“Yasher koach, Levi Yitzhak! One night of sobriety!”
Levi Yitzhak was a bochur with an acute marijuana problem who had shown up stoned for his initial consultation. After Rav Kuper, his mashgiach, and Aunt Frumy, his legal guardian, fired his previous therapist who was supposedly treating him from across the ocean but never demanded accountability, they were on board for continued treatment. Levi Yitzhak, however, was not as enthusiastic and still needed convincing. Part II
hile I generally try to get to my office very early in the morning, long before my first patient, this particular morning I had an excuse. The spring air was crisp, the sun was shining bright, and I’d decided to take a more circuitous route, stopping at my favorite bakery for a power cup of coffee and a croissant on the way in to begin what was already shaping out to be a fantastic day.
I’d even arrived five minutes early, but it looked like I wasn’t the first person at the door.
Levi Yitzhak was waiting for me, but he was looking a little green around the gills, not like the laid-back, not-a-care-in-the-world fellow I’d met yesterday who, high as a kite, plopped himself down in a chair and happily munched on a bag of Doritos.
“How’d you get here so early, tzaddik?” I asked as I unlocked the door, kissed the mezuzah, and turned on the lights in one fluid motion.
“I didn’t sleep too well last night, Dr. Freedman. You think it’s easy to get to bed without marijuana when you’re used to smoking every night? Remember, you gave me an ultimatum that I needed to be clean for our next appointment, and… well… my mashgiach and my aunt sort of pushed me against the wall.”
“Yasher koach, Levi Yitzhak! One night of sobriety!” I said enthusiastically as I patted him on the back, hung my hat on the rack, and opened the window.
“Well, I’m not sure I actually qualify as sober,” Levi Yitzhak admitted. “I had to drink a few beers to make sure I’d get to bed before 3 a.m. In fact, I drank about seven to make sure I’d get up in time. When the room spins hard enough, you can’t sleep too well, and I figured it would wake me up early enough to get in here before you did.”
I appreciated his honesty but couldn’t help myself. “Levi Yitzhak, I think you could probably use a good psychiatrist.”
“Well, you had them fire my other therapist in order to get yourself paid.”
I didn’t take the jab too seriously, but rather responded with a few facts. “Levi Yitzhak, I hear the concern, but I should be clear that I actually referred you to a colleague for very affordable ongoing treatment, but both Rav Kuper and your Aunt Frumy insisted that I complete a full assessment, given the complexities of your case. And I’m charging much less than your prior fancy psychologist in Manhattan who let you smoke kilograms of marijuana over the past couple of years, never calling you out on it. And furthermore, as the yeshivah is paying for your treatment, they’re receiving a substantial discount on all services.”
Levi Yitzhak blushed but still had his doubts. “You’re not getting any personal benefit at all from me being here?”
“Of course I am,” I responded honestly. “I’m getting to sit with a fellow Yid with a good sense of humor that I might actually get the zechus to help, if you’ll cooperate.”
He sat for a minute quietly, mulling it over, before running out of my office in a mad dash to the bathroom with his hands covering his mouth. It was hard to miss the sounds of vomiting with the open door. Apparently the seven beers he drank last night seemed better in theory than the way they played out in reality.
It obviously wasn’t the right time for sarcasm, though. This young fellow was really suffering.
I turned on the cold water in the sink outside the bathroom to wet a towel.
“You okay, tzaddik?” I asked from a safe distance.
Levi Yitzhak gave me a thumbs-up without moving his head from inside the trash can on my bathroom floor.
“Can I pass you a wet towel?” I offered as I patted him on the shoulder.
He flashed me another thumbs-up and waved with his hand to pass him the towel.
“I’ll be waiting for you outside whenever you’re ready, tzaddik,” I told him as I washed my hands and went next door to the local grocery store to buy a scented candle, a sponja rag, and some bleach. Hopefully the combination would work to clean things up before the arrival of my next patient.
When I got back into my office a few moments later, Levi Yitzhak was sitting in a chair sweating bullets with the towel I’d handed to him wrapped on his head like a shoddy makeshift turban.
“It’s cool, tzaddik,” I said as I tossed him a bottle of the Israeli version of Gatorade I’d purchased for him in addition to the cleaning supplies.
“Doctor Freedman, if I knew you were going to leave halfway through to buy your groceries, I would have asked for 50 percent off,” he laughed weakly before putting his head between his legs.
I handed him the tiny trash can from under my desk and he vomited again, making sure to give me another thumbs-up.
“You know tzaddik, there’s a special story about Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, your namesake,” I said. “Once he saw a fellow Jew smoking on Shabbos. Approaching the man, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak said, ‘You probably are smoking because you don’t know that it’s Shabbos?’ When the man told him that he was aware of which day it was, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak responded, ‘You probably didn’t know that it’s forbidden to smoke on Shabbos?’ When the man told him he was aware that smoking was forbidden on Shabbos, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak responded, ‘You probably are smoking because you think it is good for your health?’ And when the man told him that he wasn’t smoking for health reasons, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak looked up to the Heavens and cried out, ‘Hashem, see how beautiful and honest your people are! Even when they commit a sin, they don’t make it worse by lying about it!’ ”
My patient looked up at me from the trash can and quipped, “I’ll appreciate your honesty as long as it doesn’t cost anything extra.”
“Gotcha, tzaddik — here goes,” I told him as he pulled his head out of the trash can and we made eye contact. “I think you have a substance abuse problem.”
“That’s why they pay you the big bucks, Doc?” he looked at me sideways before dry-heaving once again.
“They pay me the big bucks for being a Harvard-trained janitor,” I said as I patted him on the back. “My cleaning guy isn’t coming until the end of the week and someone has got to mop up before the next patient comes in and wonders why my office smells like an organic goat farm. Maybe tomorrow morning you’ll be sober and we can try this again?”
“Only if you bring me a Danish from that French bakery, Doc.” Levi Yitzhak offered an honest smile.
To be continued…
Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman, whose new book Off the Couch has just been released in collaboration with Menucha Publishers, can be found learning Torah in the Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 856)
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