Archive for the April 2004 Category


As this essay is being started, it is a cold, rainy, Sunday afternoon in late April. It means that most people are home bound which is the bad news on a Spring weekend. The good news is that the Boston Red Sox took three straight from the New York Yankees over the past three days which makes the record read for the young 2004 American League season, Red Sox 6, Yankees 1.

The city of Boston does not have a grip on my psyche as my original home is probably more than 1300 miles away. The Red Sox players seem like pleasant fellows from what is seen on the television screen. Taking one Yankee player with another, they generally seem like decent people. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posado, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez look like men who would make good next door neighbors. The problem is that all those affable Yankees play for the most despicable figure in sports, George Steinbrenner. The Yankee owner plays in the largest U.S. market and has more money than anyone else in baseball. When Steinbrenner covets a player on another team, he makes it known that he would be able to pay that player much more than he could make with his current team, so the player or his agent angles for a trade or waits until he can become a free agent and the Yanks can sign him. The Yankee payroll for 2004 is now at $183 million for its 25 player roster. They pay Rodriguez $25 million per year. Jason Giambi, the ham handed first baseman, is paid at the rate of $17 million per year. And so it goes.

Steinbrenner is the rich kid who is unwilling to compete with everyone else on a fairly even footing. He is the guy who wants to buy the whole candy store. He is the owner who wants to win every pennant and every World Series. And so my heart is buoyed by his Yankees loosing six of the first seven games played with its foremost rival, the Boston Red Sox.

It would have made me happy to produce another essay about baseball, a subject that is well known to many of us. But that is not to be. This essay is about the possible blindness that could overtake this old essayist someday before his ancient body gives out. My mind has no room for messages from angels or from the Holy Ghost, and the thought that some preternatural event may take place is similarly doubted. On the other hand, the similarities in the current situation with the situation in April, 1994 are too striking to dismiss. On that occasion, the left eye was blinded in an effort to perform a trabeculectomy. Now the same situation tends to loom for the one remaining eye.

Before we go further, there are two or three points that should be made. A few years back, Harry Reasoner wrote a book called, “Before the Colors Fade.” Reasoner was a popular television personality and was one of the first interviewers along with Mike Wallace and Morley Safer on the Sunday CBS program, “60 Minutes.” Reasoner sensed that his life was drawing to a close and wanted to say some things to his family and to his viewers. Unfortunately, Reasoner was right. He died not long after “Before the Colors Fade” appeared in bookstores.

If somewhere down the road blindness should overtake me while my bones are still ambulatory, there will be no need to publish something about my take on life. The file cabinets here are filled with my views on a large variety of subjects. If anyone wishes to explore what my thinking may have been on subjects such as religion or politics or war or baseball, my essays are immediately available. In essence, my memoirs have been written over a period of more than 45 years in letters, speeches and more recently, in essays.

So point one is that even if total vision loss eventually occurs, my work is basically done. Everything that needs to be recorded has largely been recorded, so there is no need to be greatly concerned as ophthalmologists become an even more prominent part in my life.

Now that is point one. My work of recording is now largely done. The second point is that NO ONE should feel sorry for me. The problem of glaucoma has been present in the Carr family for many years. In other words, it was clear to me that sooner or later, glaucoma would probably take a more serious bite out of my eyes. If you look at it as old soldiers do, there is merit in taking life one day at a time. If there is life upon awakening, that is an occasion for joy. If my sight holds up for a few more days, then that is also a cause for some joy. If, somewhere down the road, it fades and perhaps gives out, then we will have to face that eventuality when it happens.

Glaucoma has plagued my father and my siblings for many years. At the age of 60, my father could no longer work and became housebound by his blindness. The best surgeons in St. Louis, the Post brothers, operated several times on my father’s eyes, but in the end he became blind. There were five Carr children who lived past childhood. All five contracted glaucoma. In at least one case, my brother’s vision had been so reduced as to approach blindness. In 1969 at the age of 47, glaucoma took root in my eyes. So no one should feel sorry because of any “sudden development.” It has not been “sudden” at all. It has been expected for all my adult life.

My view is that as my 82nd birthday approaches, the ability to read, to write and to drive a car are still with me. No matter how you cut it, that is 22 years beyond the mark reached by the father of the Carr clan. So you look for upbeat factors wherever they can be found.

So point two is that the possible approach of vision loss is not a recent development. Quite to the contrary, incipient blindness has always been an unhappy consideration in my mind. And people around me should be happy that it has been held at bay for such an extended period.

Now the third point has to do with events in April, 1994. Glaucoma is an inherited disease or ailment. It doesn’t come from over-eating or drinking to excess. Some preachers, nuns, rabbis and prominent politicians have glaucoma. It can’t be prayed away or legislated into oblivion.

Simply put, the eye contains a fluid called aqueous humor. The humor flows throughout the eye and empties through the trabecular meshwork. It the drain becomes blocked, pressure in the eye increases. Unless the pressure is released, damage to the optic nerve will take place and loss of vision will occur.

All of this buildup in pressure is unaccompanied by pain of any sort. My father had no warning. When he realized his sight was in jeopardy, the progression was far down the road and surgery seemed to be his only option. All of this was in the 1930’s. For the five Carr children, all of us were painfully aware of what might happen to our eyesight and we moved to deal with it. Unfortunately, even with first class treatment, glaucoma often proceeds.

Now, there is the sense that surgery which may again be required. That brings back memories of the unfortunate experience that occurred in April, 1994. For nearly three and a half years, my AT&T duties had taken me to Washington, D.C. That would have been from February, 1966 until September, 1969. My duties involved dealing with officials of the U. S. Government, which many people call “lobbying.” It is tempting for me to say that lobbying with politicians gave glaucoma to me, but that is not a very convincing case.

When my wife and two daughters returned to New Jersey, we settled in Short Hills primarily because of the superior Lackawanna Railroad connections to New York City. At that time, the leading ophthalmology group around here was the Short Hills Ophthalmology Group. There were three principals: Gerald Fonda, John Kennedy and Charles Ball. All were products of the New York University School of Medicine.

Before leaving Washington, an ophthalmologist there had told me that my eyes had “incipient glaucoma.” That was not good news, but it was expected news. So when we were settled in the Short Hills house, it became my business to visit John Kennedy, one of the founders of the Short Hills Ophthalmology Group. My relations with Kennedy were cordial and productive.

In 1992 or there about, John Kennedy said he had had enough and elected to retire. His successor was a young fellow who also came from NYU. His name was Richard Robbins. In the next year or so, Robbins and Ball performed cataract surgery on both eyes, with the left eye posing a continuing problem. After a time during which Robbins tried drugs and laser treatments to get the ocular pressure down, particularly in the left eye, Robbins concluded that surgery to perform a trabeculectomy would be necessary. He was an NYU graduate who came well recommended by John Kennedy, so there was no effort on my part to seek a second opinion.

The object of a trabeculectomy is to carve out an exit that will improve the flow of aqueous humor fluid out of the eye, thus reducing the pressure. The man Robbins selected to perform the trabeculectomy was Ivan Jacobs of the Eye Care and Surgery Center in Watchung, New Jersey. Robbins was asked by me if he would trust his sight to
Ivan Jacobs. After some pause, Robbins said he would. It is my belief that Robbins could not have known much of Jacobs’ work which probably accounted for his hesitancy in answering my question as to whether he would trust Jacobs with his own eye sight.

In any case, Jacobs set out to perform the trabeculectomy. There was an introductory meeting with Jacobs at which time he seemed to regard patients as bothersome. It is quite obvious that his attitude as well as his so called “Surgery Center” should have turned me off, but things had progressed this far, so they went ahead.

On April 1, 1994, Jacobs started with the trabeculectomy. Perhaps 8 or 10 minutes into the operation, my ears picked up Jacobs whispering that a choroidal hemorrhage had taken place. That was the end of the trabeculectomy and the end of sight in the left eye.

The third point to be made here is that pressure in the one remaining eye is reaching levels that will probably soon take a toll on the optic nerve. Dr. Eric Gurwin is doing everything to bring the pressure down short of another surgical trabeculectomy. If those efforts are unsuccessful, then this may be a replay of April, 1994 – with a better outcome to be hoped for.

The efforts of Dr. Gurwin to avoid the need for surgery are substantial. It goes without saying that my case is in much better hands with Professor Gurwin rather than with Richard Robbins and Ivan Jacobs.

So the three points to be made as an underpinning to this essay are that if loss of vision occurs, my memoirs have been written. There is not much more to say. Secondly, no one should feel sorry for me. If it happens, it has been a long time coming and at my age, there is not a lot that needs to be seen anymore. And finally, the third point is the progression of events in the one remaining eye today that seem to be closely following the April, 1994 script. We hope for a better outcome.

Before we proceed further, you may find your mind tingling about the name of my earlier ophthalmologist, Richard Robbins. You may recall in an essay of mine, that Robbins was convicted by his own admission of guilt in fondling females in his care. He was spared jail by probation, but he was labeled a sex offender, an appellation that will stick with him until he dies. His practice has been sold and it is unclear what he is doing in terms of employment.

With all that background established, it is time to look at the next step. Aside from a regimen of drugs, Eric Gurwin has introduced a device called a “Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty” commonly called an “SLT.” According to the brochure, “SLT works by using laser light to stimulate the body’s own healing response to lower your eye pressure.” If SLT works, then surgery may be avoided. If it fails to work, that puts me pretty much back where we were. In any case, it’s too soon to tell. Let’s see if Professor Gurwin has something else up his sleeve. If he has, that’s all to the good. If there is nothing short of surgery, perhaps it will go better than in 1994. Dr. Gurwin has suggested that if surgery is required, he will send me to a hospital in Philadelphia. Such a hospital is a far cry from Ivan Jacobs’ Surgical Center in Watchung.

If darkness eventually overtakes me, it won’t make me happy, but it is something that can probably be dealt with. Consider this story of the Lackawanna Ferry and the total blackout that occurred in New York City late in 1964. It could have been 1965, but my guess is that the total shutdown of electricity happened in November, 1964. And consider my initial response to a stroke in 1997, which will be discussed later.

In the blackout, street lights did not work. Elevators did not run. Subways stopped in their tracks about 5:45PM. In short, nothing electrical worked. On that occasion, it was my custom to board the Lackawanna Ferry to carry myself and other passengers across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey, there to catch the Lackawanna Railroad. This was before the Carr family moved to Washington, so my destination was New Providence, New Jersey. It was warmer than usual that evening, so it was inviting to sit outside. On the second deck of the ferry, which was unlighted, it was possible to sit outside with illumination coming from lights ashore. As it so happened, there was a seat at the very rear of the ferry which provided an unobstructed view of Manhattan. Looking to my left, it was possible to see a long distance up the river to the George Washington Bridge. Looking to the right, it was possible to see almost to the tip of Manhattan. The thought occurred to me about how lucky commuters on the Hudson River Ferries were and the secondary thought was about how peaceful it was. This, of course, was before we were underway. In any case, travel on ferries has my complete endorsement.

As Manhattan Island was being admired, everything went completely dark. To the best of my knowledge, there were no lights to be seen anywhere. Absolutely none. It never dawned on me to look to the west where the Jersey shore was alight as usual. Manhattan absorbed me as it must have for other commuters. In my case, however, staring into the pitch darkness on the New York side of the river, it occurred to me that blindness had set in. The immediate problem was getting off the ferry if my eye sight was gone. Before long, it became apparent that the lights on the ferry were working and indeed, my eyesight was normal, which was a great relief.

During those instants or minutes when there was nothing to be seen, it was not my desire to scream that my sight was missing, but rather, it was my rehearsing how to feel my way to find the steps to get down to the first deck and to seek help in getting me on the train to New Providence when we reached Hoboken.

As was said, if blindness happens to me, there will be no attempt to curse the darkness, but rather, my efforts will be devoted to dealing with the new eventuality.

Now the stroke story. A few days after the 1997 stroke, the outcome was far from clear. The stroke had not bothered my limbs up to that point, but my speech was pretty mangled. The thoughts that formed in my brain either refused to come out in speech, or it often came out in an unintelligible fashion. Later, it appeared that the stroke had caused a lesion in the brain which results in aphasia, the condition which causes garbled speech or completely forgetting what one wishes to say.

On a Sunday morning, Carl Shepherd, one of my sons-in-law, came to see me at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N. J. We walked around the floor of the hospital. It seemed to me that being able to walk with Carl Shepherd immediately after a serious stroke, was good news. If my speech was screwed up, so be it. As an old soldier would say, “Hey man, we’re still alive so anything is possible.” Don’t count your losses; count what you have left.

As time has gone on, there have been wrestling matches with aphasia. Sometimes aphasia wins, but now, aphasia more often comes out on the short end of the stick. As in the case of supposed blindness on the ferry, it is always my view of seeing how an ailment or a disability can be dealt with as distinguished from giving in to it and calling on the Gods to take care of things.

If worst comes to worst and somewhere down the road my sight should disappear, there is much to be said for dealing with that eventuality if it happens. There will be no histrionics and no one will be asked to pity poor old Ed. Old Ed has lived a long life kept in working order by the efforts of the Summit Medical Group and other physicians. The working order includes a heart by-pass operation performed by Eric Rose at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, a new aortic valve arrangement donated by a pig and installed by Alfred Casale in Morristown. Also there is a pacemaker placed by Andrew Beamer, formerly a student at Duke University and a resident at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston. If Gurwin can pull the eyesight trick off, we will be well ahead of the game and Eric Gurwin will be a hero. Nonetheless, this essay is being written now in case anything should go astray.

My essays almost always end with a reference to where they began. In this case, we snuck into blindness by using baseball as a peg to hang the story on. Most baseball players, particularly hitters, have sharp eyes. There are no poorly-sighted ball players. If Professor Gurwin gets all of us through the next few months and avoids vision loss or even blindness, perhaps George Steinbrenner may be asked by me to sponsor a team in a vision impaired league. My job will be Umpire in Chief. My duties will be performed without glasses. Steinbrenner is often an owner with limited vision for the people he hurts. Maybe ownership in a vision impaired league is what Steinbrenner always needed.

Now as to my happiness for the Red Sox early in the 2004 season. Boston is a good club and it has a very nice manager. And Boston is a very nice city. But my heart has always belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals, perhaps the only perfect team in a perfect city in organized sports. There may be some quibbles about that from one Cubs fan, we all know, but those are the facts, plain and simple.

April 25, 2004
Essay 99
Kevin’s commentary: It is at amazing to me that Pop possesses a level of introspection that is sufficient to exactly predict how he would react to a major change to his lifestyle. He said “If darkness eventually overtakes me, it won’t make me happy, but it is something that can probably be dealt with… there will be no attempt to curse the darkness, but rather, my efforts will be devoted to dealing with the new eventuality.” As far as I know, this is pretty much exactly how things shook out.

However, I can’t help but find it a little funny that despite predicting his emotional reaction to what could justifiably be called a “crisis” to the tee, Pop also thought that his “work of recording is now largely done” before he had even hit the triple digit point in the essays. Of course close to eight hundred essays were written in total. As of right now, five hundred and eight of them are available on this website. It is a guarantee that the rest will be available within one year of today (which is actually May 30th, not May 25th).

This is the first essay in a series about blindness, both before and after it occurred.  You can find the introductory essay here, and the subsequent essay here. The existence of this series may be surprising given that Pop said in this essay that there was “no need to publish something about my take on life”  Even champions of introspection can’t bat a thousand all the time, I suppose.