Imagine lying in a bed with a disease. Monitors beeping. A feeling of loneliness. Nurses run around you. You sit in your frigid cot and think that no one even knows you " re there -- unless your machine starts to go off.
The doctor doesn't care if you die today or die tomorrow, just as long as he gets paid. This is the grim reality for most of the unfortunate people who have terminal illnesses. This is the way many view their time in a hospital. In the film Patch Adams, Robin Williams plays a doctor who believes that .".. doctors should treat the patient, not the disease, and that sick, frightened people need to feel that those who take care of them are paying attention...
." (1) He is a 40 year old man who, after willingly committing himself to a mental institution, finds that the general treatment accorded patients is not the way to cure them. He believes that to cure the disease you must treat the patient as a person and not as an object. He first tries his philosophies out on his fellow mental patients. After helping a few of them he is determined to get away from the hospital and become a doctor so that he can treat people in a more humane and loving way.
Many critics disliked this movie saying it was .".. another of those 'based on a true story.' One of the " feel-good movies that's designed to make us believe that there are two kinds of human beings - free-spirits (who are the good guys) and establishment-types (who are inevitably villains)." (2) Such a broad dismissal of the film likely reflects the fact that most critics have never had a loved one or a close friend die from a life-altering illness. If they had someone such as their grandmother or mother die from a disease that slowly takes their life from them, I believe they might criticize this and other cinema of the genre differently. People who have had loved ones or close friends die from terminal diseases know all too well the coldness of doctors who merely treat the disease, dismissing loved ones as if they were merely patients and not actual human beings.
On the other side of the critical spectrum, reviewer Greg Dean Schmitz, holds a more positive view of the film. He loves it to no end and believes it should have been on the best of 1999 list. "Patch Adams is a crowd pleaser," he writes, "that belongs on any "Best of 1998" list" (3) Schmitz likes the way that Robin Williams "drives" the film and "his (Robin Williams) routines are at the top of his game... and he never stops entertaining us, but also convincing us that he's really this man, Patch Adams." (3) Many patients dread going to the doctors' office. They would much rather have their arm fall off and rot away than they go to a doctors and have it looked at. To be fair, however, terminal illness may be equally difficult on the doctor other caregiver.
In the movie, Patch Adams, doctors are told to practice at an arms length distance from their patients and to not get attached. The more you attach yourself to something the harder it is to get over it after it has gone away. The film demonstrates, however, that perhaps doctors should find some middle ground. Doctors can treat patients more humanely, and maintain a professional distance. What is wrong with asking a patient how their day is going or what has been going on in their lives as opposed to asking the patient the normal questions such as: How long has this problem been affecting you or when did you start to feel this pain? This is likely to put patients more at ease, and perhaps more likely to consult with a doctor about a something that has been bothering them before it is too late.
Patients are sometimes very depressed people. Not always will a patient want to be conversed with, poked or prodded. This is still no excuse for doctors not to be dismissive of patients. Sometimes it is just the brief hello or the casual question that can change the world and outlook for a patient at that time. Patch Adams shows the stark reality of how many doctors treat their patients poorly when they are in a hospital environment.
If physicians treat their patients with a little more humanity than they do now I am sure that many patients, as well as their families, would be extremely grateful. They are also more likely to see things from the doctor's perspective as well. If doctors are not as standoffish, we will all be less hesitant to go to the doctor's office on regular basis. Patch Adams shows that doctors who treat the patients as the people they are and not merely as a patient in a hospital bed, may help patients to overcome their illnesses more quickly than those who are treated without the kindness that Patch gives them. Many movies have touched on the subject of helping the people and not the diseases, but Patch Adams was set in a hospital rather than a house, making this movie hit close to home for me. My grandmother was terminally ill with lung cancer and I found this movie to exemplify the truth of a Hospice, in which the focus is more on the person than the disease.
They provide in-house care for patients who are terminally ill and who have little time left. Many critics viewed Patch Adams negatively because it lacked depth and had an inconstant flow of theme. I am of the other school of thought. I was fully engaged by the movie and felt it did justice to those who have had a loved one fall terminally ill and who have seen that loved one depend on the mercy of doctors around them for comfort. This, in my opinion, was a very thought-out and well written story. Most critics have not likely watched a doctor enter a cold, antiseptic room with no visible emotions upon his face, glance at a chart, tend to the annoying task at hand, and walk out as if the patient didn't even exist.
The film Patch Adams shows this unfortunate model of behavior in dramatic and sometimes humorous terms. It makes the sad point that many doctors treat patients like inanimate objects. Through the journey of its title character, played by Robin Williams, it also offers hope that medical schools will teach up-and-coming doctors that patients are people too and not simply paychecks.