If you’ve ever wondered whether laughter really is the best medicine, the story of Patch Adams may help to answer that question.
Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams is a familiar name to those who saw the 1998 movie that immortalized his story. Though the story was altered for theatrical impact, Patch’s life was remarkably like the movie. While he was in medical school, Patch found that bringing humor to patients was often more therapeutic than conventional medicine. Patch believes that medical care does not have to be costly. In an effort to act on his beliefs, Dr. Adams founded the Gesundheit Institute in 1972. This unique facility served as a free community hospital for 12 years.
His current dream is to build and run a larger version of Gesundheit in rural West Virginia. In the new facility, Patch hopes to “integrate medicine with the performing arts.” (2) The Institute will not charge any fee for its services. All of the patients will be expected to perform some kind of service – to be determined by each one’s abilities.
Patch refers to himself as “a clown who is a doctor; not a doctor who is a clown.” (7) He organized and travels with a group of clown volunteers. Patch calls the clowns “Nasal Activists” (1) because of their red noses. The clowns bring joy and hope to orphans and nursing home patients during annual visits to Russia. Patch has recently extended the trips to other countries, including Bosnia.
Though Patch is an advocate of humor, he is serious about promoting wellness. His approach to wellness begins with small actions. When asked for an autograph, Patch hands out cards which promote “Patch’s Prescription”. (2)
These offer lists of positive actions such as foot massages, hugs, smiles and a listening ear. Patch is also passionate about the rights of those with psychiatric diagnoses and feels that the stigma associated with these diagnoses can be decreased through education.
Hollywood made Patch famous, but there are many other health care workers who take a similar approach to healing. One such doctor is Dr. Cliff Kuhn. Dr. Kuhn addresses such issues as obesity, depression and cancer in his many published articles. Dr. Kuhn feels that many would benefit from adding “the Fun Factor” to their weight loss efforts. He also recommends the use of “the Fun Commandments” for those who are depressed, and the use of humor as an adjunct to alternative and traditional cancer treatments.
Research has shown that humor and laughter have a positive effect on the body. Laughter has been shown to increase antibodies. It also decreases stress, increases oxygen levels, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the need for pain medication. New studies suggest that humor may also help people fight allergies, and it can help patients get through surgery with fewer complications.
Some hospitals provide Humor Carts for their patients. These carts contain such items as puzzles, games, toys, movies, tapes and books as well as clown costumes and makeup. Some hospitals employ humor therapists like Patty Wooten. Patty is a Registered Nurse who has written two books and many articles about the healing powers of humor. All of Patty’s publicity photos depict her with a big red nose.
Many other nurses recognize the therapeutic value of humor. Some nurses use its positive effects to help them appreciate their jobs. This was the purpose of the Journal of Nursing Jocularity. This magazine featured cartoons, jokes and articles about the funny side of healthcare. Though the magazine stopped its written publication in 1988, its legacy lives on with online archives. Karen Buxbaum, a well-known nurse humorist, is currently in charge of maintaining the archives.
The popularity of nursing humor has even led to the creation of a musical about nursing, called “Who’s Got the Keys?” This show was written by a group of nurses, including Larry Brennan. Larry is also the lead singer of a barbershop quartet called “NurSing Notes. All of the members of the quartet are male nurses – and all of them are married to nurses. This group brings humor in harmony to many audiences.
Though some might say that these doctors and nurses oversimplify the serious nature of illness, their track records speak for themselves. Although humor cannot completely replace the use of conventional medicine, their methods has many proponents. In the end, it seems easy to agree that a humorous approach to healing can benefit both the patients and the practitioners.
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”
Proverbs 17:22 (RSV)
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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