The Teacher

She was one of my second grade teachers. She taught me math, and at that time I thought she was teaching me everything that I would ever need to know about math, and for that matter about life itself. Well, not really, but Mrs. Pillar was a great teacher and I learned so much from her when I was eight years old. However, I will always remain indebted to her for what she did for me more than a decade later.

As a sophomore in college, I was involved in a near fatal "accident" when I walked into a robbery at a convenience store. One of the thieves shot me in the head -- "pumping a bullet into my brain." The thieves, as well as most people, thought that I was dead or would soon be dead. Obviously, they were wrong. However, it was a severe and difficult battle getting back into the mainstream of life. I had to drop out of college to be hospitalized. Even after I was discharged from the hospital I endured many hours of intensive therapy. I had to relearn practically everything, including walking, talking, and yes, even math.

To help me with that task, Mrs. Pillar volunteered to come to the hospital and later to my house once a week, to work with me. At first, the material that she presented appeared, to most people, to be very basic math skills. Then, as time progressed, and I made progress, my "homework" became progressively more difficult.

I remember very vividly how she would come to my home on Sundays, sit with me at the kitchen table, and throw various coins on the table. She would ask me to show her 38 cents, 17 cents, 63 cents . It was challenging -- but she also made it fun.

After one-and-a-half years had passed, I had progressed sufficiently both physically and mentally to return to college. Once there, I continued therapy regularly, but I was enrolled in college. I was back at the University of Texas.

Four years after I returned to college I graduated from the University at the top of my class. Following that, I went on to Graduate School.

As the years went by, I always kept in touch with Mrs. Pillar. However, unfortunately, one day my parents informed me that Mrs. Pillar had been hospitalized because she had suffered a stroke after having undergone open-heart surgery.

Now it was my turn to help her. When I walked into the ICU at the hospital, Mrs. Pillar was in a hospital bed and could not speak. I thought that the situation was extremely ironic. Nothing had changed except for who was in the bed and who was standing beside it.

I told Mrs. Pillar that I would be back and that I would work with her just as she had worked with me years earlier. As the days went by, I saw Mrs. Pillar progress each time I would visit her.

One day, when I was visiting her, I pulled some coins out of my pocket, dropped them on her bed, and asked her to show me 12 cents. The nurse thought that my action was extremely strange until Mrs. Pillar smiled briefly as I began working with her just as she had worked with me years before. I would point to the dimes and the pennies and she would put them together when I would ask her to give me the proper amount of money.

Mrs. Pillar was eventually transferred from the ICU to a private room and then to a Rehab room. As she moved from room to room, there was no doubt in my mind that she was improving.

When I would visit her I would always ask her to tell me something good. At first, her family, who would generally be standing around her bed, would quickly jump in and say, "Mama is doing so well;" or "My sister is doing great." However, I would quickly raise my hand and say, "Mrs. Pillar, you tell me something good." She would then slowly and hesitantly answer my question. As the days would go by, her responses would be quicker and more fluent

Mrs. Pillar made wonderful progress and was eventually discharged from the hospital with a prescription to continue with speech therapy as an outpatient.

One day I called her to wish her a happy New Year. She spoke into the phone quite fluently and said, "Happy New Year to you and your family, Michael. Thank you for everything you've done for me."

I quickly remarked, "Thank you for everything you've done for me."

Mrs. Pillar was one of my second grade teachers, but she taught me so much more about life than mere mathematics.

Michael Segal, MSW 2003, all rights reserved

Michael Segal is a social worker at Memorial Hermann Hospital, author, and well sought after motivational speaker. He married his highschool sweetheart, Sharon, and together they have a daughter, Shawn. Mike has had much national recognition about his "miraculous" comeback after being shot in the head as an innocent witness to a robbery. He has many published stories in anthologies, newsletters, and ezines.

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