Suffolk Closeup: Partial eclipse of a life


When the eclipse came last week, I feared my life was in eclipse.

As the sky darkened, I felt my life darkening, too.

I had just received, two hours before, a phone call from my doctor’s office about an MRI report that found tears in the tendons and muscles that connected to my left arm’s rotator cuff, the body part in a shoulder that is key to arm movement. Two days before, I was informed about the report of an earlier MRI, of my right shoulder, that found the same situation.

Two shoulders, two rotator cuffs. I was in trouble!

Almost certainly ahead were two operations, an initial one, and then months after healing that shoulder, an operation on the other. And what an operation rotator cup surgery involves! I went to Google, which I’ve found is often depressing although full of facts. One medical website said a rotator cup operation, even if done arthroscopically — small incisions and tiny tools — can take up to 2.5 hours. Then that arm needs to be immobilized for weeks in a sling.

Another site said you might want to sleep in an easy chair for a time so as not put pressure on the operated-upon shoulder. Great. I have problems enough sleeping all night in a bed.

Other sites said that if you stick to a bed, you need to build up a mountain of pillows or get a big bolster to sleep on, almost sitting up to avoid shoulder pressure.

Oh, and there would be post-operative pain three to six more months of rehabilitation to get an arm’s strength back. I thought: I’d have to do this twice.

Farewell Prius. Forget about driving for a year. How would I be able to manage to work as a professor of journalism (40 years as of this school year) at SUNY/College at Old Westbury? How would I write this column and do my other writing? I do TV, too. How would I manage that?

All this as the eclipse neared.

I went to the Sag Harbor Post Office and there was Rabbi Berel Lerman of the Chabad North Haven in the Hamptons. The Chabad had held services in the living room of his house in North Haven and the Sag Harbor Inn since starting in 2013. But it has just established a Center for Jewish Life, across from the post office in the huge space that had been the temporary location of John Jermain Memorial Library while it was being expanded and renovated. Rabbi Lerman asked whether I would like to see this new center.

It was impressive. Rooms for teaching and displaying art, and a beautiful sanctuary.

Then I told the rabbi what I was facing. He took me into his study and we prayed together for my health.

Afterwards, in his warm, caring way, he said maybe my problem could be handled without surgery. I said I wish it could.

I went next to the front steps of the beautifully reconstructed library where people had gathered for the eclipse. The sky was getting a touch darker. I figured the friendly folks in my community would share those hard-to-obtain eclipse glasses so I could view the eclipse. They did.

Then I walked in that midday twilight back to my car, believing my life was in eclipse.

Until the next day. Then I sat with another warm, caring person, Dr. John J. Brennan, an orthopedic surgeon to whom I was referred. He’s with the orthopedic department at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.

Dr. Brennan and his compassionate assistant, Sean O’Came, heard my story, examined me and studied the MRIs. Then Dr. Brennan explained that at my age, 75, tears in tendons and muscles linking to rotator cuffs are not unusual. Indeed, he spoke about a study of hundreds of men who had no shoulder problems in which 25 percent in their 60s were found to have rotator cuff tears and 50 percent of those in their 70s had torn rotator cuffs.

Because I still have basically O.K. arm movement and minor, occasional pain, he said no surgery was needed. My loving wife of 56 years and I listened to him in amazement and thanksgiving.

My eclipse, a day after the big one, suddenly passed.

We went to dinner at The American Hotel to celebrate.