Paul Nussbaum and Connie Evans

Recorded May 28, 2009 Archived May 28, 2009 41:43 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: DDB000452


Connie Evans (48) interviews coworker Dr. Paul Nussbaum (62) about his parents’ immigration from Poland, growing up Orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn, becoming a doctor, and raising a family.

Subject Log / Time Code

- Paul born in Germany in a displaced persons camp after WWII. Parents went from Poland to Germany to the US.
- When Paul decided to become a doctor as a child.
- Paul and his wife were high school sweethearts.
- Becoming a parent and how it changed him.
- Coming to Griffin Hospital and how the institution has grown over the last 30 years.
- Lessons Paul would like to pass on to his grandchildren.


  • Paul Nussbaum
  • Connie Evans

Recording Location

Griffin Hospital

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:03 My name is Connie Evans. I'm 48 years old. Today's date is May 28th 2009. We are at Griffin Hospital in the Center for Cancer Care and I'm interviewing Paul Nussbaum, who is my colleague here at Griffin.

00:19 Hi, my name is Paul Nussbaum. I didn't know I was going to have to tell my age but I'm 62 today is May 28th 2009. We here at the Griffin Hospital Center for Cancer Care and I'm with Connie Evans who is a colleague and co-worker at the institution.

00:42 Doctor Nussbaum. I want to learn about your early life. So tell me when and where you were born.

00:50 I was born in a

00:54 In a displaced persons Camp outside of Munich Germany in 1947 about 2 years after the war ended.

01:05 Tell me about the why were you there? I was there because I chose to be where my mother was at the time. My parents were polish Jews who survived the Holocaust and when they were trying to make their way back to Poland they found that they had nothing left in terms of property in family. So they are joined the stream of refugees at that time heading to either the states or to Israel and they were at this refugee camp about two years actually for 3 or 4 years now that I think of it and I was born there and I came to this day we came to the states at two years later in 1949. I have no memory of it. I do have my birth certificate, but I have no memory of the

02:03 Of that time that's a remarkable story and we could spend this entire interview just on that but during the war may I ask what happened to them during the war where they they they were fortunate enough to if you want to call that to be when Poland was partitioned between Germany and Russia. They were on the Russian side and I spent the war in the labor camps as opposed to extermination camps, right which were Tough Enough by the descriptions that my father gave me. My mother didn't talk about it much but my father did I also had have an older sister who was at the time.

02:48 You know young girl by was that was before I was born.

02:54 And did they meet at the camp? Were they married before they were married before? Okay parents were married in the 1920s. My parents were older. My father was born in 1902 when I was born. He was already 45 years old and your sister. She she stirs is is here. Yeah. Yeah, she came along 71 now, but the still running a business at microwave type company that she and her husband ran together. They were sort of had a mom and pop business and that he passed away a couple years back.

03:49 But she has continued to do that and Sherpa training is as a mathematician. She she has she never got her PhD, but she had a masters in mathematics.

04:01 So they they your parents came to the United States and did they have a choice of where to go United States or Israel or I think whatever whatever the the the Visa situation was at that time. The US one came through first. My father had a sister who was a farmer and Israel and a brother who had a business and a New York and the New York thing came through first Ashley. We lived in Connecticut initially with cousins of my of my mother and

04:42 When my father was able to get a job with live with them for about six months. I think I'm on my father was able to get a job in the city and New York City. We moved to Brooklyn and what did you what did your parents do when they came and got settled sort of a sad story because my my dad was my my parents were quite well-to-do in and calling my father and his father owned a masonry business and they did quite well, they were solid middle-class type people but they lost everything and my father didn't speak any English when they came here had no

05:21 Way of using those skills or at least he wasn't and he was like I said, he was older and he ended up working in a grocery store before until he retired at the at around 60th. And your mom. My mom was a homemaker my dad live to be so he died at the age of 70. So I was about the 25 at that time. That was a real lost for me. My mom. She lived to be 90 to Sochi. Did she did quite well, what were they like tell me about them as people and they were my for my father was a funny man. He he could the

06:13 I know he could make you crack up just by the way. He would the other glint in his eye before he told a joke or tell the story with that would make you laugh even before you heard the end of it and my mom was just a very well-liked everyone loved my mom. She was a very well-liked sweet lady who and did whatever needed to be done unless she called she had a nickname she told me when she was in Europe the song at the end of the

06:44 The they called of the soldier because she said she was able to rise to whatever occasion she just plowed through whatever she needs to get every challenge. If you think about yourself and your sister mathematician and position is are there certain traits from your mom your dad that you think you got that might, you know, we not might not have known because he was in the grocery business and she was a homemaker. I want you know, I think we had a fairly tight family by that. I mean we had

07:19 Bad answer Knuckles. My father was one of nine although only for survived. But those were around us in in our general area in Brooklyn way. I had two on one that lived in the same building my father's sister and you know education and doing well in school and was was considered a you know, what must I never felt that my parents.

07:51 Pressured me directly, but I'm sure in retrospect that there was always that expectation that was there. You know, I didn't always have the best report cards in my I didn't get beat up about it. But but I knew when I disappointed them and they had faith in you they know cuz I remember in a lot of people don't know what they're going to do or early in life. But I knew I wanted to be a physician when I would go with my mom to to the doctor whether it was for her for me and if I was tagging along or whether it was for me was very cognizant of know all the people that were there waiting for this one person to see them into to help them and very aware of other respect. My mother had for you are particular physician and how she's always talk so highly of him and the somewhere in there right I said,

08:51 Myself that that's what I want to do so I can I Knew by the time I was in high school. I already knew that I wanted to be a doctor. That's really great. What is your best memory of childhood?

09:06 Oh, I guess some.

09:11 And I grew up with with my my cousins and a couple of friends and we were pretty close. I went numb my my best memories really. I think we're of of playing sports, you know Wicked Weed we fashioned our own games. We didn't have we didn't there was no if there was little league. We didn't know about it if there was a you know team football we didn't know about what we did was we can do we played our own type of baseball in her own type of football in the streets and Stewball and box ball and Chinese box ball and all sorts of games that you sort of.

09:59 That were part of no City Life in Brooklyn and

10:04 I as opposed to a lot of people that I've spoken to over the years. I would have to say that I had a happy childhood that I remember it being full of the that kind of Joyful activity at the same time. I also remember always feeling that we we did not have resources my parents didn't we didn't ever had a car. I was the first one in the family that ever had a car. So that was both good and bad. I kind of compared to a lot of other people in our community. I felt that we were sort of one of the poor families. I didn't get a bicycle until I was maybe 11 or 12 years old and that was only after you know, I'm pestering my parents forever about that. And so I did that part of my child that I remember is being painful in that is that I always felt that compared to friends.

11:04 And others that had that we're not immigrants but that were you know, established American families that we did not have the resources are there other people like yourself though children of immigrants before where they part of your circle on my cousin's my

11:29 I am I one cousin who was a very successful ophthalmologist in Brooklyn and a fundraiser for his community. I have a cousin who was the director of the national Holocaust museum in Washington DC has his name is professor at the George Washington and I he live downstairs. He's three years older than I am and I followed him through school. And it's one of the most amazing museums I've ever been transformative director for several years and

12:11 Before he he moved on to to the his current position as a professor at the George Washington and you don't like my my cousins are remarkable people. I have my other aunts. My father's other sister her one of her daughters was involved in an accident while I'm out of the country where she became paraplegic and managed to raise, you know, three just wonderful children and has been a again now, they live in New Jersey and she has been honored many times. She and her husband is being up in all colors of their communities and this is a woman who could have just as easily thrown up her hands and and giving up absolutely this is happening all of these wonderful successful, you know in their own way family.

13:11 Members if if you had to distill, you know the essence of what your family not just your parents that your aunt and uncle what did they do? So right that that led you all to

13:24 About what that might be again. I think you know.

13:30 Education was an important underpinning for all of us, you know, making something of yourself making your parents and your family proud and

13:45 You know staying staying true to your family ideals. I think those were important parts of our upbringing we never thought otherwise how we did all of the major holidays the Jewish holidays and other is Wii and Wii U know we shared the Orthodox. I am now my parents my all my cousins are Orthodox. We're probably the the my wife and I are in some sense turned out to be the black sheep, because we we left the fold but even so we've you know, we have very good relations with our with our family members. My sister is still on thin ice machine I get along quite well.

14:36 That's great effect that the yo, we haven't practiced in 30-40 years. I'm just curious if I was with the understanding of a gradual. I suppose understanding from childhood on up of what your parents went through with that part. Was it a pressure on you at all or did you feel my parents have been through so much. I really have to I have to show them that I think that would I think some of my cousins felt that more than I did. I I say that I kind of say that as one of my regrets, I don't think I was as sensitive at the time at least if I I wasn't aware of it, I think as I got older

15:22 Especially after my father died. I was much more aware of some of the things that I did not allow myself to to feel or be in touch with at that time as I was growing up, but

15:38 You know, I I I knew that they had had real hardships but didn't really understand that until I was an adult I should have but I didn't and you know to think about what would it be like for me and in my forties to be have to go to another country where I don't speak a syllable of the language and start all over again with children in tow and I don't know how these people were able to do that.

16:08 Did you speak Russian or polish growing up know my my first language was actually Yiddish. I was right. I was trying to still speak I can speak although not as fluently as I did when I was younger cuz I don't have anyone speaker with my wife doesn't speak Yiddish and diagnose my children don't but that was my first language and button if my parents wanted to talk to each other without me understanding they spoke polish and they could Facebook a little German but not very much. Can you say something to me in Yiddish know maybe by the end?

16:56 I don't like we only have a little bit limited amount of time. I want to make sure that I get a lot of these things tell me about your wife and how you met.

17:03 My wife was the best friend of a girl. I was going out with in high school and has that relationship cooled off for the relationship with my wife's that my future wife started to heat up and we were high school sweethearts and in a week when she's a year younger than I only went through college together and we got married young a lot the time it was fairly commonplace least among the culture that I was in I was 22 when we got married you was 21 and I was a first-year medical student at the time and she completely straightened out my life. I was up in and I went to school in Syracuse for medical school, and she

17:58 My first couple of months there it was as if I was a street person. That's what my apartment look like then and then she came in and just organize my life for me. I just told me and my the apartment I mean you just everything seemed to make sense after that then you know, she then she's been that way ever since his you know, just so amazing woman. She's an artist who I am absolutely convinced is the unique talent or paintings are

18:37 Exceptional on people that have seen them at the few shows that she's had have always commented on how you know, they could easily Envision her work in a much bigger venue, but neither She nor I have ever quite known how to Market her and so she's remained. You know, what more of a local artist than I think she wants to be. She would like to shelter Works in in Fabric and does some amazing things with with fabric. She's very talented person. Great. Let's talk about your your your children. When did you first find out that you would be a parent? And how did you feel?

19:27 I guess so. Well, I was in I was in medical school. My daughter Amy was born the month that I graduated from medical school and I have to say I might my son is is 17 1/2 years to the day younger than younger than she is. He was pouring out later.

19:54 Well 7 a.m. She was born on May 1st. He was born on November 1st. I was just turned out to be 17 and a half and

20:03 She she came out a screaming redhead and I'll always remember that my in my

20:13 My wife did natural labor at that time, which should she didn't do again?

20:22 It was just a hangout transforming moment. I mean that if you know a typical question that people ask in interviews is what what's your most ecstatic moment in life. It has to be the birth of my children. I was there for both of them in.

20:37 When my son was born I could barely breathe. That's how ecstatic I was. Not not that his birth was any more wonderful than my daughters, but I was an older parent at that point in time and you're just in a different place. How is being a parent changed you?

21:04 Well, especially being an older parent. I would say a lot of Advil and Bengay.

21:15 You know you do everything for your for your children, I think.

21:22 I am not people who haven't had children either by choice or otherwise have a different kind of life and I'm not saying one is better than the other by any means, but because you gave me both gain and lose things when you when you have other is that you're responsible for butt.

21:47 There's a part of it that is actually a frightening and that is that I remember when my daughter was getting older. She was a

21:58 On adolescence and I was beginning to and she was trying to drive and I was beginning to feel Freer in terms of my own responsibilities to her and to myself I end and then Zach came along and suddenly I had to think about getting on an airplane again is to

22:20 Not just my own mortality, but what that would mean for my my youngster it is it's like innocence like being hostage but far outweighed by you know, all the joys that they that they bring to your life. And for for Amy was everything she did was joyful and and Zach the sports was a big part of his upbringing and I are going to love going to his games as busy as I was. I was somehow managed.

22:56 To get to most of his games which was amazed him and amaze me up like that. It was a priority for me. And what do they both do now?

23:07 Amy is a internist. She's a physician she lives in Palo Alto California. She's married to John who is a professor of Economics at Stanford and they have two kids and they have a little girl Madeline and a little boy Benjamin. Do they have a third on the way, which will I do when I just a few weeks Zachary is a

23:37 Just finished his first year of college at the University of Rochester and that he's interested in economics. He hasn't the absolutely clear his major yet. But that seems to be the direction is going and Zachary is an absolutely amazing guitarist and I play guitar since I was a teenager, but that he blew by me years ago. He he if he wanted to he could probably make music a career, but I'm not sure that that's something he wants to do.

24:20 Do you have any favorite stories about either one of them?

24:26 Favorite stories. I remember Amy when she was.

24:31 When she was at the she went to Hopkins for which is a prep tech school in New Haven, Connecticut. And when is she was playing field hockey and she wanted me to come to one of her games? And at the time I was at chair of medicine here at the Griffin hospital and I was we had a medical executive committee meeting that day at around the time that her game was scheduled and I said that I wouldn't be able to go and in the middle of the meeting I get this outside page and it turned out to be a neighbor of ours sad Paul up don't get scared now, but that Amy has apparently been been hit by a hockey stick and

25:16 I can't find a stoner which is my wife. And so I'm calling you and I said, okay, I'll be right there and I went over there and walked into the place where they told me she was and I open the door to this room and the athletic cup Center and there she was sitting in the corner on top of a desk with her t-shirt completely covered with blood holding a ice pack to her nose and her face and I looked at her in my shoulders drooped. I remember when she said to me I told you I get you to come to my game. What are your dreams for your children?

26:10 What do you hope for them?

26:13 Well

26:16 I hope that they can appreciate the good things when when when the times are good.

26:25 And

26:28 You know to borrow something or paraphrase something that I believe Albert Einstein said that that the the important things in life are no truth beauty love and I may be paraphrasing that but I've I've actually told him those things that

26:50 I caught kindness that I think they're both kind kids. They both have soft Hearts, which is both good and bad, but I think for the most part good and I've always tried to

27:10 Make it clear to them that the way they treat others is really the most important thing in life. And I hope that I think if they do that, which I think they will do they will they will get more out of life.

27:30 Let's talk a little bit about your work. You've already sort of told me about how you you know, you always thought you would be a physician and how you got into it. Tell me a little bit about when you came to Griffin if that's a fellowship in Nephrology. Nephrology is the kidney doctor that deals with medical kidney disease dialysis things of that nature. I came to Connecticut in 1978 after I completed three years at the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and I looked all around the Northeast for a place to

28:14 Going to start a practice. I was interested in doing some it and in education as well and the Griffin was unique. It didn't have a nephrologist. It was near yell. A lot of my friends and colleagues that I had worked with in the past had the migrated in that area at into New Haven so I came here and

28:39 At the time I wondered whether was the right move because Griffin did not have a very good reputation of that time. It was a fairly dinky little Hospital. There was nothing that I could point to that would say, this is a great quality place and we spent a good number of years trying to figure out how to change that not just as a perception but as the reality and it's been amazing to me over these past 30 31 years that I've been here how Griffin has evolved into such a a wonderful quality Institution.

29:22 In large part because of a very young Visionary leadership by both are in our current Administration as well as to some extent by the previous administrations and it's now of an institution that is known internationally and that everybody works here. I can be very proud of now and you say you work at Griffin Hospital in a people stopping and you can tell that they look at you with some degree of admiration, which was not the case 30 years ago. It's been a credible journey in that regard when you think of your personal contributions here. What are you most proud of what do you think that you?

30:07 You know, what are the highlights of what you've been able to contribute here?

30:13 That's a tough one. I mean, I've been in the various leadership positions. I felt like I said I have for 10 years. I was that chairman of the Department of Medicine prior to that. I was the chief of nephrology.

30:27 Very involved in the education program for many years and I can present at the medical staff for the last several years. I think what I tried to bring to want to try to bring to all those

30:42 Experiences has been in a sense of

30:48 Fairness a sense of community obligation

30:53 Sense of We're All in This Together and this is not one segment against the other which is very commonplace in the hospital, especially my medical staff and I I think that that really has been my my best contribution and that is I think I've been a voice of in general voice of reason and the

31:18 I have put teamwork as a you know, as a major goal and method of achieving our goals. Are there any particularly challenging cases that you remember and he?

31:39 Anything that really

31:42 Maybe you'll surprise yourself for their memorable for you. Will go there been there been many there.

31:54 There's some lessons that I have learned the hard way as we all do I know I've taught I've been part of my teaching of benecol house staff has been to tell them about the importance of communicating with both the patient and patience family.

32:09 And in particular that if you ever get into an argument with a family member or or a patient that you've you've lost already that whether you're right or wrong on on the facts of the situation if you walk out of that room having fought with with them having major disagreements and having in a raised voices or asset things that are somewhat hurtful or belligerent you never win whether you're right or wrong you've lost and

32:51 And that's an important thing to remember as these things unfold as they always do people are amazing in the in their variability of their temperaments and and their perception of what's going on around them and you're not going to agree with everybody and then I can agree with you and you're supposed to be helping them and taking care of them and you're going to have to somehow learn to

33:18 Adjust your way of dealing with those situations in a way that doesn't alienate the folks. You're trying to help and that isn't always a very easy. I'll give you one example of this is going to sound a little cold hearted, but it isn't in the early years my secretary kept a list of patients.

33:42 That she would not schedule to people on that list for me to see in the office in the same day because they were they were they required a tremendous amount of energy on my part two to deal with them. That's not to say that I didn't get along with them and that he didn't have a positive relationship with them, but they kind of suck the life out of you if you spent a half an hour with them your day was done and

34:16 Where we stopped keeping that whisper just on principle after a while, but it was it that that's what it can be. Like if you get the couple of patients like that and one day you pretty much ties you up for the day in terms of your emotions. I can remember I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but I can remember one of them talking about ecstatic mom in someone's life. One of which they like I said was the birth of my children one of those moments was when one of those patients

34:49 On that list mentioned to me almost in passing that she was moving out of state and I had a feeling of incredible joy and guilt that I felt that Joy at the same time, but it was all I could do not to get up and do a jig and and in the room because she had she had drain me so much for so many years with no frequent phone calls off and asking the same things over and over again in different of verbiage in do I love her very much and

35:31 She was a challenge but when she told me she was moving it was it was difficult not to not to jump for joy, ironically. She came back a bit out here later, but that she did move out west and then come back for at least but that's what they can be like and to say otherwise that you that you know, every patient. You can treat the exact same way as just not realistic.

36:02 Can you tell me just briefly about one of the major events here was the anthrax case just briefly about your role in that the office and the my secretary handed me a note saying that I had a consultation to do in the Intensive Care Unit quote Anthrax on quote. This is what she wrote on the note that I I said to her sure. I'm sure that that's right being convinced that somebody had made this was during the major anthrax scare that we have a couple years ago and after office hours it went over to see the patient and indeed she did have kidney failure which is why I was being asked to see her but she she did have Anthrax and it was one of those isolated cases of a woman locally here in in Oxford who developed AmTrust for reasons. No one as ever.

36:58 Clearly found out but it was a case that insomnia was diagnosed correctly and appropriately and efficiently by one of our infectious disease doctors here at the time, which I was very proud of that she was able to to do that, but that's not that's not a typical for

37:27 Progression we see some some unusual things here.

37:32 I got it. Just tell you of funny story We hard part.

37:38 Doctor at the time. I chief of medicine who stole our chief of medicine here is dr. Kenneth ovular and he was being interviewed National late because of the this was I this was us a case of national importance and at the time our program director in Internal Medicine that dr. Ahmadi was traveling and I believe he was in Japan and he told the story when he got back that he was sitting in his hotel room having a Kirin beer and that is looking up at the TV and there was his chief of medicine on CNN talking in basically Japanese because they were W and the way he told the story was out. He looked down at his beer in and wanted to be sure what he was drinking but it was a it was one of these bizarre moments.

38:38 Set the heat to scribe but that's how I act Lee Griffin has has been International lady involved and as it is with it with its with its model of care the planetree model, which has gained International Love relevance and prominence and of which I know we're all very proud.

39:04 I just have a little bit of time.

39:07 I want to ask you a couple of big questions if I can. What do you think have been the most important lessons that you've learned in life if there was something you wanted to impart a busy. Can you give me that in the multiple-choice kind of a the most important lessons in life?

39:28 Your grandchildren if you were to take to save your grandchildren, this is what I want you to make sure you know.

39:39 I again will say that I think.

39:45 Kindness is a right up at the top. It says it's incredibly important to find the best in others to look at for the best another event to be kind to others because it's the Golden Rule and I and I truly believe in it.

40:01 Being loved and loving somebody is

40:10 Is crucial for it to have a fulfilling life I think and I would want them to to know that but I think it's something most people come to know in time some don't.

40:25 And appreciating beauty in all its forms, whether it's in another person whether it's in nature, whether it's in heart whether it's in anything, I think.

40:45 Is extremely important and makes life worthwhile. It makes life exciting and I'm going along with that is having a sense of wonder which

40:58 I think it is a crucial to to keep your mind alive and and to make it all worthwhile.

41:09 Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you want to make sure that you have a chance to talk about my favorite color? What's your favorite color?

41:24 Is there anything you haven't asked me how I think

41:30 I think we've pretty much covered it all.

41:34 I think there is nothing more to be saying.

41:38 Thank you very much. You're welcome. Thank you.