When asking New Yorkers for their vote, most candidates would begin by showing up.
Not Representative Joseph Crowley. No, Mr. Crowley, a 10-term Democratic congressman who reportedly has ambitions of serving as House speaker, chose to skip a debate Monday night with his primary challenger, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He sent a surrogate instead, former City Councilwoman Annabel Palma.
This is the second primary debate in which Mr. Crowley was a no-show. A spokeswoman for Mr. Crowley said he had scheduling conflicts that wouldn’t allow him to attend the two debates, inevitably leaving voters to wonder — what are we, chopped liver?
Indeed, the snubs should be galling not only to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Crowley’s constituents in New York’s 14th Congressional District, in Queens and the Bronx, but also to anyone who cares about the democratic process.
Mr. Crowley, 56, is a powerful congressman who leads the Queens County Democratic Party. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, has presented him his first major primary challenge in years. Despite long odds, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a former Bernie Sanders campaign organizer, has garnered significant support, waging a high-energy campaign and positioning herself as a grass-roots alternative to Mr. Crowley.
Instead of attending Monday evening’s debate, which was hosted by The Parkchester Times, Mr. Crowley visited a civic association meeting in Queens. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was left to debate Mr. Crowley’s chosen surrogate, Ms. Palma. Ms. Palma once represented the Bronx on the City Council and now serves in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration as a deputy commissioner at the Department of Social Services.
Mr. Crowley’s constituents might well now wonder whether he intends, if re-elected, to have Ms. Palma make his floor speeches and cast his votes as well.
Crowley aides said they had told the newspaper weeks ago that there was a scheduling conflict and had asked to change the event. The publisher of The Parkchester Times said he had no idea that Mr. Crowley wouldn’t attend.
Mr. Crowley is far from the first candidate to decline to debate a challenger he is heavily favored to beat. But as a longtime incumbent with a powerful role as a party leader, he should relish, not shirk, a chance to make his case to voters. Mr. Crowley has decades of experience that can serve his constituents well in Congress. But his seat is not his entitlement. He’d better hope that voters don’t react to his snubs by sending someone else to do the job.
While filming it in 2002, Karp, then a pediatrician in Santa Monica with a growing reputation, had asked his patients to call him whenever their child was having a crying fit. He then drove across town to record the encounters — effectively making house calls for screaming babies. Montée, a documentary filmmaker, worked the camera. The result has a zany, homemade quality. Over and over again, Karp is seen swaddling, handling and shushing babies into submission while talking to the camera in a voice so hypnotic it could be trademarked. One exhausted-looking father praised Karp for turning his crying daughter “to Jell-O.” It wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but his method was built on fast, practical tips that, well, worked. So we clung to them, feeling a little sheepish to be following a parenting expert so literally.
Birndorf told Karp that a pediatrician had recently visited the center and suggested that babies not be put to sleep on nursing pillows or on bouncing chairs — a reversal of previous pediatric guidelines. The advice of parenting experts — many but not all of whom are doctors — kept changing, she complained. The contradictions she recounted, from conveying to women that motherhood is a natural state to instructing them on exactly how and where their babies should sleep, all while nullifying earlier recommendations, seemed to get at an inherent paradox at the heart of a profession whose stated goal is to empower parents. “Highlights from 100 years of expert solicitude confirm the dirty little secret of child rearing: Though parenting gurus preach the supreme importance of consistency, their own shifting wisdom is proof of its impossibility,” Ann Hulbert, the author of “Raising America” (2003), a sweeping history of child-rearing advice, wrote in this magazine.
Karp nodded at Birndorf sympathetically. That he is one of those gurus, peddling parenting products, didn’t seem to discomfit him. Whenever someone points out the hypocrisies of today’s parenting industry, which happens often enough, Karp doesn’t try to defend it, or himself. He commiserates, and it sounds genuine — the ambivalent doctor trying to help parents make sense of a chaotic world. That’s one reason many parents find his approach so reassuring. Unlike other parenting books, Karp’s doesn’t feel preachy or berating. His tips can be applied just as easily by fathers as by mothers, and his pragmatic advice and suggested baby schedules don’t feel like more than what they are: suggestions. But as I trailed him on his rounds, his suggestions invariably seemed to crescendo toward a pitch.
“Well,” he told Birndorf, “this is where they would use a SNOO.”
When explaining his philosophy of parenthood, Karp likes to quote his late mother: “Keep an open mind, but don’t let your brain fall out.” Karp grew up in Queens with two older sisters in a family he describes as Jewish but not Orthodox, Democratic but not political. His father was a building engineer and occasionally a door-to-door salesman; his mother was in charge of the business’s bookkeeping. As a child, Harvey was temperamental. At 12, he smashed a golf club into a painting his sister made. Later, he took up meditation. “It was right when the Beatles were doing it,” he said. This began for him a lifelong interest in Eastern and alternative practices even as he decided to enroll in medical school.
By his second year at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, Karp knew that he wanted to care for children, whom he considered more “optimistic and resilient” than adults. He moved to Los Angeles for a residency at Children’s Hospital, meeting and marrying a woman who was studying to become a family counselor. At night, he pored over his wife’s textbooks about family dynamics. He trained under Barbara Korsch, a pediatrician who was among the first to study the field of doctor-patient communication and to call for “reducing the power gap” between physicians and parents. “Being smart is important, but you can’t get through the door by being an arrogant, smart doctor, unless you want to be a surgeon or a radiologist or something like that,” he said. “But if you’re dealing with patients, you’re knocking at the door and you’re being invited in. You have to be a good guest.”
In the early 1980s, he began working at U.C.L.A. hospital’s child-abuse team. He watched as babies were wheeled into the hospital in the middle of the night because their parents didn’t know how to soothe them or had badly shaken them when they screamed uncontrollably. “It was perplexing to me, because I thought: We could put a man on the moon. We could cure some types of cancer. We could make long-distance phone calls around the world. But we don’t know why babies cry, and we don’t know how to help them sleep.”
Continue reading the main story
This issue of infant colic — of otherwise healthy babies who cry for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, in the first three months of life — gnawed at him, and he immersed himself in books on evolution and anthropology. He learned about a Pygmy tribe that passes around babies between different community members all day long so that children develop multiple relationships early. He read the fieldwork of the anthropologist Melvin Konner about the infants of the !Kung San people in the Kalahari, who are carried in slings and rarely cry for more than a minute at a time. In the West, about 15 to 20 percent of babies have colic. “So either the !Kung babies were mutant babies — different from others — or those parents knew something.”
One day, when he was 29, Karp felt a dull pain in his neck as he was heading back to the hospital from lunch. He asked an intern to perform an EKG on him, but the intern didn’t know how to read the results. “So I’m showing him, ‘Here — oh, my God, this is cardiac ischemia.’ ” What he was reading was his own heart attack. He was kept in the hospital for a week for observation and advised to eat half a pound of salmon a day to reduce his cholesterol. The incident was mild enough that it didn’t have lasting effects, but it left him with a greater sense of urgency. “It was a crystalline moment,” he told me, of coming to terms with his own limitations. From then on, whenever he went for a run in Santa Monica and reached an area with outdoor stairs, he forced himself to think, as he descended, that at the very bottom “is the end of my life and to prepare for that.”
Before the heart attack, he had planned on going into child-development research, but now he thought the demands of academia would be too taxing. Instead, he joined a practice in Los Angeles with two other pediatricians and began to develop a local following. He threw himself into the job. Early in his career, he resolved never to do a checkup for less than half an hour. On some days, he visited six different hospitals to meet his newborn patients. As his work got more demanding, Karp and his wife grew apart and divorced.
Karp was beginning to develop his concept of the “missing fourth trimester.” Human babies are born about three months prematurely, the theory goes, because their heads, which grow rapidly, need to be able to fit through the birth canal. Some scientists dispute Karp’s notion that human gestation is too short. “Sadly, the evidence doesn’t support that,” Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, told me. But Karp insists that this explains why during the first months of life, babies can be lulled back into a womblike “trance” through the use of certain cues that Karp calls the 5 S’s: a combination of swaddling, shushing, placing the baby on her side or stomach, swinging her and letting her suck. He noticed that for each baby the “symphony of sensations” was slightly different — some babies needed extra movement, others a light jiggle — though all the infants responded well to swaddling, even if they seemed resistant at first.
By the early 1990s, Karp was running his own clinic, with a playground out back, and eventually he hired four pediatricians to work with him. “At the time, if you could get in to see Dr. Karp, then you’ve got it made,” Elaine Hall, whose son became a patient of Karp’s in 1996, told me. “He had a kind of hippie vibe to him then. He was gentle and comforting, and he had a long ponytail.” Karp gave her son a diagnosis of severe autism when he was 2. “Dr. Karp took me aside, and I’ll never forget — I get teary — he said: ‘You’re going to go on a journey. It’s a different path than you envisioned, but I can promise you you’re going to have lots of experiences that are going to make your life richer than you even imagined.”
Karp became famous for what were then unconventional methods for bonding with infants. Deena Goldstone, the mother of one of Karp’s first patients, remembers Karp suggesting that she swaddle her newborn at night, “which I thought made no sense,” she told me. Karp also advised Goldstone’s husband to hold their baby against his bare chest, in what doctors now tout as the importance of skin-to-skin contact. As his reputation grew, Hollywood celebrities took their children to see him; he treated the kids of Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer and Larry David.
He also had a new family. He and Montée met at a party in Hollywood in 1991, when he was 40, divorced with no children. She was 11 years younger, with a 7-year-old daughter, Lexi, from a previous marriage. Montée is from Belgrade and has a highly polished complexion and the kind of thick, open-syllabled accent in English that makes “best” sound like “bast.” (Her uncle is Milan Panic, a pharmaceutical multimillionaire and former prime minister of Yugoslavia.) Karp appeared to her so unassuming that when he told her that he took care of the hosts’ son, “I thought, Oh, he’s their ‘manny,’ ” Montée told me.
In 2000, a famous actress brought in her young son to see Karp. She was accompanied by her baby nurse, a British woman named Tracy Hogg. Karp demonstrated his methods for soothing babies, including swaddling and his theory about the calming reflex. About six months later, he says, he heard that Hogg was working on a manuscript about how to calm a baby. That book, called “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer,” went on to become a best seller later that year: “You have to re-create the womb,” it advises, before going on to recommend swaddling infants tightly. “It had nothing to do with my stuff,” Karp said diplomatically. “But it got publishers interested.” Hogg, who died in 2004, advocated what she called a “structured routine” for a newborn — with precise hours for feeding, “activity,” sleeping and “you” time. Karp got to work on his own book, wanting to document his techniques for calming crying while promoting a more lenient approach. He visited his patients at home in order to test out his theories. “I needed to understand, When does it not work?” he said. “I needed to see it in the wild.” He often worked through the night, reciting bullet-pointed thoughts into dictation software because he was frustrated by the pace of his typing, then drove Lexi to school in the mornings wearing the same outfit as the day before.
Karp’s agent turned down a $450,000 advance for the manuscript, and Karp grew apprehensive that they wouldn’t get a better offer. That morning, Montée gave her husband a pep talk. “Act like you have a million dollars in your backpack,” she told him, a joke that is now part of the family lore. She turned out to be right: Karp ended up securing a $1.1 million advance for “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” along with a sequel for toddlers. Karp describes Montée as the one in the household who “seals the deal.” At Happiest Baby Inc., she is in charge of business strategy and creative direction (“As a co-founder, Ruth, I’m so excited,” she told me more than once, having mastered the marketing technique of first-name repetition).
Continue reading the main story
A segment on “Good Morning America” in 2002 helped cement Karp’s success, and Montée had the idea of bringing the book’s testimonial sections to life by recording Karp’s interactions with his patients on DVD. Their timing couldn’t have been better. “The Happiest Baby on the Block” came out just as parenting literature was undergoing a transition of its own.
For years, the prevailing philosophy on child rearing had been Dr. Benjamin Spock’s rallying call to parents: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Spock’s “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” which was published in 1946 and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, was so thoroughly embraced that some women kept copies of his paperback all over the house, including in their glove compartments. Detractors later blamed him for the permissiveness that they argued set the stage for the 1960s counterculture — for children being “Spocked when they should have been spanked.” In the late ’60s, Spock’s involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement caused some of his readers to turn on him. His sales figures soon dropped by half, though he remains, to this day, the world’s most famous pediatrician.
As Spock lost ground, the field of expert advice became more polarized between a “hard” camp, which stressed discipline and conformity, and a “soft” camp, which believed in the importance of bonding and individuality. The issue of baby sleep was particularly contentious. In 1985, Dr. Richard Ferber, who founded what is now known as the Sleep Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, published a sleep manual so popular that his name became a verb. To “Ferberize” is now synonymous with letting a child cry it out (even though his book doesn’t quite advocate that). Following Ferber’s best seller, child-rearing literature was inundated with sleep guides, each with its own impossibly alluring title — “Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old,” “The No-Cry Sleep Solution.”
The soaring popularity of sleep guides may have been propelled by an observable, objective deterioration in baby sleep, which can be traced back to a single year, 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics, upon reviewing research on sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, came out with the recommendation that parents put babies to sleep exclusively on their backs in the first year of life. The number of SIDS cases did in fact fall — by half, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But the change came at a price. Babies sleep significantly worse on their backs, a fact that pediatricians openly acknowledge.
Certain parental concerns have vanished with technological advances like infant formula or polio vaccines. Others — like our anxiety about said technological advances — are perennial: Speaking to mothers in 1910, the pediatrician L. Emmett Holt worried about sensory overload in “these days of factory and locomotive whistles, trolley cars and automobiles.” But sleep — how much our children, and by extension we, get; whether it’s continuous or interrupted, light or deep, crying-induced or self-soothed — is a particularly of-the-moment obsession, particularly among well-off parents. The intense focus on sleep may have less to do with babies and more to do with parents, especially middle-class mothers, who provide as much as or more child care today than housewives did in the 1960s. Highly educated working mothers, Brigid Schulte, the author of “Overwhelmed: Work Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” told me in an email, have “made their children such a priority” that they spend “virtually all of their leisure time with their children.”
As baby sleep came to be seen as a national problem, the pressure intensified on parents to enforce stricter regimens. Champions of “hard” advice became known as parent-centered. Many of these advocates were from the Christian right, including Gary Ezzo, whose “On Becoming Baby Wise,” published in 1995, promoted rigid feeding schedules, “highchair manners” and physical punishment, or “chastisement” — preferably with a rubber spatula. (These recommendations have since changed.) Ezzo’s and other parent-centered advice books grew in direct opposition to the “ideological humanists” of the child-centered approach, with their insistence on feeding on demand, co-sleeping and a shunning of schedules and training methods.
Parent-centered advocates inveighed against the 1993 “Baby Book” — the bible of child-centered parents, written by William and Martha Sears, a pediatrician-and-nurse couple and parents of eight children. The “Baby Book” begins with an aphorism that puts many women at a disadvantage before they’ve even started mothering: “Feeling good about your baby’s birth carries over into feeling good about your baby.” (Tell that to the woman recovering from an emergency C-section.) They go on to ask, hypothetically, “Won’t holding our baby a lot, responding to cries, breast-feeding on cue and even sleeping with baby create a spoiled and overly dependent child?” To which they provide an emphatic answer: “No!” (Their son Robert, who is also a pediatrician and a “Baby Book” co-author, has become a vocal critic of vaccination laws, counter to evidence-based medical consensus.) Though they see themselves as Spock’s disciples, experts from the soft camp can seem exceedingly hard on parents, especially mothers, not to mention downright punitive for anyone with a full-time job.
Continue reading the main story
Karp’s manual represented a welcome middle ground. “I try to be an omnivore and just reflect on each issue and judge it on its own merit or lack of merit, but I’m much closer to the Dr. Sears approach,” he said. He emphasizes the benefits of breast-feeding but argues that experts have become “dogmatic and inflexible about it to the point where we could be hurting kids and certainly hurting mothers.” He includes sections in his books on weaning — from swaddling, pacifiers, rocking — even as he dismisses professionals who warn that children could become addicted to these crutches. (“Are we ‘addicted’ to sleeping on a bed with a pillow?” he retorts.)
Karp “kind of serves the purpose that Grandma would have served in the past,” Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the book “The Philosophical Baby,” told me. “But what science tells us is that variability is the most distinctive feature in terms of what children are like, what parents are like and what caregiving is like. So it’s unlikely that you’re going to find one piece of advice that’s going to suit all the different varieties of children and cultures.”
Karp’s manner is open, engaging, empathetic, inviting confession; ask him about his work, though, and the layers of humility begin to peel off. “Nobody else noticed this stuff in the whole world!” he told me at the end of dinner one evening when we talked about the 5 S’s. “No one knew about swaddling. Nobody knew about sleep.” As “The Happiest Baby on the Block” began to take off, Karp left his pediatric practice and with Montée turned the “Happiest Baby” into a franchise that now includes three books, two DVDs, a line of swaddles and white noises for purchase on iTunes, as well as SNOO, which rocks and plays white noise continuously and has sensors that respond to a baby’s cry by changing intensities; it keeps the baby swaddled and fastened inside the crib and can be controlled from afar on a smartphone.
Karp earnestly compares the $1,200 bassinet to the advent of penicillin — “I’m not here to promote a product, but I am saying if someone developed penicillin, wouldn’t it be important to tell people about it?” — and insists that it can save lives by stopping babies from rolling into an unsafe position in their sleep. Raising the money for SNOO, Karp drew on his celebrity appeal: Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel are investors, as are Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Zoe Saldana. (Or, as Montée put it, “We have Justin and Jessica and Gwyneth and Scarlett and Zoe.”)
So far, 30,000 beds have gone into production, and of those, some were given free or at a steep markdown to social “influencers” — a far cry from Karp’s days of working with abused children. Hulu and Activision have begun offering discounted SNOOs as a benefit to their employees. Karp says he hopes to take SNOO beyond the gated precincts of Los Angeles and Silicon Valley: “Once we get medical studies, we can get insurance companies and employers to subsidize this. It will be like breast pumps ultimately. That’s the goal.”
Other “Happiest Baby” innovations can be viewed as truly helpful or slightly ominous, depending on your level of credulity. Its engineers are aiming to update the SNOO app to serve as a dutiful personal assistant, providing parents a full report on their child in the morning, like “Baby Sophie’s diaper is full; she had a runny nose; the humidifier is on,” Montée explained one morning when I visited the company’s headquarters in a squat building on a main drag in Santa Monica. She saw my face. “I know,” she said. “At the beginning I thought, Come on, really? But then I see Lexi’s friends, and they turn to an app just to tell them which breast they fed from last. It’s a different generation.”
“Hey, love!” Karp called out to Montée as we walked through their house on a recent weekend afternoon. They live in a converted A-frame chalet nestled deep in the hills of the Pacific Palisades that looks like the ideal location for a dream sequence in a film set in 2030. It has a hydraulic door with a laser-perforated metal screen, smooth white terrazzo floors, white floating stairs and an arresting view of the ocean. There are no visible light switches anywhere (Montée is “allergic”) and nothing made of plastic: Karp and Montée are environmental activists, and both serve as directors of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. With its glass facades and sharp corners, their house also looks decidedly un-baby-proofed. Perhaps the only indication of Karp’s profession can be found upstairs, in his study, where there is a first-edition Dr. Spock and a cloth baby carrier from the Peruvian Amazon — a gift from Olivia Newton-John and her husband.
Karp has devoted his entire career to babies, so it came as a surprise to learn that he has never raised one of his own. For two years after he and Montée married, they tried to conceive but couldn’t. Devastated, they considered surrogacy or adoption but in the end decided against it. “We had Lexi,” Karp explained. He came back to that decision in a later conversation. “I kind of feel like everyone is my child,” he told me, his eyes glistening. “I don’t feel the barriers. There’s this passage in ‘Siddhartha,’ by Hermann Hesse, where Siddhartha’s friend Govinda looks into his face and sees the flow of thousands of human faces like a procession. It’s our joining of humanity.” Does this mean that he views all the children he has treated over the years as, in some sense, his own? “And their parents,” he said keenly.
Part of the appeal of Karp’s methods for calming babies was that they didn’t require anything fancy, not even the pre-made swaddles that are sold today — any old blanket would do. As he himself noted in his book, “For thousands of years, the most skilled parents have used the 5 S’s to soothe their babies.” Now he was suggesting that, actually, the best way to improve your baby’s sleep required splurging on a sensory bed. Effective as his invention may be, its forbidding price reflects an old-fashioned idea: that child rearing is inherently tied to social status, that you have to spend in order to care.
Continue reading the main story
As the sun began to set over the ocean, the light glinting on the water like sequins, Karp and Montée still had a long night of work ahead. “We can stay up more than any youngsters and do — how do you say? Overnighters?” Montée said. In the coming months, they would launch SNOO in China, and Karp would go on the Home Shopping Network to advertise it. For him, though, that was just the beginning. He mused about Gutenberg’s invention of movable type and how his contemporaries had been alarmed that people wouldn’t memorize anything anymore because of it. He chuckled. “You can’t get in the way of progress,” he said. Then, standing by the patio with his hands in his pockets, he put it differently: “The idea is that I could be in every nursery in America.”
“Can you spell that?” said a pharmacy worker at a Rite Aid on Featherbed Lane in Mount Eden, in one of the areas with the highest opioid-related overdose rates in the city.
“We don’t carry it,” said a pharmacy worker at a Rite Aid on Westchester Avenue in Mott Haven, another such neighborhood.
Some pharmacy workers inaccurately said that only the person in need of the drug could buy it, and then only with a prescription. “Are you having an overdose? You can’t buy it for someone else,” a pharmacy worker said at a Walgreens in Bronx Park, another area with a high overdose death rate. “If it’s for someone else, they would need to get a prescription.”
Activists on the front lines of the crisis were alarmed by the findings. “It’s shocking and upsetting,” said Van Asher, who runs daily operations and the syringe exchange at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the Bronx. “That’s akin to if I were a diabetic and I went to pick up my insulin and they didn’t have it,” he said. “It’s a lifesaving drug.”
The importance of having naloxone available was made clear just last week, when the United States surgeon general, Dr. Jerome M. Adams, issued a national advisory recommending that more Americans carry it and learn to use it — the first advisory from the surgeon general in more than a decade.
Naloxone comes in either an injection or a nasal spray commonly known by the brand name Narcan. New York City officials are engaged in what the city’s health commissioner calls a “full-court press” to get the drug to the public, and since last July, more than 70,000 naloxone kits have been distributed to the police, health care providers, homeless shelters and community-based organizations. When the mayor recently announced the city would spend an additional $22 million a year on anti-opioid initiatives, bringing annual funding for its HealingNYC program to $60 million, he said some of the extra funds would go toward increased training and distribution of naloxone.
But that did not mean pharmacies should be neglected, Mr. Asher said. “People might go to pharmacies who would never go into a needle exchange,” he said. If they were told they needed a prescription or had to wait for the drug, they could grow discouraged and might not have it when they needed it. The consequence?
Continue reading the main story
“It’s the loss of a loved one,” he said. “Plain and simple.”
Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, called the situation “unacceptable” and said that City Hall had instructed the health department to immediately contact all the participating pharmacies.
The drug was hardest to find outside Manhattan, The Times found. This winter, a woman in her 40s named Rebecca tried to buy naloxone in Brooklyn after learning that a friend was bingeing on prescription painkillers. (Rebecca asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her friend’s privacy.) “I’ll just throw it in my work bag and I’ll have it wherever I go,” she recalled thinking.
She pulled up the city’s map on her phone, and a number of pharmacies in Downtown Brooklyn came up. At the first Duane Reade she visited, when she asked for naloxone, “I had to repeat it a couple of times,” she said. “They were nice enough but they said they didn’t have any in stock.”
At the next store on the list, another Duane Reade, she had no better luck. “He just said, ‘Nope. We don’t carry that.’ I went around the corner to a CVS and got the same story from them. The pharmacist said I was one of three people who had ever come to ask for it. The lead pharmacist popped her head up and said, ‘Is everything O.K.? Is this an emergency?’ ”
“They have these giant billboards in the subway,” she added, referring to the city’s public awareness campaign featuring posters of people who saved someone’s life using naloxone. “You’d think there would be some follow-through.”
The program was created with the idea that anyone, including minors, could walk into a participating pharmacy and leave with the drug, under what is known as a standing order: Pharmacists were to use the city health commissioner’s name, Mary T. Bassett, in place of a prescribing physician’s. They were to show the customer how to administer naloxone and bill their insurance. (Initially, Rite Aid and some independent pharmacies enrolled; the chains CVS and Walgreens, which owns Duane Reade, later announced their own standing orders, increasing the number of pharmacies on the list.)
In response to queries about the availability of the drug, Dr. Bassett said of the pharmacies, “They are learning, as we are.” She added: “We want everyone to be able to walk into a pharmacy and get naloxone.”
According to the health department, if a pharmacy on the list did not have naloxone in stock, but offered to order it, they were considered to be meeting the program’s guidelines. If a pharmacy enrolled in the program required a prescription, however, that was a mistake.
Dr. Bassett said that in addition to contacting stores on the list, the department would send workers to as many as 800 independent pharmacies in neighborhoods with high rates of overdose deaths.
Continue reading the main story
To determine how readily available the drug is, The Times placed calls to all 720 pharmacies that the city said were taking part in the program over a one-week period in March. At about 270, naloxone was in stock and no prescription was required; roughly 90 more had it in stock but required a prescription.
At the other 360 or so pharmacies, naloxone was not available. Most pharmacists said it was out of stock, citing low demand, but could be ordered. But dozens said their store did not carry the drug. Several locations on the list, which was last updated in January, had nonworking numbers.
There was also widespread confusion among pharmacy workers about dispensing protocol, including whose insurance should cover the drug. Visits to pharmacies around the city revealed that signs and pamphlets about the drug were rare.
In at least one case, confusion over prescription requirements has had serious consequences.
This winter, a man overdosed outside a Rite Aid on Richmond Avenue on Staten Island. “A man ran in. He started screaming, ‘Someone give me Narcan!’ ” said a customer named Lisa, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “They said, ‘We can’t give it to you without a prescription.’ He said, ‘There’s a guy dying in the parking lot!’ They said they were not allowed.”
Lisa went outside and waited for an ambulance with other bystanders. “The guy was totally lifeless. He was just lying there,” she said. Workers at Rite Aid confirmed the episode.
For residents who followed the Dodgers, the scents recalled childhood days at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and for Giants baseball fans, they brought back afternoons at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, in the days before both teams decamped for the West Coast.
The kiosk features six ballpark scents — hot dogs, popcorn, beer, grass, cola and the mitt — in separate push-button dispensers installed at a height accessible to residents in wheelchairs.
It was recently installed in the permanent “Yankees Dugout” exhibition of team memorabilia at the nursing home, which includes seats, a turnstile and a locker from the old Yankee Stadium.
The olfactory exhibit, called “Scents of the Game,” is meant to evoke long-forgotten memories from the home’s 785 residents, many of whom have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Many have difficulty with short-term memories but with some prompting can summon long-term ones, such as detailed recollections of childhood visits to ballparks decades ago, said Mary Farkas, director of therapeutic arts and enrichment programs at the Hebrew Home, where baseball has also been used in art therapy and poetry workshops.
Prompting these ballpark memories helps connect many residents with the joy they felt at the time and also helps stimulate their cognition, Mrs. Farkas said.
Dr. Mark W. Albers, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who studies the effect of scent on patients with neurodegenerative disease, said the Hebrew Home’s memory exhibit touches on fairly new territory in sensory therapy in trying to resurrect positive recollections in a small population of patients who share certain common memories.
Memory loss in older patients can often cause “an erosion of familiarity” and be accompanied by feelings of disorientation, he said. Unearthing pleasant memories from earlier years through sensory stimulation may help patients feel more stable, Dr. Albers said.
Continue reading the main story
Of course, he added, memories of Yankee Stadium might bring back very different emotions for fans like him, who root for the Boston Red Sox.
For Renee Babenzien, 89, the hot dog aroma triggered recollections of vendors selling franks with mustard and sauerkraut.
“The way they smelled at the game,” she said, “you couldn’t help but stop the guy walking up the aisle selling hot dogs.”
Al Cappiello, 68, smelled the fragrances and recalled the sensory explosion he experienced the first time he walked into Yankee Stadium as a boy.
“I couldn’t believe the colors,” he recalled. “The green grass, the brown dirt of the infield — man, I was in heaven.”
Up until then, he said, watching the Yankees meant watching games on a black-and-white television set, with the action being called by Mel Allen, the Yankees broadcaster.
And so, during his first time at the stadium, Mr. Cappiello recalled, “I told my brother, ‘I don’t hear Mel Allen,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s only on TV.’”
He did see Yogi Berra, tossing a ball with teammate Johnny Blanchard, and he managed to get Berra’s autograph.
Continue reading the main story
Ms. Youner also recalled being surprised by how different the ballpark seemed in person.
“The first time I walked into the ballpark, I noticed that everything was bigger — even the basepaths were so much wider,” she said.
For Terry Gioffere, 90, who grew up in the Bronx, the smells evoked memories of watching her hero, Roger Maris — although in more recent decades she became a Derek Jeter disciple.
For Joan Jackson, 84, the smells took her back to her first trip to Yankee Stadium, at age 6, but also reminded her of the role that the stadium played in helping her raise five children in the Bronx after her husband died in 1973.
“I had to do something to lift the kids up, so I said, ‘Let’s do something fun and go to Yankee Stadium,’” she recalled. “The kids fell in love with baseball,” she said, and going to games helped hold the family together.
Even Joe Pepitone, a star for the Yankees in the 1960s who spoke at the kiosk’s recent unveiling, said the smells reminded him of playing in Yankee Stadium as a rookie first baseman in 1962.
He had anticipated that the stadium would smell like hot dogs and sauerkraut, he said, “and sure enough, there was that smell of the ballpark, and you could smell it all over.”
For Frances Freeman, who grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Dodgers, the kiosk’s beer smell did provoke a reaction. The 103-year-old woman steered her wheelchair to the beverage table and grabbed a beer.
Since scent and memory are intimately linked, using the smells of the ballpark presented “a chance to reach the residents in a special way, as a tool to unlock doors in their memories,” said David V. Pomeranz, the Hebrew Home’s chief operating officer.
Continue reading the main story
Mr. Pomeranz said the kiosk idea grew out of a discussion he had with Andreas Fibig, chief executive of International Flavors and Fragrances, a Manhattan-based company that creates scents for perfumes and other products, as well as flavors for food and beverages.
The company did not have to venture to any ballpark to capture the smells — its perfumers created them from the firm’s vast catalog of fragrances, said Matthias Tabert, the company’s senior manager for strategic insights.
Scents are especially powerful in stirring memories because they register with the brain in a more direct and primal way than other senses, Mr. Tabert said. “So when you smell something, it triggers memories almost instantaneously and serves almost like time travel, to bring you back to a seminal moment.”
Some ballpark staples did not make it into the array of scents, such as peanuts and Cracker Jack. Though both could be developed as fragrances with no traces of real peanuts, the home decided against it to avoid alarming people with peanut allergies, Mr. Pomeranz said.
For Al Schwartz, 91, the scent kiosk reminded him of first visiting Yankee Stadium in the late 1930s, when 60 cents could buy a seat in the bleachers and $1.10 a seat in the grandstand.
Mr. Schwartz said the smells reminded him of the joy of watching Joe DiMaggio snare a fly ball and the sadness of learning in 1979 that Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had died in an airplane crash.
Mr. Schwartz said he attended at least two monumental events at Yankee Stadium. His aunt took him on July 4, 1939, when Lou Gehrig announced his retirement because of a terminal disease and called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Mr. Schwartz also recalled a 1942 charity exhibition in which Babe Ruth made a post-retirement appearance and struggled to hit a home run against the great pitcher Walter Johnson in front of 70,000 fans.
“The crowd kept on him, and he finally hit it out of the park, to right field,” he recalled. “The best part was seeing him run around the bases, that way he used to.”