THE PRESENCE OF MAGIC

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.


          The copper bracelet on Paul's right wrist is new, but I didn't notice it until he pointed it out.

          "Thirteen-ninety-five," he says. "I'm wearing it for the pain in my other wrist."

          I should say here that Paul has proven to be a wonderfully cooperative and thoughtful patient over the past couple of years. The severe and constant discomfort that traveled throughout his left side is largely absent now, but his system is prone to various degrees of relapse and he sees me now and again to get back in touch with his new way of being.

          He's learned that his recurrent discomfort is a consequence of behaviors that he can sense and alter before they lead to pain. He understands and appreciates all that I've put into his care. He exhorts his doctor to send all of his patients to me.

          Still, there's this bracelet now dangling from his wrist like some kind of shamanic talisman, a reminder that while science has its place, we don't want to trust in it alone.

          Paul says, "I read somewhere that the copper sinks into your skin or something, and then does something else to the blood to help the arthritis . . . I'm not sure, . . . I just thought I'd try it."

          I can't help but laugh. "What about all the stuff I've asked you to do in here?" I say.

          "Oh, I still do it, and it helps, but I figured I'd just add this. What could it hurt?"

          Of course he's right. Nothing bad's going to come of wearing this ornament. And who's to say its placebo effect isn't somehow beneficial?

          I don't really object to simple things like a copper bracelet. I see them as similar to the art that I've surrounded myself with in my tiny office. Looking at such things evokes thoughts and feelings in me that might otherwise go unnoticed. I'm changed in their presence as long as I'm aware of them, and I suspect that this new thing on Paul's wrist "works" in a similar way. It will become less effective in time as he grows accustomed to it there.

          There's no credible evidence that some combination of copper and epidermal tissue at the right wrist would relieve the pain secondary to mechanical deformation in the left wrist, but I'm not going to tell anybody that they don't feel better when they say that they do.

          I'm offering here another explanation; the presence of magic. By this I mean the perfectly human tendency to look for and gaze at the mysterious and seemingly unexplainable. It is not the magician's job to fool us, but to fascinate us. We will remain altered by a magical effect only until we see it explained. At that point, something immeasurable is lost, and we begin looking elsewhere for another bit of mystery.

          But, for me, the most intricate explanations of human functioning down to the smallest levels contain the same mysterious qualities that Paul may sense in his bracelet. My knowledge of the body begins and ends in wonder.

          For all its effectiveness, my treatment lacks a little of this necessary magic, and maybe a copper bracelet is exactly what it needs to seem complete.

          With Paul, there's always a wonderful conversation surrounding the care and this visit was no different. We spoke about the presence of magic and he said, "You should write a column about it."