Oregonian
Article

Book the Shock Doc Show

He's not Doctor Jekyll but could be ... Mr. Fried

Oregonian, The (Portland, OR) - March 28, 2006
Edition: Sunrise; Section: Living; Page: E01

Author: STEVE WOODWARD; The Oregonian

Before you jump to conclusions, you should know that Dr. Jeremy Weiss is a serious physician.

As his biography states, Weiss, 36, is medical director of a cutting-edge clinic and a staff radiologist at Providence Portland Medical Center. He is one of the youngest doctors ever to be named a reviewer for the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology. He has performed procedures ranging from CT-guided radio-frequency ablation to endovascular repair of aneurysms.

None of which seems to explain why he's now shoving a 3-foot-long yellow balloon down his throat.

Weiss is standing in his living room in Northwest Portland, head thrown back, eyes toward the ceiling, feet planted firmly apart for balance.

Down, down, down goes the balloon --the long, narrow kind that clowns use to twist into poodle shapes and silly hats for children. But this balloon is straight and rigid, like a sword. Weiss gags from time to time, tugging at the skin of his throat, just below the Adam's apple, but he doesn't panic, or even display mild concern.

Steadily, the balloon slides bellyward, like an anaconda swallowing its prey whole. Two feet remain. One foot. Inches. Then the last yellow curve of the balloon disappears as Weiss closes his mouth over it.

Ta-da!

Now he's eager to move on to walking barefoot on broken glass.

But before he does, you should know that Weiss is a highly trained health professional. He received his Doctor of Osteopathy degree at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. He was chief resident in diagnostic radiology through a Columbia University program in New York. He completed a fellowship in vascular and interventional radiology through a Harvard program in Boston.

But most impressive of all, he's also a recent graduate of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

That's sideshow, as in sword-swallowing, snake-charming, fire-eating, lying on a bed of nails . . . and walking barefoot on broken glass.

The school bills itself as "the only place in the world where students can learn traditional sideshow acts from practicing masters of the arts."

Sideshow feats may seem tame to a doctor whose radiologist father let him assist in medical procedures at age 9 and let him insert his first stent at age 16.

But before you dismiss Weiss as a one-dimensional medical prodigy, you should also know that there was more to the young Weiss than meets the eye --literally.

The boy was a magician. He started with a magic-trick kit with a plastic top hat and sponge rabbits. He grew up reading magic books, haunting magic shops, practicing card and coin tricks on friends. He advanced to grand stage tricks, escapes, seances and mentalism.

In the Coney Island school, Weiss saw his chance to learn something his father never taught him: how to eat fire.

"The cool thing about the sideshow," Weiss says, "is that you really are walking on broken glass and swallowing swords."

So last fall, he signed up for a one-week intensive course. "Professor" Todd Robbins, who calls himself the "Postmodern Master of the Sideshow," taught Weiss the secrets of walking barefoot up a ladder of razor-sharp swords, sticking his hand in an animal trap and letting electrical currents flow through his body to light up a light bulb.

Weiss came home to his young family: wife Anne, an environmental planner who once worked for the United Nations, and their 2-year-old son. A daughter was born last month.

Weiss demonstrated his new skills at a private holiday party in December.

"My wife doesn't care for magic, actually," Weiss says. But "she's super supportive."

Although he fears getting labeled as The Circus Freak Doc, Weiss would like to perform publicly from time to time. Before he went to the sideshow school, Weiss made one public appearance, swallowing razor blades at a Salvador Molly's Great Balls of Fire habanero-cheese-fritter-eating benefit.

Which brings us back to the broken glass, which he has dumped out of a bucket onto a cloth spread over his kitchen floor. Removing shoes and socks, he ventures out onto the glass. Then he begins jumping up and down on it, leaving not so much as a scratch.

The broken-glass finale: He plucks up a jagged, silver-dollar-sized chunk of glass, pops it into his mouth and eats it, crunching noisily.

Weiss' hobby sometimes makes his physician partners cringe in sheer terror. To wit:

"Is this an ordinary can?" Weiss asks theatrically, as he lifts a can of S&W black beans from a kitchen shelf and invites a visitor to inspect it. As cans of beans go, it is indeed ordinary.

Weiss splays his fingers on a cutting board on the dining room table --the very fingers that earn him a living doing minimally invasive surgery. He raises the can above his head, rocks back and forth in concentration and slams the can down on his fingers with all his might. The action leaves the can deeply dented.

And his fingers? He smiles and wiggles them.

He'll have no problem doing the next uterine fibroid embolization.

Putting aside the dented can of beans, Weiss decides to follow his broken-glass appetizer with fire for dessert. Lighting and relighting a small torch on the back deck, he inserts the flame into his mouth, sometimes snuffing it out, sometimes bringing it out in full combustion. He picks up the flame with his fingers and transfers it to a second torch. He sets his tongue on fire. He turns his mouth into a human blowtorch.

Weiss' fascination with sideshow acts, in a way, is no different than his fascination for medicine. He says he likes to take the tough cases, when everyone thinks nothing more can be done.

"I like doing things," Weiss says, "that people think are impossible."

Steve Woodward: 503-294-5134; stevewoodward@news.oregonian.com

Reprinted with permission