Really bad movies: Patch Adams

From the book “Gesundheit: Good Health Is a Laughing Matter” by Hunter Doherty Adams

At her request, I took my 10 y/o daughter to see the new movie Patch Adams for her birthday. The movie opens with an earlier iteration of Patch in a mental institution, finding that the doctors donÕt offer much treatment but the other patients do, a maxim most mental patients would subscribe to. He decides to become a doctor to help people and finds that medicine is an cold, self serving and impersonal business. Patch personifies the nonconformist, humanist, rebel who defies the impersonal system to bring the warm hearted message “Don’t worry….be happy” to patients starving for the personal touch.
Certainly nothing new there. The attitudes of the movie are certainly very politically correct for the HMO era. If only everyone would stop worrying and be happy, all disease would be eradicated or at least more effectively palliated. His ideology can be summed up, “You treat a disease, you win you lose…you treat a patient and I guarantee you’ll win.” But Patches answer to beating the establishment is bunny ears and bedpan flippers. My kid and the rest of the theater laughed right on que.

But the real thrust of the story went right over all their heads. As they followed the hard line……laughing
6at the best medicine, they didn’t notice is a very effective but hidden sub-plot that suggests that unrestrained acceptance of all the good in people is bad for your health and can kill people. Unlimited acceptance of the verity that laughter is therapeutic medicine quickly leads down the slippery slope to the next logical associated maxim, that if you just find out what people want and give it to them, they will respond better to any kind of therapy. Global acceptance of this dictum resulted in death and destruction right in the middle of the laugh lines.

Cynicism and skepticism are not born of good press but of of reality and experience. The bedside manner of both both the real Patch Adams and Robin Williams amount to nothing more than a buffoonish, scarily maniacal clown act, more likely to trigger relapses and lawsuits than augment a treatment plan. Making children in a cancer ward feel better by a clown act does not necessarily extrapolate to other populations of patients. The stark reality is that people sometimes do worse when given their desires rather than their needs. If simply finding out what patients want and giving it to them was the best medicine, Jerry Lewis could do more in a yearly telethon and all the medical centers in the country.

The film portrays a current and vapid vision of health care as might be dreamed up by a monster bearing the heads of Hillary Clinton and Edward Kennedy. Health care too expensive, impersonal and bureaucratic? Make it free! On a dude ranch in the Appalachians, with a clown act in every room. Although it plays well in the media, Patches real free clinic that treated 15,000 patients and a 40 bed hospital (In Pennsylvania) that will offer full services all for free is an illusion. The stark reality is that such services utilize scarce resources and they are not free and never will be. Someone, somewhere pays for them at market prices. St. Jude’s also provides effective free medical care, without the clown act.

Patch Adams should have been released in 1992 where it could have served as effective advertising for the Clinton medical plan. I give it one out of five red bulb noses. Had a great sound track.

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