A Big Life Lesson From Patch Adams

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Gloves, a cup of brown sugar, and cups of coffee are on a table in front of a window

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an extremely chaotic situation where you knew the people around you needed help, but you had no idea where to start? When things around you seem to be spiraling completely out of control, sometimes the very best thing you can do is go back to the basics.

In this inspirational new video from #IPEtv, Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, takes us on a hilarious and moving journey deep into the woods of West Virginia, where he learned a major lesson about how to be a true healer from a very unlikely source. Like any good Hollywood story, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll feel your heart opening right up!

Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Greetings friends, this is Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: A Big Life Lesson from Patch Adams

Back in 1998, a Hollywood movie came out called Patch Adams. The actor Robin Williams played the lead role. Patch Adams is a medical doctor, and has long been a sort of folk hero in the medical community. He’s unlike most any doctor one would ever encounter, which is why the movie industry jumped on the opportunity to immortalize him on the silver screen.

At the time, I had no idea who Patch Adams was, let alone that he was about to become famous. But the moment I saw the movie was the moment I realized that I had known this man personally, worked with him for a week in the hills of West Virginia, and that he had forever changed my life.

This is my Patch Adams story.

My guess is that you’d never heard of a Rainbow Gathering. This was an event that was essentially the forerunner and the predecessor of Burning Man gatherings. Starting sometime in the 1960s and perhaps into the 1980s, hippies, seekers, students, old folks, families, healers, artists, and a vast assortment of likely and unlikely characters would descend once a year in large numbers in a state park somewhere in the US.

Upwards of 15 to 20,000 people would camp for a week, share food, barter, get naked, play music, hold workshops, eat vegetarian food, make art, frolic, and form an instant community based on love and goodwill. No money was exchanged. People would donate all kinds of resources necessary to make this mini-city in the woods a safe and efficient one.

Of course, back in 1978, I was an unlikely participant. I was a Brooklyn boy raised on meat, basketball, and a deep suspicion of my fellow man. Plus I didn’t like tie-dye. Needless to say, my eyes were opened. At that point in my life, I’d probably seen the sum total of about 12 naked people, including babies. There are no naked people in Brooklyn. Here at the Rainbow Gathering, there were thousands of men, women, and children without clothes. My head almost exploded.

Because of my deep interest in health and medicine, I enthusiastically signed up when the word was circulated that smart volunteers were needed in the medical tent. I was amazed at what I saw. The medical tent was the size of a small outdoor circus tent. It was divided up into an entranceway, a big waiting room, one very large treatment room with all kinds of beds and supplies, and a number of small private rooms for those who needed separate care.

What really surprised me was that there were real live actual medical doctors manning this makeshift hospital, but they were disguised as hippies. I later learned that they actually were hippies AND they were medical doctors at the same time – a combination I would have thought impossible.

I was in heaven, and soon realize I’d found my calling.

Because of my eagerness to volunteer and do anything asked of me, I was quickly made to be the assistant to the head doctor. This meant I was responsible for doing anything and everything that he asked. I was told that this was a very important position, and I was a pretty lucky young dude. The name of the young doctor who assigned me to the head doctor was Mushroom. I thought he was joking. He didn’t find my laughing at his name funny. And he didn’t want me to call him Dr. Mushroom, it was just, Mushroom.

I finally met the head doctor. He was pretty tall, barefoot, had a tie dye T-shirt, and was wearing a big red clown nose. Once again, I thought my head would explode. I could not imagine the kind of medicine that would be practiced under such bizarre conditions. I felt like I was in an insane asylum.

The doctor with the big red clown nose asked me my name. He told me his name. It was Patch. Patch Adams. He said that my job was to escort all patients that the head nurse first checked in, directly over to him. He introduced me to the head nurse. She was very pretty, had a clipboard, and was completely naked. I completely lost my focus.

Now watching Dr. Patch Adams was like watching a virtuoso of the heart. He had everything exquisitely organized. He was kind, funny, irreverent, commanding, and was probably managing a caseload of a few hundred people a day coming in with coughs, colds, splinters, cuts, diarrhea, cramps, breathing difficulties, and the occasional broken bone or two.

He laughed with each one of his patients. He made them smile. He asked them important questions, and then he asked them completely ridiculous ones. He prescribed antibiotics, homeopathics, herbal compresses, diets for this and that, sleep, laughter, and who knows what else.

My fourth day at the Rainbow Gathering working in the medical tent, things got extreme. A young man was carried in, and he was in pretty bad shape. The naked nurse responsible for doing intakes had stepped away for a break and was nowhere to be found. The young man was bleeding from his head, he was covered in blood, he was vomiting blood, his leg was broken and his friends left him there and ran.

I panicked. I burst into the main staging area where Patch was attending to other patients. I started yelling to him, and described what was going on. He heard every word I said, and seemingly didn’t react. I waited a moment. Silence. I yelled at him. I said, “Patch, what are you doing? This isn’t a joke. This guy’s bleeding like crazy and probably dying, do something!”

Patch slowly walked over to me, held me by my shoulders as if to calm me down, asked me to look in his eyes, and then said to me, “What’s his name?” I said, “What do you mean what’s his name?” And he said, “Go back into the other room, ask him what his name is, come back to me, and tell me what his name is.” I couldn’t imagine a more insane request. And as if to read my thoughts exactly, he said, “I’m not being crazy. How can I possibly help him if I don’t know his name? Take a deep breath, compose yourself, and ask him his name.”

I composed myself. I did as I was asked. The young man was still bleeding, still moaning in pain, and he told me his name was Richard. As if he was colluding with Patch Adams, he said, “Thanks, man.” I said, “Thanks for what?” And he said, “Thanks for asking my name.”

I calmly walked into the main tent area, I approached Patch, and he once again grabbed my shoulders and looked in my eyes before I could say anything. The doctor with the big red clown nose held my gaze for what seemed like way too long. He finally broke the silence and said, “Did you ask him his name?” I replied, “Yes, it’s Richard.”

He said slowly and deliberately, “Good job, Marc. Now we know his name. Now we can help him.”

Well, Richard had a hard time of it, but in the end he was okay. He was eventually taken to a local hospital.

I learned some powerful life lessons that day that have stayed with me since. I learned that it’s a good idea to be calm and at peace in the center of the cyclone. I learned to stay in my center no matter how much blood is being spilled. I learned that no matter how serious our job is, a sense of humor and delight can only help us. I learned that to be a good healer, it’s best to know who the person is that you’re trying to help. I learned that there’s an invisible level of healing that comes from a kind of spiritual understanding. And I learned that even though I thought that a bleeding young man was the one who needed assistance first, someone else was wise enough to see the bigger picture that would make everything right and well and good.

Thanks, Dr. Patch….

I hope this was helpful my friends.

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