P&S Journal: Fall 1994, Vol.14, No.3
Hisayo O. Morishima, M.D., Ph.D.
P&S Professor of Anesthesiology
Though I am in no way Dr. Apgar's equal, our career paths were similar: Both of us started with surgical training then changed to anesthesiology, then to specialize in obstetrical anesthesiology and perinatology. Also, we were both crazy about stamp collecting, fishing, gardening, and classical music. She told me many times, "You and I are blood brothers."
Once I received a Christmas card that said, "Right now I'm in Guadeloupe. Really! This year I have been feeling very well and have traveled some 82,000 miles; I've been to Chile, Caracas, Norway, the North Pole, and Vienna. Also, I have gotten lots of stamps from South and Central America. They're all for you; I will send them to you when I get back."
I had more chances to see Virginia the year of her death than the year before. At a memorial service for the wife of Dr. E.M. Papper (professor emeritus and former chairman of anesthesiology), Virginia seemed to swim through the packed crowd of mourners to where I was standing. She whispered in my ear, "When are you going to join the American Philatelic Society? I don't know how many times I've told you I'll write you a letter of recommendation." While she had already urged me to join this highly respected organization several times, I kept putting it off. When I met her at a pediatrics conference in April, ran into her at the hospital in May, and in the very kind and thoughtful notes she sent to me even when she was on a brief trip, she always had something to say about stamps. She would close her letters with the words "Philatelically" or "Anesthesiologically" instead of "Sincerely," and would sign them in the way that had always been her trademark: (smiley-face) with V.A.
In July, I found a note from Virginia in my hospital mailbox. "I have been admitted again," she wrote. "This time it's supposed to be quite serious. I am enclosing some stamps. I would like to see you."
When I visited her, she said, "I have just received a thoracentesis. I had intended to be an extremely cooperative patient, but this is really painful." This was the first time I had ever seen her show any weakness. "The culture was negative for TB or syphilis, so it can't be anything else but cancer." She stuck her tongue out at me and made a face like a naughty child. I was unable to conceal my surprise; to be thus consoled by her was quite painful, and I couldn't help but feel a great sadness.
Right until the end, she talked about work, about research laboratories, and, of course, about stamps. And then she told me that she couldn't understand why I was hesitant to join the Philatelic Society. That was the last time I ever spoke to Virginia. The night before she was scheduled to have exploratory surgery, my most respected teacher and dear friend, Dr. Virginia Apgar, passed quietly from this world while in her sleep. Her journey this time would be an eternal one, from which she would not return.
When I returned home in a state of shock from hearing the sad news, there was a letter waiting for me from the American Philatelic Society. "Congratulations! Thanks to a letter of recommendation we received from Dr. Virginia Apgar, we have selected you for membership in our society. Your admission fee and dues for one year are a gift from Dr. Apgar." I have no words to express how moved I was by Virginia's last gift to me.
This great woman, Dr. Virginia Apgar, lives on in my heart the same as ever, cheering me on, and smiling her wonderful smile.