When Anthony Felice meets with his patients, most of whom have cancer or blood disorders, he often uses a tool seldom found in medical textbooks or offices: a deck of cards.
A specialist in oncology and hematology, Felice is a skilled magician who has found a way to work his hobby into his medical practice. Since opening his office in Reston in 1995, he has discovered that entertaining his patients with card tricks is an effective way to relieve tension and take their minds off their medical problems.
“It’s very stressful to be in a doctor’s office, especially the first couple of times, especially with malignancy,” Felice said. “People are vulnerable, wondering what the doctor is going to say next.”
Magic tricks help him build relationships with patients — they are an ice-breaker, a way to reduce stress or a “treat” at the end of the visit, he said. Even after a serious discussion about a cancer diagnosis, he said, patients will look up and say, “Make me smile again.”
Felice, 56, began dabbling with magic when he was growing up in Brooklyn, and resumed the hobby in the 1990s, after his children were born. About that time, he started entertaining hospital patients with magic tricks.
“The feedback I got was, ‘Doc you made my day. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow,’ ” he said.
Felice began integrating magic tricks into his regular consultations with patients .
“That’s the nature of what a physician should be,” he said. “It’s treating people and not treating illness.”
Bernie Terry, 83, of Lansdowne, began seeing Felice six years ago, first for the treatment of blood clots, then during a subsequent bout with colon cancer. He came to enjoy his weekly visits to have his blood tested.
“He would just come in and do the magic tricks, and it would just relax you completely,” Terry said.
Terry’s face lit up during a visit with Felice last month as the doctor performed one trick after another, spreading a face-down deck of cards to reveal a face-up card that an onlooker had just named randomly, making cards appear to switch places, and causing an object to appear in Terry’s hand.
“Boom! You forget about [the cancer],” Terry said, describing how the magic tricks affect him. “And you leave here feeling totally upbeat.”
Terry’s son Kevin said his father has had ups and downs during his cancer treatment, and that the magic tricks are welcome even on the “rough days.”
“You forget about it for a minute,” Kevin Terry said. “Dealing with cancer isn’t a day-by-day thing. It’s a minute-by-minute thing. And any minute you get free of that is wonderful.”
Felice said the tricks have a calming effect on him, too.
“The thing that I enjoy is the people’s response,” he said. “It makes a hard field fun for the doctor, fun for the patients, fun for the staff.”
He is careful to do the tricks only when the time seems right. First visits might not be appropriate, especially with patients who are just learning they have cancer, he said.
But sometimes new patients have heard about Felice’s talents from their primary care physician or other patients. If he ends a visit without a trick, he said, the patient often says “That’s it? The doctor told me that you’re going to do magic tricks for me.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.