In Chapter 20 of Silent Music, Ira details our collaboration. He points out that we patted each other on the back, mutually crediting the other about the Minoxidil discovery. I did do quite a bit of detective work, to the point where we stopped one step short of filing for a use patent for Minoxidil with an attorney. Neither of us had the fortitude to start dealing with the large pharmaceutical company that owned the rights to the drug at that point. We were too euphoric in having made the connection between the drug’s oxygenation properties and the re-awakening of the fiber optic cable in Doc’s eye – his resilient optic nerve.
Yes, Doc and I enjoyed an Escher-like intertwining of the minds, but in observing him I also noted that was part of Ira’s gift. The ability to deflect from his searing intellect to instill the belief in others that it is they who are something special. It is para-doc-sically humbling when a genius insists that you’re a genius (yes, Doc – that pun was for you).
When Ira first regained his sight sufficiently to trust what he was seeing, he embarrassed me in a pleasing way by announcing to anyone within earshot that I looked like the actor Errol Flynn. I told him that I was already beginning to doubt how well he could see. I took as much joy in making Ira smile as he did after uncorking one of his classic one-liners.
In retrospect, and only after Silent Music was published in 2001, did other pieces of Ira’s history become clearer. For example, clues to the blood disorder that ultimately malnourished his optic nerve were probably evident in his early history of hemorrhagic episodes when he would bleed spontaneously and profusely through his nose. He describes having to discontinue Minoxidil due to severe and mysterious abdominal pains. It now dawns on me that there was a good chance this was due to internal bleeding, given that it was the overt hemorrhaging in his leg several years later that ultimately caused him to abandon the drug altogether. It has long been my belief, and I follow this course in my own care, that certain systemic and metabolic disorders are best handled by titrating drugs and in some cases tapering them entirely. (And we have barely scratched the surface of understanding drug interactions.)
Doc came to my office every six months like clockwork over the course of 25 years to monitor his eye and vision status. I fretted at times about the potential for his eyesight to disappear as miraculously as it had re-appeared, and we had long and deep discussions about this. While I was concerned about the stability of his eyesight, I never doubted the tenacity of his vision. He intuitively understood the challenges of needing to re-balance his central and peripheral vision, as his eyesight and visual field waxed and waned. His wartime accident and eye enucleation was a significant type of traumatic brain injury, the extent of which we’re still struggling to grasp. Even in this field, Ira was prescient.
It is apparent that Doc was the forefront of what has come to be known as neuroplasticity, and self-discovered principles now employed in rehabilitation. It is daunting enough for the cortex to transfer real estate from one sense to another; it is mind boggling for the brain to have to time share the same regions among the visual and tactile senses. I better appreciate now, in hindsight, why his mental state at times rested upon shifting castles in the sand.
There are other clues to Ira’s brain in his writings. I now suspect that he was dyslexic, though never formally diagnosed. Consider his attraction to math and science in school, in contrast to his struggles with printed matter. He describes difficulties with reading that were mitigated only through individualized tutoring, when an adult at a camp for underprivileged children that he attended one summer took him under her wing. His challenges persisted through his adult years, when he failed the qualifying written exams for his graduate school program three times. It was only when he convinced the administrators to give him the test “impromptu”, and orally, that he passed. That was in the 1960s, and the idea of test accommodations was unheard of particularly at the graduate level. There are many dyslexics who are gifted in theater and music, in hands-on scientific endeavors, or ironically in writing. There are few who managed to combine their gifts as triumphantly as Ira Cochin, often by collaborating with others including his life’s partner, Dinah.
This photo collage of Doc was posted by his granddaughter, Renata Martin, on her Facebook page. Renata writes:
Miraculously, his sight came back when he was in his 70s, and he reentered a world with tiny mobile computers and the internet at your fingertips. Ira was always rigging up something, from metal Erector models to revamped wheelchair walkers, from cat boundary vestibules to systems for nutrition tracking. With a full workshop in his basement, up until last week he regularly used a table saw, drills and other power tools to build furniture, train layouts, and fix just about everything. He’s been recycling since way before it was cool, and little did we know as kids, but that “food trash” bin we had was actually compost. He continued writing books and keeping a blog up until his very last days. Last week, he said that he had “completed his life’s work.”
It doesn’t matter that he was 91 years old when his time on this Earth was up last Saturday. Ira found so many ways to overcome obstacles, and retained so much vitality to the end, that you expected him to pop out of the coffin on Sunday and announce that he was only sampling death. Farewell, Doc. What a privilege and inspiration it was to have been graced by your presence in our lives.