Lives of the fellows

Max Zoob

b.30 August 1921 d.29 May 1996
MB BS Lond(1944) MRCS LRCP(1944) MD(1947) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1970)

Max Zoob was a cardiologist at the Brook and Maidstone Hospitals. The son of Isaac Zoob, a business man who had come to this country in the early years of this century from Russia, Max was educated at St Paul’s School and St Mary’s Hospital. During the war he worked in the fire service, often getting little sleep and at this time developed pulmonary tuberculosis, necessitating partial lung resection. He lived for years with the apprehension that his tuberculosis would again become active. He received treatment with streptomycin in the early days of this drug: he thought that certain food sensitivities, which dogged him for the rest of his life, began at this time.

Having worked as a house physician at St Mary’s and at the Postgraduate Medical School, he later became first assistant to the cardiac department at the Royal Free Hospital. He was exempted from military service on medical grounds. He was then senior registrar at Hammersmith where he further developed his natural gift for clinical case presentation.

In 1955, while at Hammersmith, he met Greta, the second daughter of Goodman and Georgia Mottelson, whom he later married. Greta was brought up in Chicago and came to London only to fall in love with England, the English and, of course, Max.

Posts in the National Health Service in 1957 were scanty and, after debate with Greta, he accepted the post of assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver. He and Greta became engaged there. Max’s American colleagues were intrigued by his expertise in simple but important clinical measurements, for instance of the jugular venous pulse: there is little doubt that had he so wanted he could have stayed in America. But he became homesick for England and, having decided that he would be married here, he returned and married Greta in England.

In 1960 he became part time consultant cardiologist to Preston Hall Hospital, Maidstone, Kent, and, at about the same time, to the London Jewish Hospital. He was invited by Ronald Hartley to join him at the regional cardiac unit at the Brook General Hospital at Woolwich in 1962. His publications up until that time had included studies of the oesophageal pulse in mitral valve disease, of the cardiographic diagnosis of right ventricular hypertrophy, and of rheumatic tricuspid stenosis. An important paper on the aetiology of complete heart block followed in 1963. Cardiology for students (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1979), later appeared. This last was a labour of love and Max spent a number of years drafting and redrafting the book, trying to make it concise and yet comprehensive.

After some years there were moves to close the regional cardiac unit (and indeed the Brook Hospital itself at a later stage). Max, to say the least of it, was not keen on meetings and medical politics, but eventually his enthusiasm was kindled and he spoke at many public meetings. The Regional Health Authority had published a report recommending closure and he was particularly pleased with his idea of getting his department’s response printed using exactly the same design and art work as that of the Health Authority, but in a different colour. This point by point rebuttal appealed to him and was successful. He corresponded with several of the MPs whose constituents were served by the Brook and enlisted the help of Sir Edward Heath, with whom he also discussed conducting.

In addition to medicine, Max Zoob’s life was fully engaged with all aspects of artistic endeavour, be it modern art appreciation, classical English literature, drama or music. His musical appreciation extended from Monteverdi to Webern and his analytical approach was particularly satisfied by Beethoven, of whose piano sonatas he made a special study. The same catholic taste extended to art, especially that of 20th century artists. In literature he had an enthusiast’s knowledge of Shakespeare and his appreciation extended to the present day: he particularly loved the 19th century Russian novelists and 20th century writers such as Samuel Beckett and James Joyce. He often stimulated and encouraged his junior doctors to follow in his literary footsteps.

In his middle years he and Greta established a play reading circle which still meets. Max had a more than average knowledge of the Bible (both Testaments) and he used this in a memorable series of lectures he gave on the medical diagnosis of some Biblical characters. When he was a medical student a member of the teaching staff had asked what diagnosis he might suggest for the Shunammite youth (Kings 2, Ch 4). The youth had called out ‘my head, my head’ and fell, apparently dead. Elisha resuscitated the boy with mouth to mouth breathing, whereupon the patient, we are told, sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. This started him on a study which culminated in his lecture which was illustrated by appropriate examples drawn from classical painters. The study deserves publication but in his later years, severely afflicted by visual and neurological disability, he was unable to finish it. Despite his slowly deteriorating health he remained cheerful to the end. He leaves Greta, his widow, and two sons, the elder a pensions consultant who is also a semi-professional pianist, the younger a theatre director. Greta and his family were unstinting in their support for him in his final illness.

Philip Farrant

[Brit.med.J., 1996,313,556]

(Volume X, page 536)

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