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Who Heals the Doctor?

“Dad, tell him about how you’ve been doing since Mom passed away. It’s okay. He already knows"


Dr. Kane was a famous psychiatrist who’d already been an expert in the field for at least a decade before I came down to This World.  His ground-breaking research on human development was legendary, and I was grateful to have been a student of his during the course of my training back in Boston.

So when he called me on a recent visit to the Holy Land, I was more than a little flattered.

“It’s always good to touch base with my old students,” he told me. “And in addition, Dr. Freedman, I have a business proposition for you, and I’d like to pay you for a few confidential hours of your time.”

Dr. Kane was in Israel for a guest lecture at The Israeli Psychiatric Association’s annual convention. And while I had no idea what business this venerable sage in his 80s was into, we scheduled a time for the coming week.

I had actually been expecting the call from Dr. Kane, as his son Yosef — a medical ethics researcher and a respected professional in his own right who lives in Israel — had contacted me a week or two ago about his father’s issue. We’d initially met about a year ago at an event for “Be a Mensch”— a great organization that brings secular and religious Jews together for the sake of helping our non-observant brothers learn a bit more about Yiddishkeit. We’d connected, and Yosef took me up on a few Shabbos invitations with his family. When his mother passed away several months back, I went to his house for nichum aveilim. Apparently the kippah he’d put on his head at the time hadn’t yet come off.

Dr. Kane appeared just as dignified as I remembered him, with his tweed suit and matching hat. The cane he ambled along with was a new addition, but he still looked good for his age. He shook my hand warmly as he entered my office, accompanied by Yosef.

“I remember you as a trainee, but now you’re all grown up,” he said, shooting me a warm smile. I guess now we were colleagues. “It’s good to see that our training program still makes the best doctors wherever they might go once they graduate and head into the real world.”

Luckily my beard hid my blushing, as I thanked Dr. Kane for his compliment. It meant a lot coming from someone like him.

Dr. Kane proceeded to tell me about his talk at the Psychiatric Association’s conference and how impressed he was to have met with a number of our mutual colleagues.

“You’ve got some amazing psychiatrists here in Israel, Dr. Freedman. Only one golf course though, and it’s not too much to write home about, but my golfing days are done anyway,” he chuckled.

It was clear that Dr. Kane was skirting around the issue. Yosef had already filled me in as to why his father wanted to schedule “a business consultation,” and it wasn’t for any new start-up or research initiative that he’d booked me for two-and-a-half hours.

It seems that since his wife passed away, he’d been experiencing such a deep, devastating, and paralyzing level of grief that his son felt he would benefit from some psychological intervention.

But I didn’t want to pressure him. For a fellow of his status to approach a colleague was a tremendous blow to the ego. Had he needed a cardiologist, he would have seen Dr. Wolfe, the venerable sage of his field with four decades of experience.  If he’d needed a gastroenterologist, he’d have sat with Dr. Greenberger, the master clinician who published his first paper back in 1963.

In Dr. Kane’s eyes, I was just a young whippersnapper — but he couldn’t go to see one of the venerated elders, because they’d been his friends and colleagues for half-a-century.  No decent psychiatrist back in America would have been able to treat Dr. Kane, as it would be like Rabi Tarfon asking a kashrus sh’eilah to the local bakery’s mashgiach. But here, when he was overseas and just an anonymous tourist, it was safe to walk into the office.  He’d chosen me because I had some yichus as a graduate of the training program he’d founded back when I was still learning how to crawl, walk, and throw a baseball with my dad.

But I chose not to rush Dr. Kane as he related his experiences with various falafel eateries since arriving for the conference, showed me some pictures of his grandkids on Yosef’s phone, and related a few anecdotes about my beloved mentors who were his former trainees as well.

“Well, then, Dr. Freedman,” Dr. Kane said as we reached the 90-minute mark of our consultation and he stood up with an outstretched hand. “I appreciate your time, but I feel I must be going. I need to get in some good time with my grandkids before I’m off to the airport tomorrow.”

Yosef looked a bit nervous, like this was not going to work, but I was a few steps ahead of him.

“Dr. Kane,” I told him respectfully as I took his hand in mine, “I’m wondering if you’d like me to challenge you a bit before we wish each other a good day.”

Dr. Kane smiled and looked into my eyes for a long silent moment. He sat back down, and I did the same.

“Do you want me to be your patient today, Dr. Freedman?” he asked pleasantly as a tear welled up in the corner of each eye.

“I don’t want anything from you, Dr. Kane. But it seems like you need something from me. After all, since you need to get in some good time with your grandkids before you go, this meeting must be a bit more important than the schmoozing we’ve done so far.”

Yosef looked at me and then back at his father and opened his mouth for the first time. “Dad, tell him about how you’ve been doing since Mom passed away. It’s okay. He already knows.”

“Even psychiatrists need psychiatrists sometimes, eh, Dr. Freedman?” Dr. Kane said quietly.

“I remember when you gave us a lecture with the very same title, Dr. Kane.”

He laughed as he wiped away another escaping tear. “Well, back then I wasn’t talking about myself — I was talking about the hundred or so psychiatrists I’d treated over the course of my career.”

“I’ve treated a few myself,” I replied. “And I’ll be happy to give you the same professional care that I gave them, much of which I learned from you in the first place.”

“I see you were paying attention to my lecture,” he said as he smiled tentatively.

“I took that quote right off of the handout you gave us, Dr. Kane. Now let’s get down to business and address your depression.”

Yosef was visibly reassured and Dr. Kane took a sigh before opening up. It was time to meet my patient.

Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.

Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman 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 799)

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