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.