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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1994, Vol.14, No.3
Apgar Remembrances
S.H. Ngai, M.D

P&S Professor Emeritus, Anesthesiology & Pharmacology

I met Dr. Apgar for the first time during Christmas vacation, 1947. She interviewed me in her office for a position of second-year resident in anesthesiology, somewhere between the old PH 18 and 19 floors-a closet. She told me that I will have a position in July 1948. I returned to Chicago to complete my first-year residency. I did not hear from her again until June of 1948, after I wrote to her asking if indeed she had a position for me. She wrote back: "Of course," with her signature of a smiling face.
I arrived at New York in the wee morning hours of July 1st and reported to Dr. Apgar. She put me to work right away. When I finished at last late in the afternoon, she appeared and told me that I was to take the obstetric anesthesia call that night, the first at CPMC. I politely informed her that I had to check in at the Bard Hall and to get my luggage from the Grand Central Station. She smiled her usual smile and let me go. Around the clock anesthesia coverage for obstetrics at CPMC started on July 2, 1948, and continued to this date.
Dr. Apgar talked fast, thought faster, and always walked at a great pace. I could never catch up with her. Once she was issued a traffic citation for driving at 50 miles an hour, eating a sandwich, and looking at a map, all at the same time!
I believe that I am one of her last recruits, including Ed Hanks and others. When I finished my residency, June 1949, I became an attending anesthesiologist and assistant in surgery. Dr. Papper arrived that September to become professor of anesthesiology and chief of the Anesthesiology Service; Dr. Apgar also became a professor. She soon moved to obstetric anesthesiology. She organized that service to become the premier obstetric anesthesia service of the nation. The modern obstetrical anesthesia was born together with neonatology, all because of Ginny (Dr. Apgar), as she was called by everyone. CPMC became the mecca of obstetrical anesthesia. During the 1950s, almost all of the nation's prominent obstetric anesthesiologists were Ginny's students. For the development of neonatology, Dr. Apgar gathered a team working with neonates, among them Dr. Stanley James and other pediatricians too many to name.
After she went to the National Foundation, she traveled wide and often. Every Christmas, her students (residents) received a travelogue as to where she had been, whom she saw, and stories about them and herself. She had an extended family.
The last time I saw her was during the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting in San Francisco, 1973. Four "chiefs" posed for a picture which sits above my fireplace at home, Drs. Apgar, Bendixen, Ngai, and Papper.
She died the next year before her time. It is only fitting that the U.S. Postal Service decided to honor this GREAT WOMAN AND PHYSICIAN for her dedicated service to mankind and to mothers and newborns everywhere.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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