Monday, December 1, 2008

In Memory of Steven B. Tamarin MD - a Great Physician and a Great Friend

I am deeply saddened to relay to you news of the death of Steven B Tamarin MD, a personal friend, a great physician and one of the founders of Family Medicine in New York City. Steve died unexpectedly in his sleep while visiting his cousin in Massachusetts. His loss is a tragedy for all who knew him and loved him as I did. While others sought his advice as their physician, I was the beneficiary of decades of close friendship with this incredible person. Steve could sit quietly and with uncanny attentiveness when you broached him with a personal problem as a friend. His listening skills were impeccable. Yet he spoke out vociferously about issues that moved him.

Steve was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, an ardent supporter of the Tipitapa project in Nicaragua where he visited and worked many times over the years – as well as being one of the smartest and most dedicated physicians I have ever met. He read medical journals like they were novels that he couldn’t put down – enthralled at every new study that provided insight into the workings of the human body in health and disease. One could not spend even a single dinner with Steve without him being called on his cell phone by his patients – many of whom he had cared for over decades. His patients adored him and many travelled great distances to see him after moving away from the Upper West Side where he practiced. Steve always ran late and appointments meant little to him. He was dedicated to enjoying every patient encounter himself and gave his patients whatever time they needed to share their concerns with him.


Over a decade ago Steve became a member of the Institute for Family Health's Board of Directors and as the only physician on our Board, was depended upon to challenge our clinical protocols when needed and provide advice on issues of medical controversy. He was also a past president of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians – a position he held with distinction and one of which he was most proud. He continued to be involved in the Academy on a local level, bringing politically important issues to the forefront at all times.


Steve's own spirit was sustained by music. I was often the beneficiary of his incredible music collection as he burned compilations of his favorite blues songs for me on CDs and would share his eclectic musical selections proudly. While we were both on the Board of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians we took dozens of trips by car to Binghampton NY where their headquarters was located and braved many a snowstorm together across Route 17. We both loved those trips, brought CDs from our collections and sang out loud half way across NY State. I am sure that all who were close to him have their own stories of settings where Steve was so outwardly exuberant that an unknowing observer would think him insane.


One special evening he invited me to hear a particular Cuban pianist about whom Steve had encyclopedic knowledge and about whom I knew nothing. We went to a very classy jazz club somewhere in Manhattan where people were dressed to kill and where the staff were dressed in tuxedos. We were seated a few rows from the piano which was lit romantically and the crowd applauded enthusiastically after a long wait when the performer entered the spotlight. Steve could hardly contain his enthusiasm. As the first number began the crowd fell silent. Not 30 seconds into the first piece Steve could no longer contain himself. He was so excited he jumped out of his seat, threw his arms in the air and yelled "you go man! - play that thing!" While the crowd was appalled, the pianist nodded his head and smiled at Steve - obviously flattered and embarrassed. I recovered a few minutes later and crawled out from under the table.


I can't get the picture of Steve skiing out of my mind. We spent many a winter weekend at his parent's home in the Berkshires where we would sneak away to Brody Mountain during the day to ski. Steve had the best snowplow I had ever seen. Not to be mistaken for a real skier he always wore a long winter coat that went down to his knees and would snowplow down the steepest slopes at breathtaking speed his arm waving his ski poles wildly in the air and often yelling enthusiastically about what a fantastic day it was. In the evenings we would sit by his parent's twenty foot high fireplace in their Berkshire get-away and play guitar together - or debate the implications of the latest medical findings. It is time that I will always cherish.

Steve was one of the first of the new generation of Family Physicians in Manhattan. Along with the late John Falencki, they forged the path that many of us followed. We are forever indebted to them for their foresight and courage.

Steve will be sorely missed by his family, his patients, his friends and his colleagues. Whenever we parted - whether I was driving him home from a Board meeting or after spending the New Years weekend we would hug. Either he or I would say "I love you, man." and the other would reply, "I love you too." Life doesn't bring us many friends like that.

I am heartbroken to lose him.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was Steve's patient. I am also heartbroken to lose him.

Micki McGee said...

That is really beautiful. I was redirected here from the other blog post about Steve. Wow. Amazing person. I am so glad you had these times with him and sorry that he is gone.

Rory Sellers said...

Anyone who knew Steve knew how many lives he touched. Someone started a blog a couple of days ago (http://autismsedges.blogspot.com/2008/12/autumn-of-eulogies-steven-tamarin-md.html
) and there are dozens of stories there.

Thank you, Dr. Calman, for yours. I really didn't know Steve as a doctor. We (my future wife and I) met Steve forty-two years ago, in undergraduate school and have been friends ever since -- especially since the birth of Pablo, his young son, who already shows some of the magic that possessed his dad.

My stories are varied and spread out over many years. Visiting him in Mexico or New York, hosting him in Carmel or Santa Fe, and, I had always figured, eventually here in Maine.

We had six weeks winter break back at that old midwestern undergraduate school, and Steve invited a bunch of his crazy friends to descend on his family on the Upper West Side -- and we did! His parents possessed the same magic. His mom cooked for us. We slept on the floors.

He took me to the Apollo. I'll never forget that Wilson Pickett concert, because for some reason Pickett started riding somebody in the audience who was shouting out requests. The audience (about 99% black plus Steve and I -- this was about 1967) was stunned when Pickett suddenly said "Hey, I don't come on to your job, and tell you what to do with your typewriter, or YOUR BROOM!" The audience gasped, and Wilson Pickett stalked off the stage, not to return that night. It was crazy. But to this day, I can't hear Wilson Picket saying those words, but I can hear Steve saying them, as he must have told that story in my presence, with relish, dozen of times over the years.

I remember his sudden passion for this great drink. On a visit to New York, staying at his apartment, he picked me up in a friend's car, then had the friend stop on the way home to pick up a six-pack of Ginseng-Up (Orange) -- like 7-Up but way different. It was all he talked about on the ride home! To this day I am still addicted to it.

Another story involved taking me to the opening of some crazy fusion restaurant in Brooklyn some friends of his had opened. It was wild. Everything about Steve was just alive. Yet amid the chaos that was often present, there was a calmness and a focus. In over 40 years, I know it must have happened, but I never saw Steve be petty, or sarcastic, or really, anything but just an incredibly beautiful person -- the true meaning of the word inspiration. I know this sort of thing is common to say about one who has recently passed on, but with Steve, everything that everybody has said is just simply true.

Steve had invited one of my daughters (who was then at Columbia and is now in medical school -- certainly inspired by Dr. Tamarin) a few years ago to his parents' place in the Berkshires for Thanksgiving, and every year after that I tried to wangle a way that we (my wife and I) could spend time together in that peaceful setting with Steve, away from the hustle and bustle of the city (we'd be coming down from Maine). It just never happened. Then about 2 months ago I called him, in the evening.

Uncharacteristically, he was not with a patient, and he agreed to come out the next weekend. I told him I would be calling him every other day to make sure he didn't change his mind. And then, damnit if something didn't come up with MY family. I couldn't believe it when I had to call and cancel.

So about a month later Steve called and invited us down again, this time for Thanksgiving. But because of the same family issues, I had to decline. And then two days after Thanksgiving, he is gone. Ah me. Ah me.

Brian J. Herschorn, M.D. said...

Steve was a friend, a colleague and representative of the best of my profession. Often, he would ask me to see an uninsured patient that he was not charging. I knew that for each one about whom he called, there were countless others that he was treating with the same selfless dedication to his ideals. Steve made doing the same easy.

Laurie Wiegler said...

I am still crying from this heartbreaking news. I loved Dr. Tamarin so much. I even took a picture of his office of me in front of a Dizzie Gillespie poster years ago.

I am crushed. I have so many stories to tell. Dr. Tamarin talked to me like a friend, and remembered everything he was ever told. I just thought of him yesterday! I just thought, 'Does anyone look after Dr. Tamarin's health? He must be getting older, but I have never asked about HIM..."

He was so busy taking care of us.

I am deeply saddened, but even sadder for your and his family's loss.

stacy1961 said...

Dr. Tamarin has been a rock for me since I met him in February 1988. I have no idea why he put up with my weirdness, but he did. When I began suffering from panic attacks and insomnia, in my ridiculous denial strategy, I doubt I'd slept 8 hours in 6 months! He listened, looked at me calmly and said "Knowing you like I do, you probably think this is some character flaw you should have 'gotten over' by now." Which, of course, was exactly what I did think!
When I was getting my prescriptions filled prior to a trip home to Oregon 2 years ago, Dr. Tamarin, knowing my wacko family, he asked if I'd like him to "write you a note saying you've been hit by a bus and can't attend?"
God, how he used to make me laugh!
My last visit was late February, just before I was headed home to care for my Mother, who was ill. We were sitting in his office, showing each other different hilarious websites and YouTube videos until the nurses scolded him back to work.
He treated me with or without insurance, according to what I could pay. Or, not.
Thjere will never be another like him.
Stacy L. Smith

Laurie Wiegler said...

Dr. Calman, if you ever think a book would be in order, please contact me and I'd be happy to pitch it in New York. I was just a patient. I seemed to love and revere Dr. Tamarin as if he was my dear friend, so I can only imagine what a real friend such as yourself must be feeling.

If not I, then someone needs to document all the work Dr Tamarin did over the years, and continue the good fight.

I can be reached at ctwriterlw@aol.com.

The tears are still coming, but I am finding strength in my memories, as I did many years back when my grandmother died. It's amazing that Dr T's death is hitting me just as hard.

I applied some medication for exema on my elbow today. How silly of me to relish using the last prescription from my beloved Dr. Tamarin.

Who do I tell when the rash is finally gone? Who is there to jump for joy when I tell him, as occurred today, that after lo these many years I was accepted to grad school in England?

I'd love to turn my sadness and others into something useful - a book, a memorial, a fund of some sort. In the first capacity, as a journalist and writer, I would be of the most use.

Pls take care.

Laurie

Shelly Callender said...

I feel very fortunate to have been one of his patients. He was truly a great man.

Laurie Wiegler said...

Prior to my recent trip to the Bay Area, still mourning the loss of Dr. T, he appeared in my mind's eye in that state just before sleep. He was smiling, white hair, beard, healthy looking, chubbier as he'd been a few years back. He was standing at a table in a restaurant I knew was familiar to me, but I could not place it.

When I got to Sausalito, I told my mom about this vision. She said that must have been a place in San Francisco (I told her it was a restaurant we'd gone to with a friend, Sibley).

Well, I was due to meet an old friend in Berkeley, someone I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years. I suggested we meet at Peet's coffee, then she said Starbucks. But when she had to bring her young children along, she asked if we could meet at the Cactus Taqueria on Solano Avenue. I said sure.

As Mom and I were driving by, looking for a parking spot, I shrieked: "Mom! that's the place, the place I saw in my vision about Dr. Tamarin."

It was eery. I had only gone there through sheer happenstance because my friend Anna had requested it.

While at the restaurant, I told Anna about this experience and she agreed, there must be something there for me to experience. As it turns out, Anna and I reignited a 28-years' dormant friendship that I hope will now last a lifetime. We discussed many things that have been painful for both of us in our lives, but more importantly, recaptured some of that impetuousness and joie de vivre we lost since age 19.

...
Two nights ago, I woke up after a dream in which Dr. Tamarin was sitting down to eat. He turned to me and said: "Eat healthier foods."

This was significant because I fell down the stairs at my dad's house on Thanksigiving, a few days before he died. I was not only injured terribly, but without Dr Tamarin, didn't see a dr. right away. Then saw a chiropractor and was still dissatisfied. I saw an emergency room dr and felt more hopeful, before calling Dr. Esposito's office for a late Jan appt.

I think as I was going to sleep, sad that I'd lost the quarterback for my health, I thought of him. He appeared to me in that dream, and I believe his spirit is still watching over me.

I hope others have similar experiences, for he truly was an angel.

David Antoine said...

About 21 years ago I signed up for US Health Care at my job. The rep came into my office and told me I should check out this wonderful doctor named Tamarin. I did and was soooo glad I did. He was more then just my MD he was a friend, a fellow jazz music buff, a fellow suba diver and just a really great person. I can only echo all the wonderful things others have said about him. He will surely be missed in this life. He has made his transition. He fell asleep only to wake in a better place. Thank you Steve for sharing with us in this life.

David Antoine & Family

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the stories about Steve, or Dr. Tamarin as I knew him. I was one of his patients, and I was shocked and devastated to find out about his sudden passing. I will miss him very very much. I know sometimes people get annoyed when their doctor runs late, but I never minded waiting for him, because when he came into the room, his attention was all mine, and he would just sit and talk to me about life, politics - he would tell me jokes and look funny things up on the internet for me. I can't believe I won't see him any more, and I didn't know him as well as many of you did. I know he'll be missed by many - and I can only be grateful to have him be part of my life for as long as he was.

Madeline Rogers said...

Alas, I knew Steven Tamarin, as his patient, for just a very brief time, yet I recognized from our first meeting that he was incredibly special. He was willing to admit that there were things he didn't know. He was willing to listen and to share information -- as my equal, not as an omniscient or omnipotent human being. He loved music and food, which I learned from our conversations and from observing the pictures in the office -- always a good sign. After only 4 visits with him, I was shaken to the core by news of his sudden death. I still miss him and know the care like his is irreplaceable. It is a testament to his deep humanity and willingness to deal with me as a real person that even though I prize punctuality, I never minded waiting to see him. And because of the time he took with each patient, the waits could be long! On my last visit with him, there was a young medical student observing our interaction. I asked, jokingly, whether she was there to learn time-management skills. He laughed along with me. He was the rare one among us -- of any profession -- who embodied the Talmudic adage "He who saves a life saves the world entire."

Madeline Rogers said...

Alas, I knew Steven Tamarin, as his patient, for just a very brief time, yet I recognized from our first meeting that he was incredibly special. He was willing to admit that there were things he didn't know. He was willing to listen and to share information -- as my equal, not as an omniscient or omnipotent human being. He loved music and food, which I learned from our conversations and from observing the pictures in the office -- always a good sign. After only 4 visits with him, I was shaken to the core by news of his sudden death. I still miss him and know the care like his is irreplaceable. It is a testament to his deep humanity and willingness to deal with me as a real person that even though I prize punctuality, I never minded waiting to see him. And because of the time he took with each patient, the waits could be long! On my last visit with him, there was a young medical student observing our interaction. I asked, jokingly, whether she was there to learn time-management skills. He laughed along with me. He was the rare one among us -- of any profession -- who embodied the Talmudic adage "He who saves a life saves the world entire."

Laurie Wiegler said...

I was very touched by your post, Madeline. That sounds like Dr. T. I remember all the many medical students who came in during our visits over the years. Dr. T was always so patient with them, so fatherly and yet full of so much fun.

Anonymous said...

I am very behind on the news; however, I too was a patient in his practice and find myself saddened by the news of his death. Dr. Tamarin was a very pleasant, patient, understanding man. His knowledge in the profession saved my life -- prompting me to have a sonogram on my leg after a surgery. Turns out I had a blood clot in my leg.

In my life I have never felt so comfortable in a doctor's office as I have in his practice. This is a huge loss and an even greater loss for those who knew him on a more personal level.

May your family be eternally blessed with your spirit Dr. Tamarin.

Laurie Wiegler said...

I am putting together a slide show set to music just to share online with those of us who are still grieving the late Steven B. Tamarin - friends, former patients, family. I was in New York yesterday and found myself standing outside his old office, just staring at the empty space where his plaque stood for so many years. "May I help you?" the doorman asked. "Oh, do you, did you know Dr. Tamarin?" "Know him? He was my doctor for 19 yrs."
He shared incredible stories with me, bowling me over once again with how kind, generous and selfless this man was.

In honor of the one-year anniversary of his passing, I am asking anyone who cares, who has a pic to share, to send the JPEG or similar to me at: lauriewiegler@gmail.com

Note: I am not a professional filmmaker. This is nothing like that. Just something personal for like I said, those of us still grieving.

Laurie Wiegler said...

Hi, my computer crashed so the slide show will be delayed. Feel free to send me your e-mail addresses, though, and I can't thank Helene enough for the pics of Dr Tamarin. Today marks 1 yr since he passed. I even wondered if in his inifinite wisdom, he thought with my bad back and elbow I needed a break from the computer.

I look forward to making the show when I can get to it. Gives us more time to get pics together.

We love you, Dr T....

Anonymous said...

Dr. T was incredible. He was funny, looked you in the eyes, cared about you, and was what doctors should be. I miss him as my personal doctor, as well as what he brought to the medical community in NYC.

Anonymous said...

I was Dr Tamarin's patient for 12 long years together with my kids. I always felt comfortable with him on my many visits. He would talk about jazz music and we would laugh at jokes he told. He was such a gentle spirit and he was loved.

When I was relocating to Georgia in 2005, he made sure we had our flu shots before moving. I loved his sweet smile and quiet way about him. When I came back to NJ in 2007 I wanted to continue having him as my Physician. Imagine the shock I felt when I called to make an appointment long after and was told of his passing. Words cannot describe the sadness that have stayed with me since then. I love you Dr Tamarin!! R.I.P.
Revita Bowen

Laurie Wiegler said...

On the second anniversary of the loss of Dr. Tamarin, I am heartened to read these posts again, especially Dr. Calman's.

These years have been difficult, maneuvering the medical field like a guppy in a shark tank. Most doctors don't give a rat's patootie if you need an extra five minutes to explain that mysterious bump on your left leg or the scratch that won't go away or just the fact that you still jump when you see a big man who looks like the guy who attacked you in 2007.

No one, in short, is my Dr. Tamarin. Can I be selfish for a moment? For in his office, as we all knew, he belonged solely to us. As Dr. Calman pointed out, Dr. Tamarin's listening skills were impeccable and God knows, I usually gave him an earful.

Someone two years ago said it best - let us all take a little bit of Dr. T and incorporate that into our lives and ourselves as we live on.

I think of him nearly every day.

Peace to all who knew and loved him.

-Laurie

Laurie Wiegler said...

On the second anniversary of the loss of Dr. Tamarin, I am heartened to read these posts again, especially Dr. Calman's.

These years have been difficult, maneuvering the medical field like a guppy in a shark tank. Most doctors don't give a rat's patootie if you need an extra five minutes to explain that mysterious bump on your left leg or the scratch that won't go away or just the fact that you still jump when you see a big man who looks like the guy who attacked you in 2007.

No one, in short, is my Dr. Tamarin. Can I be selfish for a moment? For in his office, as we all knew, he belonged solely to us. As Dr. Calman pointed out, Dr. Tamarin's listening skills were impeccable and God knows, I usually gave him an earful.

Someone two years ago said it best - let us all take a little bit of Dr. T and incorporate that into our lives and ourselves as we live on.

I think of him nearly every day.

Peace to all who knew and loved him.

-Laurie