Herbert L. Tanenbaum, MD

Retired Cardiologist
Start Date: 1958

FROM "G" STRINGS TO HEART STRINGS

A Penny for Your Thoughts…

In 1958, I completed my residency at the National Institutes of Health and joined MedStar Washington Hospital Center's staff, where I was asked to develop an equipment list for the new cardiac lab.

We were just entering the age of good measurement of the physiological determination of cardiac events. We needed new equipment to improve the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. I didn't know what to charge for my services in helping develop the list for the lab, so I asked my fiancé, now my wife, and she suggested that I charge $100. So I did.

From Creative Improvisation…

We had to be pretty creative in the beginning, because equipment was crude and funds were scarce. When it came time to perform catheterizations to obtain measurements of key cardiac parameters, we had to make our own catheters. We had to take plastic tubing made in Sweden, put the tubes in boiling water and shape them to the desired configuration.

When we needed wires for arterial guides, I started using guitar "G" strings. The strings were available from a local music store. After I used a string twice, I had to throw it out. When I started buying 12 of the "G" strings at a time, the salesman thought that I must play a mean guitar.

… to Creative Financing

Early on, when a patient suffered a cardiac arrest, we had to cut open the patient's chest and put our hand inside to massage and squeeze the heart to get it started again. External electric cardioversion was developed around the same time and was becoming the standard of care. We were short of money so I went to a hospital administrator and asked for an electrocardioverter to shock the heart into normal rhythm. This was to avoid having to resort to surgery. I remember that I received an interesting answer. The administrator said, "If we got all the medical equipment you young guys wanted, we would go broke." So I used some funds from a personal grant that I had in order to buy the hospital's first cardioverter equipment.