Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Colonel George Patrin, MD ~
Readers may recall the post of my story meeting the real Patch Adams, MD and Humanitarian Clown, on retiring from 23 years of service as an Army Pediatrician and Healthcare Administrator, and going on a humanitarian clown mission trip to Russia in 2012. Patch has been doing clown trips for over 18 years. That trip was my first clown trip, and changed my life. It gave me a new perspective on being an American and healthcare advocate, as well as a citizen and good neighbor. An unexpected side benefit was the release of much of the grief over the suicide loss of my youngest son only three years prior along with pent-up frustration from 20 years of post-traumatic stress providing the best healthcare possible for military families who put their lives on the line every day, worrying about deployed service members, again and again. Patch Adams, through his Gesundheit! non-profit, and the 23 international clowns I met and clowned with for two weeks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, demonstrated unconditional love and giving with no expectation of return, doing it just because they could. Clowning, as practiced by The Gesundheit! Institute and Dr. Patch Adams, produces an amazing transformation in those who avail themselves of the opportunity to go on any number of International Humanitarian Clowning Trips conducting Patch’s version of “Nasal Diplomacy.” I came home a changed person, doctor, and advocate.
Together with Patch and the Chicago VA we planned and launched the first-ever humanitarian clown trip for U.S. and Canadian Veterans suffering from post-traumatic trauma of their own, in October 2015, to Guatemala, just after the devastating mud slide that buried over 200 townspeople. I was determined to see if a clown trip had the same effect on them it had on me. All ten volunteers had a story of their own, struggling to leave military (and life) trauma(s) behind to be able to lead peaceful, productive lives as civilians. We had Vets from every service and every war back to Vietnam, men and women. We changed our itinerary on arrival in Guatemala City from the usual hospitals and orphanages to be able to visit the make-shift mudslide refugee village. The Veterans rose to the occasion, had children hanging all over them, sitting in laps, laughter and tears mixing in spontaneous joy. With the help of Patch Adams and the Clown Staff of ten, the Vets, who certainly knew sorrow and trauma, discovered again they still knew how to love, from the heart, and re-found their child selves, bringing them back to the surface. To the person, they resolved to go home changed, having gotten more from the citizens of Guatemala, who fight a 'war' every day of their lives, than we gave them. "Your trip to Russia wasn't a fluke," said a former Marine the day before we left for home, now all smiles.
And now this - a story from war torn Aleppo, where a beloved Syrian youth worker, town clown and caregiver, Anas al-Basha, who knew the 'power of the nose', was killed in an airstrike. Five years ago, Anas was studying history at Aleppo University when anti-government protests broke out in Syria, sparking the civil war. He left school and began working with NGOs to do something to save the children of his beloved country.
As Scott Bryant-Comstock wrote to me, "this is less about the terror and tragedy of the event, but more about the unbridled commitment to bring joy into the lives of children." Yes, people like Anas and Patch Adams, and so many other International Clowns from nearly every country on this planet I have been privileged to meet, are increasingly rare, but they are out there. We all need to take a lesson from them. Al-Basha dressed as a clown to entertain children trapped in the besieged city, and put his life on the line every day, sure that releasing laughter and good-will could, and would, overcome hatred and political competition, to bring peace. He was a brother and colleague, and now his genius and altruistic presence has been silenced. A missile struck in the Mashhad neighborhood of the city's rebel-held east ending his mission to make a difference every day, with real people. His brother, Mahmoud Al-Basha, a director at Space for Hope, a local non-profit providing civil services to people living in the war-torn opposition area said, "He just wanted to bring them happiness and smiles, in spite of the airstrikes and destruction they're being exposed to."
The Vets who went with us to Guatemala now know that feeling, too, and saw those faces, returning home to make a difference, not only in their lives, but the lives of people they come into contact with. (A documentary is being made of that trip as we speak.) However, unlike Anas al Basha, who refused to leave Aleppo, we were able to leave Guatemala and return home. To be sure, all "wanted to stay to continue this work, to help the children and orphans," as well as adult citizens living under stress, worried about those children, in a country where they can't escape their situation. 100,000 children are living under siege in eastern Aleppo alone.
Unfortunately, this type of suffering is happening in many countries on this planet, Syria is just under the spotlight right now. I first saw it when deployed as an Army Pediatrician to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War in 1993. The children there were not out playing in playgrounds, playgrounds populated with replicas of military fighting planes and missiles to play on, if they did venture out. Then I went to Bosnia, in 2000, and saw homes with roofs torn off, homeless refugees walking the streets as our convoys cruised past. What is happening in Aleppo is not a 'new event,' but ongoing, sadly enough. It seems the world is accepting of it as an unavoidable consequence of life. We are better than this. We can, and must, do what we can, in our 'circle of influence' to make a difference, every day.
The ten Vets who dared to put on a nose in Guatemala now have an ongoing opportunity to turn their suffering into personal development and growth on a daily basis, giving back to others, released from the visions and trauma that trapped them previous to clowning with Patch Adams and the G! Carl Hammerschlag, the Arizona Psychiatrist and friend of Patch who conducts street clowning therapy sessions, accompanied us on this historic trip. He said, "We’ll see what the long-term impact of this experience will be on these Vets, but the trip reminded me that the greatest act of revolution in contemporary life is to be able to come to every day with joy. Let your clown out Relatives, because it will make you feel good and lighten your load." (He came home and put a lifelong dream of his own into action, holding the world's first Clown Town Healing Fest in February 2015, where clowns create a healing community in Phoenix, AZ. This transformation is possible, because a person immersed in clowning learns, in a matter of a few minutes, they can, and will, give out compassion, receive care and emotional and practical support themselves from loved ones and their community. They discover one can approach another in distress without fearing, or avoiding, the contact, as they have lived outside their former comfort zone and found the circle has been widened exponentially. They have accepted their tragedy, and that of others, knowing the history may be irreversible, but their response to it is not. They come home “in charge” of how they move forward, regroup, and gain control over their recovery and growth, and ready to take the risk to go out into the streets to spread joy.
Kasley Killam, of Harvard University and the UnLoneliness Project, said, “No one is exempt from suffering, yet we can thrive and flourish despite it—and, in some cases, because of it.” Happily, trauma can, and will, drive positive change… and clowning can be a natural catalyst for that change with as little as a week of team clowning, the Gesundheit! way. Scott and the Children's Mental Health Network published my short article "Leaders as Clowns." I strongly advise the military, of all countries, to incorporate clowns and Patch's "nasal diplomacy" as perhaps more effective tools to fight wars as well as treat the post-traumatic stress it generates. I highly advise everyone reading this to dare to put on a nose, if only in honor of this wonderful Syrian clown who gave his life to make a difference. You will be changed...forever. Send in the clowns!
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George Patrin spent over 23 years as an Army Pediatrician and Healthcare Administrator concentrating on Family Advocacy and Healthcare Process Improvement. A graduate of the U of MN Medical School and Army-Baylor Masters in Healthcare Administration, his assignments span from Medical Director of the European Regional Medical Command Exceptional Family Member Program and TRICARE-Europe to Branch Chief of Healthcare Business Operations for the Joint Task Force Capital Medical Region and Special Projects Officer for Patient-Family Centered Healthcare in Army Medical Home Clinics, assisting in writing DoD Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) Guidelines and Training. COL Patrin developed an innovative pre-deployment risk analysis Soldier Readiness Program addressing both soldier and family member readiness while deploying to Bosnia. Directing community volunteers, he developed a DoD video program series for children undergoing deployment separation and reintegration stress called “Mr. Poe and Friends Discuss Family Reunion After Deployment” and “Military Youth Coping with Separation: When Family Members Deploy” along with LTC Keith Lemmon. He commanded the California Medical Detachment and Presidio of Monterey Army Health Clinic, aggressively revamping healthcare services in support of the Defense Language Institute and Naval Postgraduate School while garnering support for a new DoD-VA Clinic on Old Fort Ord. He is a sought after speaker on parenting education, child abuse prevention, school learning and behavior problems, and healthcare administration optimization. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.