Book review: Gesundheit!

I just finished reading Gesundheit! by Patch Adams, and it left me totally high. I saw the movie Patch Adams starring Robin Williams a while ago, but I never realized that there was a real doctor by that name, striving to create a totally revolutionary hospital – the Gesundheit Institute.

Patch Adams is mostly known for introducing humour in the treatment of his patients, but this book reveals that his philosophy goes way beyond that. It is about the whole person. This is hardly a new notion, but it is certainly waaaay different from how medicine is practiced in most places today. For example, when a new patient arrived, rather than conducting an interview in an office, Patch would take that person fishing or for a walk in the woods, depending on what that patient enjoys doing. The interview would cover symptoms and medical history but would also include talking about the persons hopes and dreams, spirituality, upbringing and much more.

Some parts of the book that really stuck in my mind are:
* Fun death. Why does dying need to be an unpleasant experience? Sure you want to postpone it as long as possible, but is it impossible to create an environment in which dying is as much a part of life as everything else, and is appreciated as such? Patch writes at one point that “Dying is that process a few minutes before death when the brain is deprived of oxygen; everything else is living”.

* A description of a hypothetical patient og the Gesundheit Institute, a 37 year old man with an ulcer. The treatment would consist of he and his family staying at the institute for a week or ten days. While he gets treated, the family can enjoy the nature and generally have fun.

* Patch on greed: “Greed is one of society’s worst malignancies, and it appears to have metastasized to every corner of the earth… Certainly one of greeds most devastating symptoms is cynicism… We believe that a society must care for its population enough to take care of its need.”

* On loneliness: “I remember an eleven-year old girl who had a huge bony tumor of the face with one eye floating out in the mass. Most people found it difficult to be with her because of her appearance. Her pain was not in the dying but in the loneliness of being a person others could not bear to see. She and I played an joked and enjoyed her life away.”

Patch is still working to raise the funds that will allow him to build the institute, and I’m simply flabbergasted that he hasn’t yet succeeded. Having read the book, it is obvious to me that his way of practicing medicine is not only better for the patient, it is also better for the medical staff (who suffer hard from burnout today) and (incredibly) more efficient and cheaper than todays bloated health care system. If I ever get sick, I certainly want to be treated the Gesundheit way!

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