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Oral Histories and Memoirs

Photo of Dr. NemoitinDr. Jacob Nemoitin

Oral History Interview conducted by Ronald Marcus on 30 December 1962


This transcript is the product of a tape-recorded interview with Doctor Jacob Nemoitin at his office on 30 December 1962. Ronald Marcus interviewed Doctor Nemoitin, whose son Doctor Bernard O. Nemoitin edited the transcript.

Joyce Pendery transcribed the tape and prepared the final copy.

Jacob Nemoitin was born in 1880 in Bialo, Latvia, then a part of Russia. He was tutored at home and worked with a photographer for a year before immigrating to New York with his family in 1896. After receiving his degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, he interned at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where he met his future wife, nurse Frances Einhorn. Dr. Nemoitin began practicing medicine in Stamford in 1906 and continued until his death in January 1963. With his knowledge of Polish, Russian, Yiddish, and Italian, he found a special place working within Stamford's immigrant community. He often treated needy patients for little, if any, of his usual modest fee, as his goal was to help anyone who needed his services. In this interview Dr. Nemoitin recounts many of his experiences during fifty-six years as a Stamford physician.

This oral history is a transcription of the spoken word. The interviewer and narrator sought to preserve the informal, conversational style of such an historical source. The Stamford Historical Society is not responsible for the factual accuracy of the memoir nor for the views expressed by the interviewer or narrator.

© Stamford Historical Society
Photos Courtesy and © Janet Schneider

This transcript may be read, quoted, and cited by students and scholars. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by any means, without permission in writing from the Executive Director of the Stamford Historical Society, 1508 High Ridge Road, Stamford, Connecticut 06903.

The three paintings shown below are by Dr. Nemoitin and part of the holdings of the Stamford Historical Society.

[Side 1 of interview tape]
Marcus: This is the autobiography of Doctor Jacob Nemoitin as he gave it to me, Ronald M. Marcus, for the Stamford Historical Society, on December 30, 1962. Four days later, he died.

Before beginning this tape recording, there are a few things I wish to explain. One, there are many gaps and breaks between the tape. This has not been through editing. You see, the doctor sat down with me and gave me his life, and in between, patients kept arriving. So he had to stop for a moment, treat the patient, then come back, and then he would continue on and another patient would come. This went on throughout the whole day. In addition to this there was lunch as well as morning and afternoon tea. The second point is that in the beginning, the doctor held the microphone away from himself so that you cannot hear him say that he was born in Russia in Bialo, in a country place called Suskie in 1880. And now you will hear, as he gave his life story to me.

Nemoitin: painting - the old countryMy father had a store, a real country store, where they had all kinds of goods including iron supplies for the blacksmith and various things for making clothes and also dyes and tobacco and other items. My father was originally educated to be a rabbi, but he married my mother who was a very pretty woman and was born right in that country place called Suskie. Now stop. [interruption]

I had no opportunity to go to a school, as there was no school nearby so my education consisted of private tutors whom we employed and lived with us. And one such tutor– his name was Mendel Broughoff. He was a graduate of the Riga Gymnasa in Russia. So, he came to us for a considerable pay and he lived with us for over three years. He brought all his books from the gymnasa to us on the farm, and we studied very diligently, almost day and evening excepting intervals where we used to stroll in the woods and in wintertime, go out skating. In that short time I covered the entire course of the Russian gymnasa, which is equal to our high school and possibly one year of college. Then we studied also the Bible in Hebrew which we translated in the Jewish language which is a dialect of German.

Meanwhile, as I grew to be 15 years old, and I had a talent in drawing and had some inclination to art, they decided to have me apprentice with a photographer. Because artists made such a poor living, that they thought photography would be much better for my future. I worked for one year with a photographer in Polotz. That is a town where my father came from, and I stayed with my grandfather.

Alexander III in Russia came on his throne and the first thing he did – let's stop this for awhile. [interruption]

He let out a proclamation that no Jewish people could live on the farms or country places in that area. This was as a precaution against revolutionary ideas, because the Jewish people were all educated while the Russian population was illiterate. We therefore decided to migrate to America because at that time the migration was very popular due to some pogroms that existed in the Ukraine and other places.

We came to a cousin of ours who was here five years before us. As I came to New York, I obtained work in a photograph gallery with a man who started commercial photography. That was on 252 Bowery, the man by the name Harris, who was the originator of photobutton photographs. He eventually made a million in that work, but for him I worked for seven dollars a week and stayed there, and also received a room in which I used for printing the photography and also had breakfast. I worked there for three years, and as I worked there I found out about a New York preparatory school, a school which prepared young men who had other education, to prepare them for college. At that time a high school diploma gotten by regents' examination was considered sufficient entrance for any college. I obtained that by going to the preparatory school at night.

Graduation PhotoWhen I was 19, I entered the Columbia University Medical School, The College of Physicians and Surgeons. [interruption]

The fee in the Medical School was only $100 a year and books which I easily could save up, especially during my vacations because the places where I worked had always a job ready for me. The study at the Medical School was very difficult as I wasn't prepared like medical students are at present, where they take a complete B.A. degree, so naturally I wasn't so well trained in education. However, after working very hard–in fact denying myself almost every pleasure of life, only studying and going to school–I was very lucky to get good marks and pass my degree in good order. [interruption]

After I got my diploma I began to look for an internship. At that time internships were very hard to get, particularly for a Jewish boy. The only opportunity for a Jewish boy medical student was in a Jewish hospital, which were at that time very few. All they had was the Beth Israel Hospital, the Mount Sinai, and the Lebanon. Now the Mount Sinai Hospital was reserved for the very rich boys, because Mount Sinai was subsidized by very wealthy Jewish people, and naturally they all had sons and relatives and they always gave a chance to them. But the Beth Israel was a very democratic hospital, and they just took them according to their merits. They had to pass an examination, and I happened to take the examination and I did very well, so I got an appointment in the Beth Israel Hospital for two years. [interruption]

Marcus: Okay, doctor.
Nemoitin: As I entered the Beth Israel Hospital a new world opened up for me. For while I was studying, although it was in the “Gay '90s” and all the girls were dressed nice and there was music all around and all kinds of dances, I never participated in any of those things while I was so engrossed with my work and so anxious to make good that I couldn't spare one moment, excepting work and study. However, when I came into the Beth Israel, the entire yoke of study was thrown off my shoulders. The girls–the nurses–looked very beautiful and the young men–the interns–were very nice and I had an opportunity to see patients and to do so much for them and it really was one of the greatest episodes in my life.

Soon enough one of the student nurses, a certain missus Frances Einhorn–she was related to one of the famous gastroenterologists in New York at that time, Professor Max Einhorn. She came from Russia, also for only a short while. Her father was a famous doctor in Russia but she wanted to get away, as there was much of the revolution starting in and she had no chance there for any advanced education or profession. So a friend of hers sent her a ticket and she came to the United States. And sure enough with her experience being with her father, who was a physician and she helped him a great deal, she obtained a position at Beth Israel Hospital as a student nurse. She proved to be a very efficient nurse and as I was also very much involved in the work of helping the patients, we became very much attached to each other.

One time, I was a little shy to declare love to her, so one time a patient gave me a large bouquet of white flowers, so I put it on her desk and I wrote a little poem that:

As the flowers are white,
So will our life be white
When me and you will go together.

She looked at that little note, and I watched at a distance, but somehow she wasn't still well adapted in the language and my hand writing wasn't very plain, and she somehow disregarded this little note. She didn't know exactly what it was. However when I saw that, I came over and I asked her, “Miss Einhorn, have you read that little note?” She says, “I didn't know just exactly what it was.” So I read it for her, and when she heard that, she took me around and kissed me right in the ward! And since then we were actually engaged. [laughs]

Marcus: Mazel tov. [interruption]
“My Father”
Painting by Dr. Nemoitin of his father
My wife's course of education terminated a little before I graduated from my hospital course. So she got private nursing to do and then she went out when I left the hospital. We were invited to come to my father's farm in the Catskill Mountains, which he owned at that time. There on the farm, we were married, my father being the reverend. Before my father had the farm in the Catskills, when he came to New York with me in 1898, he didn't know what to do because he was a rabbi from education and also a merchant. So he applied to a famous rabbi in New York who was known to give advice to other rabbis, and he advised him to look for a small community as a rabbi. While he was there a group of several people from Stamford, I think it was at that time one fellow by the name of Felner and a Rosenberg and a Rosenblum. These three men were looking for a Jewish rabbi who could teach the children how to pray and how to officiate on Sabbath and other holidays and also inspect Jewish kosher meat. My father covered all these qualifications, so he came to Stamford by the “Shady Side” which was plying between New York and Stamford. If many of our people remember, it was quite a nice boat that used to go every day, start early in the morning and then come back in the evening. Many small merchants used to buy all the things in New York and then carry it along with their ticket on the boat to bring it to Stamford. In fact, the kosher meat, they used to buy in New York and then carry it to Stamford.

At that time, I was in New York studying, and I lived in the gallery where I was working. [interruption]

My father took along with him, as he came to America, his brother-in-law and his wife, Mr. Isaac Shanen and Bella Shanen. We all lived that time on Pacific Street in one of these brick houses. They had at that time two-story houses, and at that time he organized a Jewish synagogue in one of the rooms. And then he also made another room for a school, for a Hebrew school. This was the very beginning of Stamford's Jewish education. All right. [interruption]

My father remained several years in Stamford and my mother and the rest of the children came here later, and then he learned the kosher meat business and he opened up a butcher market in New York, where he was very successful.

The town of Stamford is very vivid in my memory from that time. At that time the Jewish population amounted to about 15 families. There was only one Jewish fellow that owned his own little house. That was Mr. Rosenberg. He was a tailor, and he used to have an establishment on Manhattan Street. His home was at the very end of Summer Street. It was a small one-family house which does not exist now any more. At that time Stamford had only 14,000 population. The main industry was the Yale & Towne and a shirt factory run by a certain Jewish man Roth. There were a few minor things which I can't recollect, but the town was pretty quiet and of course there were no automobiles, but mostly horse and buggies and draft horses. Everything was drawn by horses. The train to New York existed. It only used to come once or twice a day and the fare was very little. I believe it was 50 cents. There was one jewelry store, owned by Mr. Phillips. It was way up on Atlantic Street, on the right-hand side near Manhattan Street. Atlantic Street had a large hill so it was way uphill, and it was paved with cobblestones. There was only one hotel, the Stamford House, a wooden building on Main Street. The Town Hall was a very small building. The Stamford Hospital was a large house which was turned into a hospital. It was where Sherman Street is now. It had considerable ground around it and had a small elevator and only about two or three private rooms and several wards. If I recollect right, I think the very early hospital was on Walnut Street, a large wooden building. but later on it was on Sherman Street. where Sherman Street is now, on Main Street. [interruption]

These are the memories of Stamford when I was 16 or 17 years old. At time I used to occasionally come to see my father and mother, the entire family, and my uncle, but as I kept on studying and interning I was not in Stamford until I got married and started to practice in New York. I opened up an office on 215 East Broadway, and that place was rented to me as part of the office of a dentist's office. As I used to have a light outside during the night, many patients used to come with very painful teeth that needs extraction. As I had access to the dentist's equipment, I was very able to draw teeth, and so I used to make my rent just by pulling teeth at night. [laughs]

My wife's relation, Dr. Einhorn, used to send me many cases for gastric lavage, that is washing the stomach, which was very, very common in those days for chronic gastric ailments. However, word came to me from Stamford that a certain Dr. Loeb, who was the first Jewish doctor practicing in Stamford, died from typhoid fever and his place was open for occupancy. So I came to Stamford, and I liked it quite well for I liked Stamford's atmosphere. It was quiet, and I was told I could have hospital facilities, so I stopped in at New Haven and passed the Connecticut State Board, which I did also very well, and established myself in 621 Main Street, at that time called the Coughlin's Building, opposite the large church.

Dr. Nemoitin's shingle

I had most of the Jewish patients and I also became acquainted with many foreign patients, as I could speak Russian and Polish. I started also to study Italian, mostly from Italian medical books. There was a pharmacist by the name of Mr. Champagne who opened his drugstore on 71 Main Street. He came from Brazil and was able to speak Italian and Spanish and Portugese and Polish, as he worked in a colony where there were many Polish and Italian people. He called me one time and explained me that he takes care of a good many of foreign patients and that he would be very glad if I cooperate with him and send the prescriptions to him and he'll try recommending patients. This was quite a help to me and at the same time an opportunity came along. There was a house on 96 Main Street, opposite his drugstore, which was for sale. It was owned by Mr. Daskam from the Stamford Trust Company. I managed to buy that house by paying only $1,000 and also a considerable mortgage. This I was able to manage and so I moved into that place. [interruption]

I used to make my calls on a bicycle. I couldn't afford to get a horse and buggy. However, within a short while I was able to get a horse and buggy and I had driven three horses, one after another. The first horse had a breathing defect, so I bought another one which was quite good, but he was inclined to be nervous, and I changed him for the third one, which was a very sturdy horse and quiet, which I kept for about a year until I bought a Model T Ford. [interruption]

undated family photoMy practice began to increase quite a lot, and [pause] I had considerable trouble with the small hospital we had here. For some reason the doctors in those days were very jealous of one another. I believe the practice was very limited. There were a class of patients who were very wealthy, who lived on Strawberry Hill, Glenbrook Road. These were mostly patronized by the American doctors, but my share were mostly the foreign elements who earned very little. And naturally I could not command the proper fee. However, my health was pretty good and I could work hard, although I did not command such great fees I still could make a living from even small fees in larger numbers. There was a superintendent at that time, a certain Miss Wilson who was in charge of the hospital and for some reason, she, I believe, did not have much sympathy for Jewish people. At least I thought that was the case with me, and every opportunity that she had, she made it very hard for me. This kept up for several years and I was so discouraged that I wished I was not in Stamford, that I would be somewhere else, although I was very satisfactory to my patients and I had all the opportunity as far as patients were concerned. But being that I was used to hospital training, I missed the hospital very much, and yet she made all kinds of hardships for me until the new hospital started to develop.

The new Stamford Hospital required some funds, and naturally they came up to me to give a helping hand, and so as I donated a fair amount of money, things had changed entirely. So possibly it was not so much the anti-Semitism as I didn't contribute enough. [laughs and interruption]

I was immediately placed on the associate staff and this gave me opportunity to do considerable surgery which I had been trained when I was an intern at the Beth Israel, and also doing most of my obstetric work in the Stamford Hospital. During the various periods I worked and during the epidemic, when the flu epidemic came along, I had to do so much work and there was so much snow that they couldn't use the automobile, yet I came through without getting ill and the same time doing as much work as possible.

My son, Bernard Nemoitin, gradually grew up and graduated our high school and then he was admitted to the Pennsylvania University where he graduated with a B.A. degree. He then got also a master's degree at Columbia University in psychology. Then he was admitted to the Long Island College Hospital where he graduated his medical degree. He also obtained an internship in the Beth Israel Hospital, my alma mater. He stayed there for an internship in surgery and then a residency, and then he got an appointment as an attending surgeon to the Beth Israel Hospital, where he worked for over 10 years. At the same time he attended the Bellevue School of Surgery, which he could attend while he was attending at the Beth Israel Hospital. [interruption]

My son has obtained the degree with the American College of Surgeons and he was admitted in the Stamford Hospital as an attending surgeon, both in the Stamford Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital. He is a very busy surgeon at present.

He married one of the nurses in the Stamford Hospital, Miss Eileen Hallstein, who was holding a supervisory position. He is now a very busy surgeon and is connected with a good many clubs and societies and does a lot of industrial surgery. [interruption]

As I was born and raised on a farm, I always had a longing to own one, so I bought one on Davenport Ridge. This was a place covering 17 acres and a nice little farm house. I improved it and had considerable fun for a certain time. However, my wife did not like to be away so far, and as someone offered me a very substantial increase in the amount I paid, I sold it.

Later on, I bought one at New Milford on Long Mountain Road. This was a very beautiful place, only six acres, with a view of the Berkshire Mountains. I turned the barn into a five-room house. I was there also quite awhile, but also finally sold it. At the time I was there, I could do quite considerable poem writing and painting which I revived from my childhood talent of drawing. [interruption]

At one time I decided to see America and took a trip to the convention of the American Medical Association in San Francisco, California. I took the northern route, so I went to Banff, Lake Louise, and the state of Washington and various stopovers in various cities and also stayed quite awhile in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where I met quite many of my relatives. I spent over a month and experienced certainly a very good time. [interruption]

painting, 1945Later on, I devoted a little more time to my painting at which I advanced quite a little and have had quite recognition in some of the exhibitions of the American Medical Association and also state medical society. I also took up a course of adult education in creative writing at which I had an opportunity to write five stories which were well recognized and I liked it very much.

I also took an adult education course in painting which improved my painting to a large extent. I also did a good deal of color photography. This helps me to my painting.

As time went on, a good many people out west have organized in group practices which appealed to me very much, as I felt that in a group physicians can do much better than do by themselves. For that, we built on several offices to our house and invited to stay with me several doctors: one, an x-ray expert; one, a nose and throat man; and a pediatrician; and myself, I did surgery and gynecology. It did not work well where we were not organized as a unit, so each one worked for himself. And finally they moved out, and although they developed good practices, they moved out into regional offices. Right now, I occupy the x-ray and the several offices, occupied by me and my son. [interruption]

As I allowed that at the age over 70, I began to have trouble with my prostate gland and also gallstones. Both were operated and after I had recovered, I feel as good as before. Although I had to lose considerable time and could not attend to many of my patients, I've regained my practice and still go on with a limited practice. At present, I'm 82 1/2 years old and I'm still going strong. [laughs]

[End of side 1 of interview tape]

[Side 2 of interview tape]
Nemoitin: A few rather comical stories are under my recollection. Some were not really comical, but they always worked out to my favor.

When that druggist across the way recommended me a patient on Virgil Street, to see a little Italian child who was very sick. So when I came there with my bicycle, I noticed that the child had convulsions and had rigidity of her neck and showed all signs of meningal involvement. I've had a lot of experience in meningitis. When I was an intern in the Beth Israel Hospital, we had an epidemic and I knew everything there is to know at that time about meningitis. It was a very dreadful disease. Some of them would get well, but we had no specific cure for it. So naturally, when I went there for a few days three days, and the child was getting worse, I gave them a kind of a bad prognosis. Naturally, they were very disappointed. I started to hear the way they talk about a certain Dr. Tiffany. This was one of the doctors who was the head doctors of the hospital. He was in charge of that small hospital on Sherman Street. “Well,” I told her, “If you think...,” I understood from their speech. You know I didn't speak Italian so well at that time, but I could understand what they meant. So I said, “Well, if that's the case, I would be very glad to call him and we will see the child together.” So they agreed, and this Dr. Tiffany came over. He used to drive one of the nicest horses in town, and he had a driver. He came in and looked at the child, and said, “Well, Doctor, it is self evident that that's a very bad case of meningitis, and naturally, as you know, the prognosis is not so good.” So he explains everything to the people. He tells them in my presence that this child is so very, very ill and that she's got an inflammation on the brain and that the outcome is very bad. And so naturally they paid him, and they were all ready to accept the inevitable. [interruption]

The people were satisfied, but to me it was a terrible shock because I wanted to make acquaintance with Italian patients, and naturally, I wanted to show my abilities in treatment and yet I came across such a case that I couldn't accomplish much. That hurt me very much.

That night, I could hardly sleep. The night previous to the sleepless night, I came across to my patron the druggist, and I told him. “Mr. Champagne, I'm in trouble. You know, this child had meningitis and I've called Dr. Tiffany and he agrees with me. That's so bad that I don't know what to do.”

And so he said, “Did you try that child for something for worms?” I said, “No. First, I've never seen a child with worms, and secondly, this child has such definite symptoms of meningitis.” So he said, “But you know, I was a druggist in an Italian colony, and there the Italian doctors used to prescribe a lot of worm medicine, because many of these Italian children are subject to worms.” So I said, “Well, if you think she might have that, suppose you give me a powder or two, and we'll try it.” I said, “It can't do any harm.” So I thought I should try those powders. I went up with my bicycle and I came up to the house, and when I came there I found the candles were lit and the priest just left. And all the Italians, especially those former Italian families that are now pretty well known, at that time they were still in the poorest class. So they were sitting around, waiting just for the child to die. So I told them. “You know, I looked in my books and I found a medicine that may do some good. Do you want me to try it?”

They said, “Well, what will we lose? You can try it.” So, I took the powder of santamene with calomel, and I mixed it in a teaspoon of water, and I held the child's nostrils and poured in the medicine. And somehow it swallowed. After I was through, I walked out rather sad and went home. And then I had a sleepless night.

Early in the morning, I took my bicycle, and it was in late September, and as I saw the morning sky was red and there were signs of the beginning of fall, and as I slowly came up to the yard, I see the father of the child, whose name was Sabia, and I said, “Hello, Sabia. How is your child?” “Oh,” he said, “I think she's a little bit better.” So I said, “How many worms did she pass?” He said, “Two small ones,” and he shows me on his hands, way up, “and two big ones.” Then I walked in, but their little dog wouldn't let me come in, but I finally walked into the house, and there I see the little girl sitting up and eating a banana.

The idea was that this child had meningismu, which is a symptom of meningitis but it's not meningitis. It's due to worms. To me that was the first occurrence, and I suppose that Tiffany who used to take care of mostly of the wealthy patients never saw one like that. But that was not a case of meningitis, and since then my practice began to multiply. They kept on saying, “You see, this child was so sick that Dr. Tiffany, the best doctor in town, thought it was going to die. And then that little Jew doctor came over and cured it.” [chuckles followed by interruption]

Another story which came to my mind was one morning, when I was at 621 Main Street. An Italian man comes in Sunday morning to me, knocks on the door. He looked kind of pale and dejected and hands out to me a little prescription blank. And on the prescription blank I read, “Dear Dr. Nemoitin: This man has a child that has a bad pneumonia, and he has no doctor. Please go to see that child. Charge him as much as you want, but please see him. He is a very nice person, and I wish you should see him.” And he signed, “Dr. Stella.” [interruption]

This Dr. Stella is from New York, and the patient was from New Canaan, Connecticut. Dr. Stella was one of the very well known Italian doctors in New York. He had the title of the “dottore de re.” That means “the king's doctor,” and he was a professor in Naples Medical School in medicine. I met him at a consultation at one of my patient's in Stamford. At that time I could speak a little Italian. He did not speak English very well, so he was so glad to meet me, and he saw that I was so much interested in medicine in general and in the patient, so he praised me a lot before the patient, and he really liked me a good deal. I felt the same way. I felt that he was such a fine doctor that I could learn a good deal from him, especially the Italian method of treatment.

So naturally, when he sent me this note, I couldn't possibly refuse, and yet I was quite busy at that time with many obstet cases and so on, and to go to New Canaan would involve quite a trip. It is eight miles, and the roads were bad in those days, and I'd have to go with my horse and buggy. But still, the urge to go by the man, and the urge to come by the request of the doctor, compelled me to go. I asked him why didn't he call a New Canaan doctor. He told me that he did and they came, and they thought that the child was very, very sick and might die, and they were afraid to come any more. Maybe the child will die. Because in New York at that time, it was well publicized that a certain Italian man shot the doctor because he didn't cure his child. The child had diphtheria, and he gave an injection of antitoxin and the child died. So then on, it became sort of a prejudice that Italians are liable to shoot their doctors. And in New Canaan they only had two doctors at that time, and they were very much afraid to go to see him, because they knew that that little boy was very, very much loved by the father. And they thought that he was likely to do such a thing. So therefore they wouldn't come. So I decided I will go. And so he followed. He had a pickup truck with the horse, and I had my horse and buggy and I followed him. We went through Hoyt Street, and then through Ponus Ridge, and he drove the horse so that the horse couldn't run any more. So we stopped for a little while until the horse got second breath. Then we started to drive again, and we finally came there. And he had a little grocery store at the top of the hill at the center of New Canaan. He had a private home where he turned the front room into a store and in the back he lived, also a few upstairs rooms. [interruption]

As I came in I found the child was very ill, but not desperately ill. It was conscious and the temperature was not too high. At first I thought he was trying somewhat to approach a crisis. So in order to make a good impression, I rubbed him with alcohol and opened the windows and applied–I took along some antiphlogestine– applied that on his chest, and I gave him some drops of digitalis, all the things that we used to use in those days which were not specific, but they used to help along. And I gave them all kinds of instructions that in case the child begins to perspire a lot and lose temperature, they should wrap him up very warm and give him a little whisky. And I left the place. He asked me how much to pay, but although I had a note from the doctor that I could charge as much as I want, yet I felt that if I charged him $5, that would have been quite a big fee. Otherwise we used to charge only $1 in the house and fifty cents in the office. He insisted I should take more, but I let him give me $7, but I just couldn't take any more.

undated photographic portrait of Dr. NemoitinThen I left for home, and the next day I started out real early about 8 o'clock in the morning, so that I could come about 10 or 11 o'clock back home. It just happened that after I went there three times, the child got well. Now this man, after that happened, he thought I was Jesus. He thought I was the Savior himself. The fact that Dr. Stella told him that the child is very bad, that the American doctors didn't want to come, so naturally although he believed that God puts in a little hand to it, but still I was Jesus just the same. This man couldn't forget, and so that any patient that he ever knew in New Canaan through the store, American or Italian or foreigner, he used to bring him in my office, otherwise he would collect two or three patients and I should come to examine them, so I should make enough money for the trip.

So he kept it up for seven years, but one time I didn't hear from him, so I started to get interested, for he was such a friend that I wanted to know what happened to him. So finally I found out that he was killed by a runaway horse. And his son finally went to the First World War, and he came back not wounded and he became involved in one of the very big food stores in New Canaan and at present, he's a very wealthy person. [interruption]

It was also during the time when Mr. Champagne used to recommend me patients, so he recommended me a patient to 61 Liberty Street, a little boy, a Polish boy, that was very ill. When I came with my bicycle to see that boy, he was having a pneumonia. Now the pneumonia wasn't of such a very bad caliber, he gradually improved, but instead of getting a crisis, he developed pus in his chest. They call that an empyema. This was very common in those days because they didn't have any specific disease so if instead of getting a crisis some pus formation developed in the pleural sac. But his could be helped by draining, by opening up and draining the pus out, which involves an operation. This operation I have done a good many when I was in the Beth Israel Hospital. In fact, that any junior surgeon does this, about six or seven. They were very common in New York in the hospitals, especially children who have to be hospitalized.

So I called Dr. Dichter to help me and we opened up his chest. I opened up his chest to put in a tube and the pus came out, and the child began to improve, but the improvement was very slow. And the woman was very poor. She had six more children and her husband was a carpenter and all he used to make was $6 a week. So naturally that was a very small amount, although my fee to her was very small, but still she felt that she couldn't pay much. So one time, when she saw that the child was very, very sick, she said, “Doctor, I know you are trying so much, but we haven't got much money and if God wants him to die, let him die.” So I said, “Oh, no.” I said, “That couldn't be.” First of all, I became very fond of that child because he was so handsome and he had beautiful blue eyes and blond hair and he was so appreciative when I do something for him. So I told her that whenever she'll have money, she will pay me or even doesn't have to pay if you don't have to, but I'll keep on. “Well,” she says, “If you are willing to take care of him, I wouldn't stop you.” I says, “But you know, I want to tell you that I couldn't possibly.”

At that time they had no staff cases and even if you want to go to the hospital, the hospital had such a poor reputation that they were always afraid to send somebody. They always thought that they may die, which was that way because only very sick cases came to the hospital. And in those days, we didn't have much help for the patient, so therefore they inevitably used to die.

So I did my very best to treat him and he got finally better and he got well. As he got well, he used to run around the street, and when I used to pass by with my horse and buggy, he used to shout, “Oh, here is my doctor!” And he used to always want that I should give him a ride. So I used to give him a little ride, and then I used to give him a nickel and he would buy some goodies and feel very happy. So this episode passed by and all of a sudden, I didn't hear from him, so they told me that they moved out somewheres in Perth Amboy in New Jersey.

Then meantime, my son became of age and when he got to be in the medical college, he used to tell me every time he came for his weekend, to tell me all about his professors and about his studies and everything, because he knew I was so much interested. So then one time he tells me, “You know, I have a boy in my class. His name is Rudy, and I think he is Polish, but he is a very nice boy and he says that he has a mark on his chest from an operation that you performed on him.” So I thought, “Rudy, I just can't remember a case like that.” So I says, “You better find out exactly what his name was and where they lived.”

And so he came the next weekend, and he tells me that his name was Rudimanski, and that he lived on 61 Liberty Street. “Well, oh,” I says, “this boy I certainly remember because I took care of him for three months.”

Anyway, he graduated medicine with my son and he was one of the very first students in the medical school. And the story that he gave me was as follows:

He went to Perth Amboy to public school. I think he was the first one in public school. Then he went to the high school, and he was the first one in the high school. Then he got a scholarship in Rutgers College and he graduated with a B.A. degree, and he studied a pre-medical course, because he decided he wants to be a doctor. His mother always kept on telling him how he almost died, and a doctor saved his life. So therefore, he wanted to be a doctor. And then, as he had to go to medical school, he was a very pious boy and he used to attend the Catholic Church. So, one of the priests–they had a special fund for such things or I have an idea possibly he loaned him his own money, he helped him to go into the medical school. So when he graduated, he got himself a position in the Long Island College Hospital, and then he got himself a residency in the Boston Hospital for Children, which is considered one of the best hospitals in New England.

One time, as I was looking over my medical journals, I see an article in The England Medical Journal, Dr. Rudimanski, “The Modern Methods of Treating Empyema in Children,” by Dr. Rudimanski. I recognized right away who it was. Tears appeared in my eyes thinking how many babies I have saved by saving him, for he is such a wonderful pediatrician. How many children he will save. He became now a professor pediatrician in the Long Island College Hospital, and he is practicing in Brooklyn. [interruption]

Another story that came to my mind was after I'd been in practice not too long, but I'd done considerable surgery, so I had an opportunity to operate on a young married woman who had very bad pustube. At that time, they couldn't relieve those conditions with penicillin like they do at present. At that time the only cure was an operation. The operation was rather simple, and I had the assistance of old Dr. Gandy. At that time he was a young man, and he used to help me out considerably together. As I operated on her, the operation came through very nicely, but after the operation she developed constant vomiting and developed a considerable distension in such a way that she began to show signs of passing out.

At first, I couldn't understand what her condition was, whether it was peritonitis or whether it was a case of intestinal obstruction or the ileus. In modern times, we pass through a tube. We go right through the nose and into the stomach, where they get relief, but in those days we didn't have those things. All the consultants that I had gave me very poor hope. She was a very nice Irish lady. No, she was of Swedish origin but she was married to an Irish man. At that time she was one of the bookkeepers in the Motor Vehicle Department. So, finally, in desperation I began to look for help in my books. And I had at that time a book called “Pitfalls of Surgery” by Dr. Rastas. This man was a clinical professor in Chicago Medical College and he was also of Jewish origin. So I noticed he described complications of that nature, and he recommended that you should go in and open up the small intestine and drain it with a tube, as a last resort.

So I talked over with Dr. Gandy about it, and he says, “Well, if he recommends it, let us try it.” So, we took her to the operating room, we gave her a very light anesthesia, and I opened up the small intestine and put in a tube. And an awful lot of gas and bowels came out, and she began to improve almost momentarily. And within about three or four days she was almost normal.

The impression that it made on me was so terrific that I was so happy that I didn't know what to do. So I used to come three times a day, irrespective of how busy I was. And in the meantime, the dressings were very extensive, because of the discharge of the bowels that could come around the wound, and she had to be cleaned three or four times a day. So she called for the nurse who was a sister of hers, a Swedish girl who was a nurse in the hospital, and she availed of her services. This girl was a nice, quiet girl, rather tall and very sincere. When she came over, she worked day and night around her. Her work was so meticulous, so perfect, that she was the surprise of the hospital. Being that she helped my patient, and I was so nice to her as well, because she was doing so well for my patient, and I appreciated her work so much.

So finally, when her sister got well and got home, I used to come to see her. She told me one time that her sister got married, and she married a Jewish doctor. This doctor happened to be a refugee doctor from Germany. At that time there was some political upheaval in Germany, and he was involved a little in that, so he escaped from Germany, and he got his position in a TB hospital. It seems that she also worked in the TB hospital. That was for awhile. Then the next time I saw her sister in the Motor Vehicle Department where I went to get my license renewed, she told me, “You know, doctor, I didn't come to you all this time because my sister wanted to take care of me all the time. You know, she became a doctor. The doctor gave her money, so she become a doctor.” She became an intern, and then she became a very big surgeon, and she operated on all kinds of patients like I was sick. And that's the story, just the impression of her services of her sister who she loved so much and the appreciation of what I did for her sister made her marry a Jewish doctor and become a doctor free. That's a true story! [interruption]

Well, from this finally ending my story, I'm 82 1/2 years old, and yet, I'm practicing. The reason I do it is because if I got well from many troubles, and if my mind is clear, I can do so much good. If any young men wants to study medicine, I think the very first requirement: if he loves people. If he wants to do good, this is one of the best opportunities, because in no profession can you do so much good to people as you can do in medicine. As far as money is concerned, that is not the essential thing because when you want to do well to people, you cannot consider the money all the time. If anybody is really devoted to make a lot of money, he should go in some other field. He should go in law or in merchandise or other fields which are also useful. Medicine is only for those who want to do good. So if anybody is inclined to be that way, by all means, he should take up medicine. If I would like to live over again, I would want to practice medicine.

[End of interview]

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Dr. Jacob Nemoitin (1880 - 1963), Stamford's healer & humanitarian, painter & poet
Oral Histories and Memoirs