Before I became a physician, I was a professional magician. For me magic and Illusion were always a form of great entertainment and amusement, especially in a theatrical setting. This craft of Illusions always brought excitement and laughter whenever it was performed. When I finally became a doctor it seemed like a natural segue to show children some magic, even if it was only in a clinical setting. It transformed a serious, cold and sterile clinical environment into a more hospitable and less threatening environment. Let’s face it, seeing a doctor or nurse is not most people’s primary venue to go to for entertainment. As I progressed in my journey from a medical student to a full fledge physician I experienced something very unique and exciting. People are always asking me: “What is your story and how did you become the magic doctor?”
Here is part of my story. When I was a third year medical student following a pediatrician in my clinical rotation we were about to see a patient together when he stopped and said to me, “You better not come in for this little girl. She’s seven years old and extremely shy. It’s taken me three years for her to develop some level of trust. She’s finally not afraid of me. She has finally allowed me to examine her without screaming and crying.”
I, like an obedient student, simply sighed. “That’s fine, I’ll wait outside of the room.” He then took a second pitiful look at me and said, “Okay, come in but be quiet, stand in the corner on the opposite side of the room and try to be invisible.” He didn’t realize I was a magician and being invisible or vanishing had an entirely different connotation for me.
While we were in the room the pediatrician forgot to bring something and excused himself from the room for a brief moment. So I stood there, the parents looking at me, the little girl looking at me and me looking at them- all the while I was trying to be invisible; not an easy task. The uncomfortable silence became more uncomfortable with each passing second, so I did what all magicians do and said, “Do you want to see some magic?” And with those words I made a coin appear, disappear and reappear. The girl laughed and walked over to me and touched the coin and said, “Do that again.” So I did. This followed with laughter and questions. “How did you do that, can you make that pen disappear?”
The pediatrician walked in and saw the little girl talking with me and it was now his turn to be amazed, but for entirely different reasons. He stood there with his eyes bulged and jaw opened. Like a person hypnotized. Apparently, that day I was a hypnotist, too. He absolutely couldn’t believe she was talking with me, let alone laughing with me. He finally snapped from his hypnotic trance, regained his composure, and completed his clinical assessment. As the little girl was leaving she waved to me and said, “Bye, magic doctor.”
Now the tables turned, and it was the pediatrician‘s turn to come to me for tutelage as he said, “It took me years to build a rapport with that little girl and you did it in seconds! Will you teach
Years passed and more doctors and nurses asked if I would teach them magic. They too wanted to make children feel comfortable and less intimidated in a clinical setting. After all, doctors and all health care providers want to help patients have a positive experience. We want to restore their normal lives, to enable them to live and to flourish.
Children feel happy when they see a magic trick. So do adults. It brings them to a state of wonder, a place of excitement. That’s why stories, music, movies, sports exist. It gives life vitality. Medicine keeps us alive, while magic and the arts allow us to thrive.
In the end, doctors, nurses and other professionals can use this skill of magic to make children feel comfortable as they poke, prod, stitch them up, or give an immunization. Instead of being traumatized, children can leave with a positive experience and a happy memory.
The physician becomes a magician, who becomes a healer. So that’s why I share this skill of magic with others. It’s a valuable tool to bridge the gap between patients and doctors. A gap that requires more magic than medicine. A gap that magically transforms, and a transformation that’s unforgettable.
One day, a few years ago, I received a call from Children’s Aid Services asking me to examine two brothers, three and six years old. There was strong suspicion of sexual abuse by their baby sitter. The mother was a single parent and a very sincere individual. She came from a fractured background and was trying very hard to create a new positive life for her two boys as she had moved away from her “so-called family” as she would often say. Very worried and distraught, she brought only the three year old, and told me her eldest son refused to see me, or anyone at all. He just was not ready to see anyone or talk to anyone, not even her.
I always do at least one trick for the children, but for this encounter I did a few. As usual, the three year old smiled, laughed, and was amazed. I examined him and fortunately there did not appear to be anything physically wrong with him. I suggested to the mother that I would show her eldest son some magic and asked her to bring him in at a time that fit her schedule. She called me back after two days, apologizing that she had not called earlier but her son did not want to see me. However, after a day of listening to his younger brother talk about the magic tricks he had seen, he changed his mind. This young mother prefaced this by saying, “He wants to just see the magic tricks and that’s it. He says he doesn’t want to talk to you or do anything else.” I replied, “That’s a start and I’d be happy to show him some magic,” and asked her to bring him in.
She brought him in and I did several tricks for him. The transformation of trust was occurring. He was entertained and started chatting with me. I asked him if he would let me examine him since his mother wanted to make sure he was healthy. He happily agreed and fortunately, there were no physical signs of abuse. He came and saw me several times after that visit. I know I was not just a doctor to him. For the longest time he didn’t want to see anyone else because he had lost trust. Eventually I was able to connect him to other services and other people who also helped him along with the healing process. I’m delighted to say he is doing wonderfully now and it’s always a pleasure to see him.
After I first saw the boys, and every time since, I have sat back and wondered, “How would I have ever connected with those little boys? How could I have helped them if I didn’t know magic?” These children’s most basic trust had been violated. They may even have lost trust in their mother who was supposed to be their protector.
Children grow up to be adults who may have children of their own. They will consciously or unconsciously impart their attitudes to their children about seeking medical attention and about healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals are one of the key people that everyone, sooner or later, will need to come in contact with, whether it is welcomed or not.
After helping those boys, I truly realized the difference magic could make in a clinical setting. This is a great tool that can bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and patients. It can truly make the clinical encounter magical. It can help in the healing process. In that sense Magic is Medicine. So, that’s when everything changed for me. I now, more than ever, can understand the value of what other people saw in using magic in a clinical setting. I share this skill with others and hope that more doctors can use it with their patients, thus, the more conscientious effort on my part to do workshops and the creation of this book.