|Dr. Jay Ungar’s views on medicine and magic are pretty similar: both require skill, knowledge, and a strong human connection.
It’s ideas like these that pepper Ungar’s latest professional achievement, his first book, titled Bringing Magic to Life. The book creates another bridge between Ungar’s career as a physician and his life-long obsession with the world of magic, in which he functions under the alter ego of Ragnu (the OK).
Filled with insights on the effect magic, like laughter, can have on one’s health and well-being, Bringing Magic to Life offers anecdotes from Ungar’s career, his magical performances over the years that range from major conventions to an impromptu show at his own wedding. It also allows the reader some behind the scenes looks at how some of Ungar’s favorite tricks – among them card tricks, five dollar bills that magically change into fifties, and his old stand-by, the disappearing hankie trick. And, perhaps most importantly, stories that describe the moments in Ungar’s life when magic and medicine have collided, and proven to him that sometimes, a smile in the best prescription he could offer a patient.
“I believe that relationship building is as important as anything I do,” Ungar writes in his book, which is just coming off of the presses this month. “The key to the game, doctors, is to treat your patients well, and to do your best to ensure that each one of them leaves feeling better than when they came.”
‘The Schtick is the Trick…’
An internist with a specialty in geriatrics, Ungar said he sees patients ranging in age from 16 to 106. Magic was already a big part of his life as he entered medical school and through his early years practicing medicine, and his new book is peppered with photos of his early years as a doctor, performing for children at Baystate Medical Center or other facilities as Ragnu (that’s Ungar spelled backward).
He said the idea for Bringing Magic to Life really began to form during those early years, as he noticed that regardless of their age, his audiences as well as his patients, who are regularly treated to at least one magic trick per visit, always had very similar, calming reactions to his tricks.
“The schtick is the trick,” Ungar joked, “by which I mean it’s not so much the trick in magic that makes the show, it’s the panache, the personality, and that connection with people. I noticed that connection when I was performing, but even moreso sometimes with patients.”
He added that magic is his way of connecting with his patients and colleagues, and letting them see a little piece of his personality that is a great departure from the white coat and stethoscope.
“When I’m at work, after I’m done with all of the medical matters, I’ll ask my patients whether they’d like to see something fun,” he writes. “Most often they do. I think it adds a wonderful, humanizing touch to the visit. When I’m making rounds in the hospital, if I have time, I’ll show some of the nurses or housekeeping staff one of the dozen effects I carry around with me all the time.”
Indeed, Ungar’s magical mettle is well known to many health care professionals in Western Mass. His co-workers have grown accustomed to his antics – they drift in and out of his office with forms to sign and phone messages as Ungar shuffles cards or stuffs a green handkerchief in his fist and makes it disappear.
Many patients at his offices at Jewish Geriatric Services Family Medical Center in Longmeadow, however, have taken to Ungar’s unconventional tactics; they look forward to a new trick each visit, and some even take the time to fill out a ‘Magic Report Card,’ form created by one of Ungar’s drug reps that allow patients to score a trick once performed on a scale of 1 to 10.
Regardless of his score on a trick, though, Ungar told The Healthcare News that it’s not really the wow factor of the trick that makes it special, but the time taken to have a little fun with a patient during a time that can be stressful.
“People don’t like being in the doctor’s office – they get nervous, or uncomfortable,” he said. “I’ve seen a magic trick put people at ease so many times, because it’s my way of showing them that I’m human too. I started to develop some thoughts about that, which eventually formed the theme for the book: people need more magic in their lives, more magical thoughts.”
Nothing Up His Sleeve
Bringing Magic to Life is expected to be on the shelves of several local bookstores and hospital gift shops this month, and Ungar’s also planning some book signings, a ‘mini-tour’ around the region, and a series of lectures on the topic of magic and its positive effects, including some in health care settings.
He has also begun publicizing the book in both medical and magical circles, in part through the book’s Web site, www.bringingmagictolife.com.
“It’s my hope that I can amuse and inspire people a little bit,” he said. “I’m a pretty good doctor, and I’m an amateur magician. But the origin of the word ‘amateur’ comes from the French noun amator, meaning lover. And it’s primary definition has always been ‘one who engages in a pursuit for the pure pleasure of doing it … I’m an amateur, and I’m proud.” v