You never know what’s going to happen when Bruce Baum starts rolling through the Roswell Park hallways with a cart full of surprises. One thing’s for sure — you’ll be amazed and amused.
Today he stops first to visit a very young pediatric patient whose family is trying to keep him entertained. It’s the perfect time to show off the Magic Coloring Book.
“I bought this coloring book, but it doesn’t have any pictures in it,” Baum says sadly, holding up the book and flipping through the blank pages. He asks the little boy to draw some pictures in the air. The boy waves his finger and — presto! — Baum riffles through the pages again, revealing that they’re filled with black-and-white pictures. The tiny finger gestures a second time. Abracadabra! Baum displays the same pictures in vibrant color. With a sweep of an invisible eraser, they disappear again, much to the boy’s delight.
Then, with the parents’ permission, Baum invites the child to choose a piece of candy and a small toy. By the time the visit ends, everyone is smiling.
For a few hours every Tuesday, Baum makes his way through different parts of the hospital, including some inpatient areas, where he checks with nurses to see who might be up for a little entertainment. His cart is filled with all sorts of treats — wrapped candies, which Baum buys out of his own pocket; packs of playing cards donated by local casinos; puzzle books; magic books for kids; clown noses for anyone who’s feeling silly; and a basket filled with tiny trinkets and treasures — collectible Silly Bandz™ bracelets, “gold” coins, paper fortune-telling fish and toy watches with hands that don’t move. (“Those watches are right twice a day,” Baum points out.)
A retired professor, Baum taught exceptional education at Buffalo State College for 38 years before becoming a Roswell Park volunteer. He’s well qualified for his new calling: at one time he taught a graduate course on humor. He’s also a Certified Laugh Leader and a member of Ring 12 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
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In his years at Roswell Park, he’s learned that the magic flows both ways. “You get to know some people,” he says. “You form relationships with some of them.” He recalls a day when he stopped to see an inpatient and some visitors. “I’d do a trick and they’d start laughing, and then I’d start laughing.
“You’re cheering people up for five or 10 minutes. You feel good.”
Occasionally people wave him away when he offers to do a trick. But sometimes “you can almost tell they’re not sure,” he says, so he offers to do just one trick, to break the ice.
On the other hand, he adds, he often gets the opposite reaction in the Chemotherapy Center: “They say, ‘I’ve got three hours. Do all your tricks!’”