From menial jobs to a Tufts neurologist, a doctor’s long and torturous journey

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When Tatam succumbs to work, his baggy black trousers, spotted paint pullovers, and finely chopped mohawks give no clue about his day-to-day work — at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. As a resident of the 4th year, in neurology, the following.

In any case, Tatum Impossible life. Born dependent on heroin and cocaine, he lived in foster care, immerse himself in the hip-hop world of New York, and jumped from a dead-end job to another before deciding to become a doctor.

“I never really got along with people who have regular dreams and aspirations,” Tatum said. “I am very surprised at what happened to my life.”

Tatum went from conflict to conflict in northern New Jersey as he was shot, beaten, and repeatedly destroyed in a chaotic period 20 years ago. He showed his artistic aptitude, was a promising basketball player, released several hip-hop albums, but also did a series of sneaky jobs, including McDonald’s. And no one seemed to predict a medical career.

Dr. Peter Tatum (center), a resident neurologist, and Dr. David Thaler, a chief neurologist, visited Loyda Ortiz in the emergency department of Tufts Medical Center.Craig F. Walker / Globe Staff

Now, when doing a round at Tufts University, Tatam is a mentor in a white lab coat and looks like he’s not in a hurry to roam the hall with a Mohawk sports doctor and loose black trousers. I’m visiting a patient.

“Usually when you walk around, it looks like you’re delivering food,” Tatam said with a smile.

In a recent round, Dr. David Taller, Dean of the Department of Neurology at Tufts University, visited a 37-year-old woman who complained of dizziness the night before, was unable to walk, and vomited overnight. ..

“How are you feeling? Are you still dizzy?” Tatam asked patient Libya’s Loida Ortiz that his voice was a blend of compatibility and concern.

He gently instructed Ortiz to follow his finger from his forehead to her eyes, tested her reflexes, and asked if she could feel his touch.

“The ship looks good,” Tatam told Tarler after checking his eyes.

Later, when he met Bobby Pizzarelli, a 32-year-old epilepsy patient from Portland, Maine, Tatam smiled with a big smile.

Dr. Peter Tatum was joined by children Valentina (5 years old) and Xander (11 years old) while painting at Graffiti Alley in Cambridge.Craig F. Walker / Globe Staff

Pizzarelli monitors brain activity and Seizures. Tatum enthusiastically observed the interaction while Dr. Joel Oster confirmed with Pizzarelli about his condition. Pizzarelli’s seizure dog Zora was waiting at his feet.

“Our fingers are crossing,” Oster told Pizzarelli.

The long road to tufts began in 2010 with the birth of the first of four children. This was a life-changing event for him, and he began to pursue his medical career. However, his undergraduate studies were mostly art and painting at community colleges and Montclair State University. So, to give himself a chance at his medical school, Tatam enrolled in a medical program before earning his bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University-Newark.

“On the first day of the program, I said,’Hello, I’m here for the post-Bakeloret program,'” Tatam recalled. “Everyone in a room full of educators and future doctors laughed at what I said. I didn’t know why, so the day was about to leave.”

But he did his best and said, “I literally didn’t take any math, physics, chemistry, biology, etc., so I took a very difficult subject. But I got 100 on every test, I studied at the gym 16 hours a day. ”This has long been the sanctuary of Tatum.

While at Rutgers-Newark, he was again dismissed from work as a direct care worker in an orphanage.

From left, Dr. Joel Oster and Dr. Peter Tatam spoke with epilepsy patient Bobby Pizzarelli at the Tufts Medical Center in Boston.Craig F. Walker / Globe Staff

After that, “I realized I had a maximum of two years of unemployment,” and somehow found a way to enroll in medical school and pay tuition and other invoices.

The final unemployment allowance arrived a month before participating in a tuition-paying Air Force officer training program at Rowan University’s Osteopathic School of Medicine in Stratford, NJ.

He graduated in May 2018, but suffered more obstacles.

A month later, after finishing the first week of the internship, Tatum suffered from saddle pulmonary embolism. This is a life-threatening blood clot in the lungs.

“I just lay down on the ground and couldn’t breathe,” recalled Tatum. “I thought it was this and tried to calm down and save energy.”

As a result, Tatam received an honorable discharge from the Air Force in the rank of captain. His discharge also meant that the radiology training scheduled for 2019 at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Virginia was cancelled.

“I was a surgeon in a military hospital,” explained Tatum. “The only doctor who can continue the training is active.”

Upon discharge, he began fighting for new options and he began calling the hospital himself. Tafts was interested in Tatam’s impressive background and interviewed him in the New York area and accepted him.

Dr. Peter Tatam rearranged the paints while working at Graffiti Ally in Cambridge.Craig F. Walker / Globe Staff

Oster, a neurologist at Tufts University, said: “Peter is a wonderful person.”

Despite all the setbacks, Tatam “always believed that I could do whatever I could. My goal is usually to allow me to stay away.”

Tatum said he was fascinated by neurology, the creativity found among neurologists, and the unknowns and innovations possible in its practice. In essence, Tatam said he considers himself an artist first and foremost. Neurology has a parallel appeal.

“I thought the brain was cool. I like areas that are 100 percent unknown,” he said.

Tatum’s artistry extends to music. At the age of 17, he recorded his first original song. Two years later, he signed to a record label and was the lead vocalist for a 10-piece funk band. He also played beatboxes (a type of voice percussion) at Madison Square Garden and other large venues, Tatam said.

“It was music that traveled around, recorded all sorts of things, and slept on the couch for nine years, 24/7,” he said.

Painting is also a shelter for many years. Tatam won the high school art contest with his first work of art to date, an acrylic painting commemorating the attack he started on September 11, 2001.

“It’s like going to the beach for me,” Tatam said of the peace found in art. He even depicts the once monotonous burning blocks lined up in a small room where neurology residents gather at the Tufts Medical Center.

“Imagine what the wall looks like before you do that,” said Neurology Dean Thaler, leaning towards a bright mural dominated by blue and white paint and the word “toughs.” ..

Tatam went to the neurology clinic.Craig F. Walker / Globe Staff

“If you say I can, I will paint all the walls of the entire hospital,” Tatam said.

From time to time, Tatam moves from his Watertown home to Graffitiary between hospital shifts, creating art between 10 pm and 3 am to take advantage of quietness and loneliness. One recent night he painted a portrait of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“If you can’t sleep, get up, paint and go to work at 7 o’clock,” Tatam said. “If you’re excited about something, you don’t have to sleep.”

Tatam will end his stay in Tufts in June. He will then pursue fellowship at the Dartmas Hitchcock Medical Center in Clinical Neurophysiology. His medical goal is to be an innovator in brain-related technology.

In the meantime, what about the Mohawk?

“It’s an insect repellent,” Tatum said. If someone doesn’t approve, he adds with a smile. You don’t even have to think about such a person being in my circle. “


You can contact Brian MacQuarrie at [email protected]

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