The patient was perhaps four years old and did not speak English. He tensed with fear as he and his family entered the procedure room where he was scheduled to have his implanted vascular access device dressed before his next appointment on the Saint Marys campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital. "He was already stressed, very afraid, and so distrustful that he wanted to cry, and so he refused to be touched," says Margot Barber, the family's medical interpreter.
Enter Mayo Clinic Radiology Tech Joe Swicklik. "I was concentrating on interpreting … when out of the blue appears a young man dressed in green scrubs," Barber tells us. "He called our little patient by name and got his attention immediately." Then the magic began. Literally. "Pointing to the boy's chest, Joe asked him, 'What do you have here?' He then made a bouncy ball appear out of nowhere," Barber says. Swicklik was just getting warmed up. "Next, Joe tucked a piece of white tissue paper in his hand and asked our little patient what his favorite color was," Barber says. "He then told him to pull the tissue paper out. To his surprise, and mine, our young patient pulled out very long strips of paper of all different colors."
While Barber was "amazed" by Swicklik's tricks, she tells us she was even more amazed by the effect they had on the patient. "The young boy had a big smile on his face, and was asking for more," she says. "He was totally distracted and entertained by Joe's performance. And for me, and his family, that was awesome." It was also awesome for Cindy Frana, the IV transfusion nurse performing the procedure. "When Joe came into the room, he just looked at me and told me to go ahead with the procedure while he distracted the child," she says. "And to my amazement, I was able to access and dress the child's implanted vascular access device without him ever flinching."
For Swicklik, it was just another day at the office, where he occasionally conjures his prestidigitation skills to put patients at ease. "I just did what I know best, and that's magic," he says … before getting all Mayo on us. "But this isn't about me. Magic is just a tool that I use with patients because I know it can help make difficult situations easier. And I know it can also help change the way patients remember their experiences and their procedures here."
Outside of work, Joe has found other ways to use his forces for good, bringing his Not Your Average Joe magic act to organizations like Brighter Tomorrows, a nonprofit organization for families affected by childhood cancer. He also gives presentations on request to departments on how they can use the principles of magic to build a rapport with children and reduce stress, fear and anxiety.
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