This is a story about a friendship that developed in the most unexpected place. I was the physio-manager of a rehabilitation center that treats 40-50 patients with neurological disorders a day, and he was a one of the patients. His name is Yoni – to better understand this complicated and unique individual, I selected ten personal traits along with personal stories acquired and learned.
Six months ago, I changed my physical location due to a work opportunity, an action that required leaving family, friends, and life projects. Above all, I miss the basic human connections that evolve in rehabilitation center settings. Therefore, this article is dedicated to empathy and to the power of social support.
1) Kind Hearted:
In chronic rehabilitation centers, patients come every day to participate in several therapeutic interventions (physiotherapy, occupational, aquatic, and other alternative medicine approaches) and to be in social settings. The focuses of the treatments are on aspects of health, such as physical and cognitive recovery and maintenance. However, for Yoni, the main reason to come is to spend quality time with an old, disabled friend from a past hospitalization.
Yoni is definitely above the level of other patients in both physical abilities and mental capabilities. He is still able to drive a car and to maintain a fully independent lifestyle. Yet, twice a week, he devotes his time to escort his buddy throughout the whole day at the rehabilitation center. That includes feeding him breakfast and lunch, motivating each other in physiotherapy and other treatments, and assisting him in a social environment. His friend is also a stroke survivor though he is bound to a wheelchair and has lost the ability to talk or produce any sound. Luckily, Yoni speaks his language fluently, and together they complete each other.
2) Stubborn and Self-Disciplined:
When stroke hits, it can bring you down to the most basic human capabilities, depending on the level of severity. When I first met Yoni in 2016, he had already experienced and survived two stroke episodes, the last of which occurred in 2014. Patients, after a stroke event, immediately undergo intensive physical and cognitive interventions that last between 1- 6 months. This time frame represents the optimal margin of opportunity to improve and to relearn motor and cognitive functions. Also, specific goals are determined; for example, physiotherapy focuses on physical strategies to enhance everyday living and increase independence.
Yoni’s favorite method of rehabilitation is aquatic therapy; there, he doesn’t sense his disability and impaired muscular and neurological function. Thus, he adapted to this water-based training platform and took it to the next level. During the initial period of his recovery, he spent more time in the pool than sleeping. When other patients were still making their morning moves, he had already had two hours of water practice. A similar trend was noticed in my clinic; if he did not complete a 3K on the treadmill during our treatment, he would not stop or leave. Probably, what allowed Yoni to improve so much and to stand up quickly on his feet was his persistent and self-disciplined personality. Four months ago, a 3rd stroke episode struck; however, again, he was able to get back on his feet two days after, and still, he never gives up.
3) Wise/ Intelligent
On the first day that I met Yoni, he told me that he had written a book. Soon after, I asked him for a copy to read. The book is a collection of semi-funny, sarcastic, and even a bit absurd jokes on various topics (relationships, marriage, politics, environment, sex and more). The more I get to know Yoni, the more I understand the real meaning of his book. It represents his unique personality and his diverse interest in all existing topics possible. Still, I have not found one single problem or issue that I could not address and discuss deeply with Yoni.
This was part of our routine, that every Friday morning on my day off, I would arrive at Yoni’s house, and from there we rolled along together for a long walk. Thirty years of age difference would not affect the level and the quality of the conversations produced along the walk. The same was true in the clinic settings, as all other patients always sought Yoni’s advice and wanted to be around him. In the last four years, I have also used Yoni’s guidance in almost every concern that I have.
Age is never a factor; it is all a matter of attitude. When presented with a new idea or opinion, Yoni is the first to listen. It is because of his eagerness to increase his own knowledge, at the same time that his world understanding is endless. In his mind, more knowledge assists in developing a mind that is free from bias and prejudice. Being such an open and welcoming person has allowed Yoni to acquire friends from all over a diverse spectrum of humanity. He can make friends with the poor and the rich, the religious and the secular, the rational thinker or a mindfulness individual, all are accepted.
Speaking of mindfulness, as a main coordinator of a chronic rehabilitation program, I tried to integrate and expose patients to numerous physical and mental enhancement strategies in their normal recovery routine. For instance, patients’ schedules included the basic paramedicine interventions and also group sessions of mindfulness, yoga, laughing yoga, meditation, guided imagery, and others. Yoni does not support all the above-mentioned techniques; he is more of an old school type of a guy.
In one of our weekly mindfulness classes, Yoni managed to cause the instructor to lose his mind and to leave the class in the middle of the session. I can assure you that the instructor deserved it, which brings me to my next important point of fully interacting, recognizing, and understanding the physical and mental abilities of the person who stands next to you. In this instance, the instructor failed to spot the people’s actual needs and neglected their wants. Sometimes being an open and mindful person is simple and inherent within us; we just need to keep things simple.
When an opportunity arrives, it also comes with significant risks. No one can promise us that our general health status will stay loyal to our wishful demands. Although if something does happen, those who are financially more prepared are also likely to overcome a health issue more smoothly. Loss of ability to work is one of the main problems, along with underpaid social security disability benefits.
However, for Yoni, the situation is different. In his early 40s, he made two crucial investments that twenty years later have flourished and saved his family’s financial condition. Purchasing two apartments in the most neglected and high-crime neighborhood in the city was a crazy idea back in those days. However, who would assume that twenty years after, it would become the hippest student neighborhood in the country. I guess Yoni knew!
Not all of us would react as Yoni in the following described scenario. When tenants are unable to pay for their rent, the law requires using respect to get the tenants out, and if that does not work, a landlord can file an eviction form and go to the court. Yoni was not interested at all in the latter; still, a couple that rented one of his apartments was unwilling to pay their rent. Yoni tried to assist the married couple with a delayed payment method to settle the rent issue. Yet, he received strong resistance from them to cooperate.
The couple knew that the law would defend them in that case, and Yoni knew the same. Thus, he decided to take the law into his own hands. One morning when the wife was at work, he visited the man tenant. Our story continued when one of the neighbors saw the man hanging upside down from the balcony, while Yoni is holding him from his shoes and yelling for justice. The couple left the apartment the same day.
Friday dinner at Yoni’s family includes at least 15-20 people every week. Guests are family members, close friends, or even just random people that are invited over to join for dinner. One time, I asked Yoni how he can manage to host this vast amount of guests every week, not even questioning the financial burden of hosting a great number of people. The short-long answer that I received was, “If you have enough room in your heart, then the house can even easily fit 30 people, and no one will stay hungry.”
In other scenarios, Yoni loves to fill up refrigerators with food, but not for his own house. It is a random game that happens once a month. Each month, Yoni will select one family in financial need and buy a whole stock of food for them, and each month the food budget is different. Yoni has a specific formula that guides his actions and behavior. He calls it the 10% rule, one-tenth of the amount that earns in the month paid as a contribution to those who are in need.
The real engine that drives Yoni’s family is his wife, Sarah. This strong and beautiful lady has provided an optimal, supportive living platform for Yoni to succeed in his life. They met at the age of 19 and have been married for 40 years. Their love for each other is still burning; watching this couple spending quality time together is priceless.
A lot can be learned about relationships, support, and pure affection from Sarah as a wife or a mom figure. She made Yoni get back on his feet after each stroke event. In contrast to what was expected, the stroke did not affect the other family members’ mental health; it made them stronger and more connected. Having a true love to hang on to in difficult times may be a key element in rehabilitation.
According to Yoni – one of the “good” things that happened as a result of the stroke is that he was forced to quit his previous intense style of living and to adopt a positive one. Along with other activities that Yoni participates in, his favorite is clay pottery. Drawing, painting, and sculpting are not easy tasks if you are required to do them with one hand. For most stroke survivors, half of their body can be weakened, with semi or incomplete function (a condition known as Hemiplegia- paresis). For Yoni, the left side of his body exhibits low muscular and impaired neurological function. Despite his disability, using his right hand only, Yoni makes art that has inspired others in similar conditions.
10) Family Above All:
Sarah and Yoni have five grown-up children and three grandchildren, and they will do anything for them. The same applies on the children’s side, which may show a mutual and balanced family base. Their two oldest children are married and live with their spouses very close to Sarah and Yoni’s house. Almost every day, when they finish their workday, the entire family gathers and hangs out together.
It is one of Yoni’s best times of the day, one that he loves. It is even more crucial for Yoni that all his children attend and spend the holiday times together. For example, two years ago, when his youngest son, a combat soldier, was assigned to a military task during a big holiday night, Yoni was not happy about it. Yoni, who is also a veteran combat soldier who understands the military system well, decided to take action.
To make sure that his son would be released for the holiday, he invited the son’s officers over to their house a week before. He wanted to demonstrate to the officers how important it was for him that his son would be home for the holiday dinner. Surely, the officers did not expect such a show. What happened next, I can only imagine since Yoni is saving the story to tell it himself. Yet, the play that he planned provided the son with a full year pass from staying at the base on weekends. This is how much he loves his family!