Levi C. (not his real name) is a 26-year-old chassidic young man. At age 20, he was hit by a car. Now, over five years later, after many hospitalizations and then rehabilitation, he is functioning pretty well physically. But cognitively he has some problems and serious issues with short- term memory.
He lives with a family as a boarder, has a life coach who is with him throughout the day, and a job that recognizes his unique abilities in recalling what he used to know – cold. He is well versed in three languages (Hebrew, Yiddish and English). Levi C. was referred to me about eight months ago to see if I could help develop a rehab schedule to advance him further in his recovery.
It took a while for him to feel comfortable with me, a woman, but a non-chassidish one, as well!
When we would meet he would say that he doesn’t recall anything from the last meeting. I take this at face value and each visit I try to create a “learning” experience as well as an opportunity to discuss issues that bother him.
Over the months he has learned to make note of occurrences in his diary. We also try to hook a memory with an emotion, as emotions are stored in a different place in the brain than verbal memories.
When he went home for a fairly long visit, I called, and he did remember me. I joke with him that his recall of me throws his “no short term memory” diagnosis into the garbage can.
He laughs and requests that I ask him anything else other than who is speaking to him, and he insists he will not remember. He partially grins at that comment himself.
Recently during an appointment, for the first time, he told me a dream he remembered. He said it was a question that bothered him, and he thought maybe he had dreamt it. I waited with bated breath to hear the question.
“You are a psychologist doctor, right? What kind of person would do this? I have my favorite type of cake in front of me – chocolate. I leave it on my plate and go to wash. When I come back, someone has eaten it, and there are barely any crumbs on the plate. Who would do that?” he plaintively asks.
I am ecstatic! This is really a breakthrough! “You know,” I say, “you have just told me a very interesting and special story!”
I recall a book, Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life (ISBN 0-399-14446-3), published in 1998. It is a motivational book by Spencer Johnson that uses parables to describe change in one’s work and life. And then he gives four typical reactions to said change, with two mice, two “little people.”
Who Moved My Cheese? New York Times business bestseller since release remained on the list for almost five years. Also, it has spent over 200 weeks on Publishers Weekly’s hardcover, nonfiction list.
This is a brief (very thin book) tale of two mice and two humans who live in a maze and one day are faced with change: someone moves their cheese. Reactions vary from quick adjustment to waiting for the situation to change by itself to suit their needs.
This story is about adjusting attitudes toward change in life, especially at work. Change occurs whether a person is ready or not, but the author affirms that it can be positive.
His principles are to anticipate change, let go of the old, and act the way you would if you were not afraid. Listeners are still left with questions about making his/her own specific personal changes.
I looked at Levi and said, “Five years ago, you had a wonderful life. You knew you were an iluyi (Talmudically-gifted young man) who knew so much. You got up and went outside, and when you “came back,” there were only crumbs of your former life, your ‘chocolate cake’ on your plate.”
Levi looks at me very pensively. “I see what you are saying.”
“But this isn’t the end,” I continued. ” What is your next favorite cake or cookie?”
Levi thinks a minute and says his usual: “I don’t think I remember.”
“How about chocolate chip cookies?”
“Yes, I do like them.”
We were going to meet in two days. I prepared chocolate chip cookie batter at home in the morning, put it in a very thick plastic bag and put the chocolate chips in another bag.
When Levi came for his appointment I asked him to remind me of the cake story. He repeated the whole story with the same sadness and amazement that “someone” would do such a despicable act.
I showed him the batter and asked him to knead in the chocolate chips. We then placed the batter in little foil cupcake tins, and I put them in the toaster oven we keep in the office.
With the wonderful smell wafting through the hospital corridor, people knocked on my door and asked what was going on.
I used this opportunity to give the nimshal (parable’s meaning). I said that there are other kinds of cookies and cakes waiting for you to make and eat. Many people think that a new “chocolate chip cookie” is wonderful. You have a new and different life now, no question about it. But it looks, smells and tastes pretty good!
I told him what I read in a book, but know from life: “Things change. They always have changed and always will change. And while there’s no single way to deal with change, the consequence of pretending change won’t happen is always the same: The cakes/cookies run out.” (Lou Schuler).
We said the brachah (prayer) on the cookies. Levi had the first one. He smiled and said: “Pretty good.”
I pray we have found the recipe for success.
Judith Guedalia, Ph.D., is director of the Neuropsychology Unit and senior medical psychologist at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. She is also a licensed psychologist, supervisor and specialist in Medical, Rehabilitation and Developmental Psychology and EMDR Level II Co-Chair, Nefesh Israel. She can be reached at email@example.com