A Conversation with Anna Abramson | See previous interviews

Anna Abramson
Assistant Clinical Professor

Your CV reveals a woman who became involved in community service early in life. Who or what inspired you?

I have no idea as I had many years of discouragement. My family has always thought I was crazy to volunteer but I always thought I knew it was the right thing to do. Even with the work I do now they still ask why I am “wasting my time” and why I just don’t make money. My family has gone through some poor and hard times but I have always felt really lucky to have everything that I have and accomplished all that I have. Maybe it is simply a sense that I can do all these things, so why shouldn’t I? I am an only child and close with my parents, so maybe it was a pull to be everything to everyone.

Your work has taken you to serve in countries with extremely limited medical resources. How has that impacted your work here at home?

I am pretty sure that I had PTSD a few times coming back from places where I saw truly terrible things. Coming home and working with people who take everything for granted involves a matter of recovery. The world is a very different place depending upon where you are and it makes me more mindful of the cultural differences between people, even if we happen to live in the same neighborhood. People come from different cultural experiences and I think that being in many different places has helped me understand that better. Being in a resource-poor environments and coming back to an extremely, overwhelmingly rich environment is extremely frustrating. We are not nearly as happy as we should be considering all of the “stuff” we have.

Can you recall an image that illuminates a special time in your life?

I am goofy in many ways but conservative in that I would never typically be captured doing something goofy. One of my good friends had advanced breast cancer and asked all of her friends to send a picture of themselves jumping. At the time, I was in Zambezi Falls in Livingstone, Zambia, on the Zimbabwe side, and asked the missionaries with whom I was traveling, to take a picture of me jumping over a stream. I was happy and thought that, if this small thing would make her happy, then I would jump!

The earrings that you wear appear to be handcrafted. Are they?

The earrings are stolen items from my mother and are from the Ukraine. The necklace is also my mom’s.

In your early years, I believe, you were a singer, composer, producer, and director of an a cappella musical. Would you please tell me about that?

I started singing when I was three and have been onstage for a really long time, and I still have terrible stage fright. In college, I was a composition major and in my last year spent some time composing Scencism, a social commentary musical on materialism. It remains one of the most stressful and hardest things that I’ve ever done. It had a cast of fifteen people and, five days before opening night, my lead male had a nervous breakdown. I took the lead and, although I am a soprano, I painted on a mustache and sang in my lower register. I’ve never had the heart to watch the video since and I still feel stressed just thinking about it. I think my daughter takes after me, she loves to sing and dance. I danced through my eighth month of pregnancy and still lindy hop most Thursday nights at the Russian Center across from Mt. Zion.

The arts seem to be important to you. Whom do you admire?

Musically, I am a huge Beethoven fan. I also admire Frida Kahlo, who was an amazing artist that captured her journey of suffering and my mother-in-law, who is a jack-of-all-trades and knows just about everything. She is creative in many different art forms like jewelry, painting (we have several of her works in our home), and silk painting; she made the huppah for our wedding. She is an excellent gardener, sews clothes, and bakes very complicated dishes. I really look up to someone who so gets into things.

Please tell me about your involvement with cycling as a sport.

I learned to ride a bicycle when we were in Italy during our emigration from the Ukraine to the US. I’m embarrassed to say I was so slow to learn so my dad gave up and someone else’s father taught me to ride. There is a freedom that is irreplaceable and a “can do” attitude being a human-powered vehicle. During residency, in Boston, people thought I was nuts for riding my bike to work; only three women rode their bikes and we called ourselves the “Can Do Club.” My proudest achievement since becoming involved with cycling is the concussion guidelines, something I put a lot of effort into. The guidelines have been released throughout the US, translated into a few languages and publicized in both VeloNews and BMX news, which all serious cyclists read.

Would you tell me about your family coming from the Ukraine to the United States?

We came to the US in 1989, my parents, an uncle, aunt and cousin. The six of us shared two beds and a room for a while. At that time, we had to seek political asylum elsewhere so it was a voyage of several months. It was an interesting time to come of age as, at nine, I realized that my parents did not know everything; they did not speak English so I quickly learned and became the ambassador for the family. That time also changed our family dynamic. We had distant family members who sponsored us but our tickets came from the HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that bought our tickets and which we repaid tenfold. Our first home was an apartment where I slept on a couch that we found on a garbage pile and that was the beginning of our American adventure.

What contemporary word or phrase annoys you?

“Dude,” particularly since husband called me that throughout the entire nine months of my pregnancy. The other thing I hate is being called, “Ma’am,” which many of our patients call me. What about me says “Ma’am?”

How did you celebrate Mother’s Day?

I got really sick. I had my wisdom teeth pulled a week prior, then my kid got all of us sick. Then, once we got better we went out to celebrate and I’m pretty sure I had food poisoning with staph bacteremia and thought for sure I’d end up being a Mt. Zion patient.

Anna and Eva

Belated Happy Mothers Day, Anna. Thank you.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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