Magic and Healing

Although we were originally hired as storytellers at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, we found that sometimes a magic trick might be just what is needed in the hospital setting. James began performing magic as a child and Patti also has a few tricks up her sleeve. The surgery waiting room is sometimes not the place for a long drawn-out story. So we might produce a magic trick that is really a disguised story about a kid breaking a window, or a boy who might have been given the job of collecting eggs, or a story about the girl who has to color all the pictures in a coloring book before she can go home from the hospital. Stories costumed as magic tricks can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered.

There was a teenager who was disgusted at the fact that he had to be in a children’s hospital. He had scoffed at most of the entertainment options offered to him, and when we came to his room and asked, “Would you like to hear a story? We know some good ones teens like,” he just rolled his eyes. But, when we followed up with, “Or, would you like to see a magic trick?” he said, “I guess that doesn’t sound too lame.” We proceeded to do our best magic tricks. And finally, at the end of 45 minutes as we were leaving, he smiled and asked, “Will you be back tomorrow?” The staff stopped us to remark, “This is the first time he has smiled since getting to the hospital several days ago. That was great!”

We saw a young cancer patient getting her final chemo treatment in the outpatient Hematology-Oncology Clinic. We had told her stories and done magic tricks for the past 18 months as she endured a very difficult treatment regimen. When she saw us, she asked, “Do you have any new magic tricks that I haven’t seen?” We did, and showed her one that caused her to laugh and laugh. She said, “This was the best day ever.” Her mom shook our hands, and then gave us hugs saying, “You don’t know what a difference it made that she could count on you being here on days she had her treatments. I never had to fight with her about going to the hospital. She just said, ‘I am going to see my friends the storytellers and the musicians.’ What a blessing!” We replied, “We hope that we run into you guys at the library or the beach!” It is bittersweet to see these kids over and over for a long time. But we are always thrilled when they are released from hospital care because they are healthy.

There are also kids who come to the hospital ready for magic.

Child Life staff asked us to stop and see a boy to show him some magic. As it turns out, he brought his own duffel bag of magic tricks to the hospital. He met us in one of the family waiting rooms so that we could take turns sharing magic tricks. He took a couple breaks to talk to doctors or get some medication, but made sure we would be waiting once he returned. He said, “Magic is my life. I knew I couldn’t make it through being in the hospital without bringing my tricks along. But I never, ever thought I would meet up with real magicians here. This was the coolest thing ever!” His parents smiled and said, “You made his week.”

(Note, patient information has been changed to protect their privacy and identity)

Patti Christensen and James Nelson-Lucas are part of The Healing Arts Program at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. This program consists of eight professional artists who are on staff and bring the arts to children. Patti and James have been performing together for 18 years as The Patchwork Players Story Theatre. They have brought stories to life for audiences of all ages, performing at schools, hospitals, libraries, senior centers, family literacy programs and museums throughout Southern California. They use improvisation and audience participation, costumes and props to create engaging experiences. In their work at Rady Children’s Hospital, they also use and teach magic tricks to delight children and help them heal. Patti is a clinical social worker and therapist, and James is an organizer of the Vista Viking Festival.