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Medical Magic

Magic Michael (All photos: Dudi Saad/G.F. Photos)

We’ve all seen magicians perform. They can saw women in half, and pull rabbits out of hats. But they don’t usually work in hospitals, helping the medical staff achieve what standard treatment sometimes fails to accomplish. Meet Magic Michael. He does just that.

“I am a Medical Magician,” Michael S. Tulkoff announces as his profession. “I created this ten years ago at the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital. I act as a humor therapist… hand-in-hand with the medical staff, to work with the hospitalized patients… to reach their medical goals as are prescribed to me and for them by the physicians and nurses.”

Magic Michael Tulkoff began performing magic for children in 1974. Prior to Tulkoff’s relocation to Israel, he ran a successful children’s educational entertainment business serving schools, daycare centers, libraries, and civic organizations throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.

Dressed in a colorful outfit, and alternately playing the harmonica and blowing up balloons, Tulkoff works with hospitalized children in several hospitals in Israel. In one case, for example, Michael treats a 3-year-old child, who was born with a severe birth defect. The patient’s muscular system is continually weakening. “A child left like that,” says Tulkoff, “would just lie unmoving like a vegetable and he would not be able to make use of his muscles. Through a regular therapeutic approach of getting him to walk and stand, we can help him better utilize his muscles. However, with the standard approach of a therapist a child will sometimes balk at doing the work.”

Since Magic Michael began working at Alyn Hospital, a year and a half ago, he has established a personal connection with this patient. He is now seen in the hospital’s corridors walking with him, and convincing him to reach up with his own strength to stand. “These are tremendous accomplishments. I like to think that through humor therapy we’re getting to goals that normally would be very difficult to reach,” he says.

Alyn Hospital

One of Magic Michael’s greatest fans is Director of Alyn Hospital’s Respiratory Rehabilitation Unit, Dr. Eliezer Be’eri. “One of the differences between rehabilitation and other branches of medicine is that in rehabilitation the patient really calls the shots. If the patient isn’t motivated and isn’t leading the treatment, you are not going to be able to succeed in rehabilitating the patient,” says Dr. Be’eri.

Understanding this, Dr. Be’eri maintained that humor therapy was one appropriate method through which he could motivate the children he was treating. “I realized after meeting Michael, that he was the ideal person for this… We wanted to show the children, that they can actually make progress, without defining it as official therapy, because really one of the problems was that they would often be scared of some of the official therapy… By incorporating the therapy into a game or a magic trick, we are able to get the children to start doing the rehabilitation exercises they need to do, and when they see that, we can continue ourselves with the more formal rehabilitation therapy,” Be’eri explains.

Dr. Eliezer Be’eri

So far Dr. Be’eri is more than satisfied with the results of Magic Michael’s unorthodox methods of treatment. “His work has been tremendously successful,” he concludes.

Nowadays, Magic Michael is trying to pass his methods on to others, so that more children can benefit. He gives lectures all over Israel to nurses and doctors, teaching them how they can use some of the skills he has acquired over the years.