Last August I joined my holy brother Dr. Patch Adams and 100 other clowns from around the world in the Peruvian Amazon to do the humanitarian clown work for which Patch is famous. Clowns from South America, Central America, North America, and Europe went to Iquitos, Peru, to support the Belen Project. This is a multi-disciplinary team effort, providing sustainable healthcare for this poverty stricken population.
We visited orphanages, AID’s shelters, and homes for the abused and abandoned, hospitals and prisons. Clowns danced in the streets, paraded through open markets, and spread love. Clowns also conducted workshops for children, teaching skills like juggling, photography, drumming, puppet-making, and hip-hop dancing. Clowns painted houses and created outdoor murals; the doctors among us consulted in a medical clinic run by a non-sectarian medical mission called Amazon Promise (AP). Since 1993, AP has been providing essential medical services not only in Iquitos, but also to 36 villages in the remotest jungle where they are still met by warriors holding blow-guns.
The founder and president of AP is Patty Webster (I call her the Amazon Queen); she handles the logistics, raises funds, and recruits volunteers. The clinic was held under a house on stilts, where she supervised the examining room, pharmacy, and medical supply dispensary. Patty called me over to see Jay, a severely spastic seven-year-old boy who was carried in his mother’s arms, curled into a fetal position. Jay spoke in grunts or snarls; his skin was covered with oozing wounds caused by his severe self-mutilative behavior.
Other doctors had seen Jay, all of whom agreed he was severely brain-damaged, without much of a future. They prescribed the potent antipsychotic Risperdal, in an attempt to modify his self-destructive behavior, but nothing worked. After examining the boy, his mother asked me if I thought her son would get well. I said her son was severely brain damaged and would probably never walk, talk, or interact with others. She wept in my arms and shook her head, saying, “No, no, no.” Patty and I discussed Jay’s case afterwards, and I told her maybe the best we could do was to quiet him down so his frazzled mother could get a good night’s rest. I suggested we give the boy some Valium before bedtime which would quiet his nighttime agony.
I just got a note from Patty with some pictures attached; she saw Jay a couple of weeks ago for the first time since that clinic visit. He walked in with his sister. Patty said she was flabbergasted — most of his wounds were healed, he was relating to his siblings, and articulating words. Patty was thinking that if she could raise the funds, she might be able to get him into a special needs school.
It turns out the Valium I had prescribed to quiet him down also made him far less spastic which, in turn, lessened his self-mutilative behavior. Everybody in the family loosened up as they all slept through the night. I told his mother he would never walk, speak or socialize, and I was wrong. His mother said, “No, no, no,” to my prognostication, and she was right. This reminds me, once again, never to subordinate somebody else’s dream to my sense of the likelihood that it will be achieved.
To all the clowns who heal in this world, I say Gesundheit! God Bless you.