start building a hospital in Pochontas County, Va., where an atmosphere of freedom and affection would triumph.

The doors were open to sick people of all types and treatment was free. Thirty-nine years later the artfully crafted, fairy-tale like hospital inches toward completion, with thousands of patients coming, getting cured and going.

Adams expressed his alternative medicine approaches to students and the Portland Pre-Health Society at Portland State by delivering two lectures: “Medicine for Fun, not Funds” and “Humor and Health.” On Saturday, he joined individuals for breakfast and lunch, signed copies of his latest book and took a clown trip to a local children’s hospital.

After his brief stop in Portland, Adams plans to continue restoring smiles on the faces of the sick and injured in hospitals around the world.

“You’d have to shoot me to stop me from what I’m going to do,” he said.