Laughter is the best medicine

Dr John D~Arcy

World famous 'clown doctor' Patch Adams is visiting Australia to spread humour and happiness. But he's critical of the way some hospitals respond and says doctors should be more than part-time clowns.

Patch Adams pioneered the miracle of using laughter as a form of medicine. He helps sick kids feel better, making them laugh to lift their spirits.

His get-well medicine has caught on worldwide since Hollywood put Dr Adams' story on film and Robin Williams helped make Patch Adams a household name.

Australia now has 35 'clown doctors' working in the children's hospitals in major cities. But Dr Adams himself is perplexed.

"I'm interested not in clown doctors but in clowning everywhere," Dr Adams said.

The real Patch Adams, in Australia for a short visit, is cynical of the spin-off effect the movie has created. He preaches love and happiness at all times.

"I can be critical of the hospital hiring them because usually they're way underpaid," Dr Adams said.

"So if they're actually bringing love and humour into a hospital then maybe that's a lot more important than surgery.

"I'm not critical of the clown doctors, I'm suggesting they do it 24 hours a day."

And that's exactly what Patch Adams does. He wears nothing but clown clothes and spends his days travelling the world and spreading the word of love and laughter.

A documentary crew followed Dr Adams' recent trip to Afghanistan.

"Why do we give Prozac for depression?" Dr Adams asked. "What they need is loving."

Dr Peter Spitzer is chairman of the Humour Foundation in Australia, the group that sponsors the clown doctors. Out of the 35 clowns he's the only qualified doctor and sees Patch Adams as his mentor.

"Most doctors would fall over themselves trying to do this kind of thing," Dr Spitzer said.

Meanwhile 'Dr Twang', also known as Rob Edmunds, and 'Dr Nutcase' played by Justin Case work two days per week around hospitals in the Sydney area.

They don't do it all day, every day as Patch suggests, but the pair feels they make a difference. Dr Spitzer agrees clown doctors have a medical role.

"It will help medically because you've got a more relaxed child," Dr Spitzer said.

"You've got a less tense staff, they can do their procedures in an easier kind of way."

But Patch Adams says he's not a joke-teller.

"I don't know any jokes and I decided to combine joy, humour and love," Dr Adams said. "It has to do with the twinkle in your eyes and the smile on your face, anyone can do it."

Patch Adams will speak at a fundraising event at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday March 6, 2004 starting at 7:30pm. The event is part of the International Conference on Longevity and will raise funds for Clown Doctors and Camp Quality.Tickets are $120 and can be purchased at the door or by calling (02) 9279 4798. For more information visit www.longevity-international.com