Patch Adams and “Belly Laughter” on a lazy Saturday afternoon

MAKATI, Philippines – The movie, Patch Adams, is a comedy-drama film released in 1998 loosely based on the life on Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, an American physician who, as a social activist has promoted an alternative healthcare model. This model combines a traditional hospital with alternative medicine.

ImageThe movie itself captures the time from when Patch changes his life’s course by deciding to become a doctor up to when he finally graduates from medical school. It may surprise many that Patch almost gets thrown out of medical school by challenging the medical establishment which, at that time, frowned upon a doctor “getting too close to a patient” and risk losing objectivity in treating patients. The thinking was patients needed to be treated as patients and not bond with them as people. It seems callous and soulless but that was how medicine was being drummed into medical students.

Patch not only pushed the boundaries, he, in a sense, defined new boundaries. One of his methods was the use of laughter which he rationalizes with this quote from the movie:

“Remember laughing? Laughter enhances the blood flow to the body’s extremities and improves cardiovascular function. Laughter releases endorphins and other natural mood elevating and pain-killing chemicals, improves the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to internal organs. Laughter boosts the immune system and helps the body fight off disease, cancer cells as well as viral, bacterial and other infections. Being happy is the best cure of all diseases!”

Of course now, we have the phrase, laughter is the best medicine. Such was not always believed.

Turning now to laughter, did you know that there is actually an article listing down 10 kinds of laughter ( Based on the descriptions in the article, belly laughter appears to be the type with the best therapeutic effect. Belly laughter is “the kind of laughter that has us clutching our bellies and gasping for air”. The articles goes on to quote an excerpt from the book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing, wherein the author, Norman Cousins claims that:

“Ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep”

Cousins battled a heart disease for 36 years, a collagen illness for 26 years and lived for 10 years after his first heart attacked. He finally succumbed to heart failure in 1990 having lived a lot longer than his doctors predicted. A TV movie was also made based on his book.

Pardon the long intro. All I really wanted to do with this post was share these vignettes which I first ran into about 4 years ago. These vignettes were contained in an e-mail with the subject line reading, “Actual Sentences Found in Patient’s (sic) Medical Charts at [Name of Hospital Deleted]”. Whether they are actually true (urban legend?), I don’t know but these sure made for a Saturday Afternoon of belly laughter. So here you go –

  • The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.
  • Discharge status: Alive but without permission.
  • The patient has no past history of suicides.
  • Patient has chest pains if she lies on her left side for over a year.
  • The patient refused an autopsy.
  • The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.
  • She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life until 1989 when she got a divorce.
  • She is numb from her toes down.
  • The patient was to have a bowel resection. However, he took a job as stockbroker instead.
  • She has no rigors or chills but her husband says she was very hot in bed last night.
  • Whilst in ER she was examined, X-rated and sent home.
  • On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it had completely disappeared.
  • The patient has been depressed ever since she began seeing me in 1983.
  • The skin was moist and dry.
  • Occasional, constant, infrequent headaches.
  • Patient was alert and unresponsive.
  • Skin: somewhat pale but present.
  • Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

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