The person issuing those orders was my father, and I was in rehabilitation after sustaining a very serious traumatic brain injury that almost caused my death. One reason it did not result in my death was that my father was always encouraging me to do "just a little bit more." I hated the experience of going through my father's tedious drills; however, without those annoying drills I do not know where I would be today. Certainly I would not be where I am now—very happy, blessed with a loving wife and daughter, and working in a fulfilling career. Sure, I have limitations, but I am alive! And I have my father to thank.
More than 25 years later, my father is still always there for me. Throughout those years, my dad never let me give up--a key reason was his faith. My father is a rabbi. He truly believes the biblical story of Moses, when God said to him (Exodus 3:12), "I will always be with you." God was also always with my father.
As a rabbi, my father often visits hospitalized congregants. That was exactly what he was doing one sunny Tuesday afternoon almost a year ago. After he concluded his rounds at St. Luke's Hospital, he planned to walk across the street to visit a little girl suffering from a brain tumor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. However, after he crossed the street, he stumbled on a crack in the sidewalk and went crashing down into the ornamental rocks just outside the entrance to the cancer center.
My father was in agony. Good Samaritans who had seen him fall attempted to help him. He was taken across the street to St. Luke's, and Dr. Landon, an excellent orthopedic surgeon took over. X-rays showed a fracture of the femur of my father's left leg, just below the hip.
The surgery was performed two days later. Afterward, Dr. Landon came out to the waiting room and gave us the news: the surgery had been a complete success, but recovery would be a long process.
My father had always been the eternal optimist. However, this time was different. For a second, negativity set in: "What if my leg will never be the same? The pain is so bad...." He now had two titanium rods and two nails in his leg.
When word of my father's accident and hospitalization became known, his room quickly took on the appearance of a florist shop. Countless friends and congregants sent flowers and get-well gifts. His cell phone had loads and loads of messages--as people wanted him to know that he was in their prayers. (Two days later the synagogue put out an email alert asking people not to call because my dad could not answer the 107 calls that had come in the first day. They were assured that an email would be forthcoming when further information was available.)
The therapist walked into the room with a smile on her face. "Good morning, Rabbi Segal," she said. "My name is Angela. We'll get you up and have you walk from the bed to the door and back."
My father looked from his hospital bed to the door and panicked. It looked very far away. Then he looked at me and thought, as he later told me, "If Mike was able to do it, I can do it."
With much time and help from Angela, he started slowly inching his way toward the open door. With each inch he began to sweat. By the end of his path to the open door, my father was drenched with perspiration, exhausted, both mentally and physically. But he had done it! My father's long road to recovery had begun. He was so proud that he broke out in a broad smile, his first since the accident. Then he noticed another patient on a walker outside the open door my father had just struggled so laboriously to reach. This guy was zipping along so fast my father thought he might start running. "Maybe I’ll trip him," my father said mischievously. Then I knew he was regaining his old spirit.
My dad continued to progress, with the help of the hospital staff, his support system, and, of course, his faith. He was driven. He would practice going around the hospital halls by himself over and over. After some weeks he was discharged from the hospital and instructed to enroll in an outpatient therapy program.
After my father's visits to the therapist, he would do even more exercise in order to get better quickly. He truly believed the statement made famous by Benjamin Franklin: "God helps those who help themselves."
I was always asking my father about his progress. Once he proudly said that he was able to walk up and down his driveway six times. I said, "Dad, that's great. But tomorrow you'll do seven."
With my words, my father's broad smile dimmed a bit. "We'll see," he nodded meekly.
"I said, we'll see."
"And I said seven," I reiterated.
I wasn't sure if this challenge would help increase his walking. However, the next evening when I got home from work, my wife gave me what she thought was a strange message: "Your dad called. Is he feeling OK? He only asked me to tell you that this morning he did seven." I laughed and explained, adding, "That's my dad."
It has been almost a year since my father's fall. He's making tremendous progress. I'll always be there to encourage him, just as he was there for me. Etched in my memory are the words "final time." Perhaps etched in his memory is the word "seven."