Born in Hong Kong in 1939, Patrick Pui-Kam Sim, MLS (1939-2010), the Paul M. Wood Distinguished Librarian Emeritus of the Wood Library-Museum (WLM) of Anesthesiology, lived and breathed books. Patrick didn’t merely read books, he ingested them. I often teased him, calling him my favorite “bibliovore.” He reverenced books as palpable, almost living entities, treasures that nourished his imagination and slaked his thirst for knowledge. I think he enjoyed the tactile sensation of turning a page, seeing his bookmark ambling along hour after hour, and inhaling the sometimes musty smell of ancient notions. And, like all readers, he revealed himself – or at least a part of himself – in the books he loved.
Patrick was fascinated with history, especially the history of anesthesiology. When I reflect on my many fond memories of him, the picture in my mind’s eye is of Patrick, wearing white cotton gloves, adoringly perusing an ancient volume in the Wood Library’s Garth Huston Rare Book Room. He reveled in the continuum of thought these tomes disclosed. Although I thought of him as the epitome of imperturbability and the personification of patience, Patrick had little tolerance for the values of those who, in this utilitarian age, questioned the relevance of history. He shared the view of the noted medical historian Leonard Wilson who rhetorically asked, “If the past has no relevance for the present, what possible use could the present be for the future?” Patrick Sim was not an introverted, aloof or nerdy bookworm. Although he often alluded to himself as “a humble librarian,” he was an intelligent, gracious and vibrant scholar with a twinkle in his eye. He was a VIP in the lives of many. This self-deprecating gentleman with an enviable talent for friendship allowed me, from time to time, a privileged glimpse into his mind, heart and soul. Although he was conversant in several languages, he once told me he dreamed in Chinese, and I believe that his perspective remained more oriental than occidental despite decades of residence in the United States. Greatly impressed with his abiding decency, I came to think of Patrick as a deeply spiritual man who expressed his spirituality, if that is the right word, through his work and through his devotion to his family and colleagues.
Patrick Sim’s first and only full-time job as a librarian began on February 16, 1971, when he commenced his 39-year career at the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ WLM. Behind the scene, Patrick assisted hundreds of physicians with research for their publications. Invariably, he would form close bonds with those he assisted, forging friendships that endured for decades. The dimensions of his friendship were epic, and he was an extraordinary resource to me when I had the privilege of serving as president of the WLM a decade ago. He was the consummate facilitator and goodwill ambassador of the ASA. His formidable intelligence was both intellectual and emotional, and he was masterful at harmonizing when, and how much, to use of each. One of Patrick’s greatest skills was his political adeptness in steering so many projects to safe harbor within a milieu of sometimes formidable tides and rocky shoals. He was the maestro of ego massage and, when one is dealing constantly with physicians’ egos, that talent is an invaluable survival skill! I cannot begin to describe how much I miss him and his sage advice.
Sadly, our beloved Patrick died of lung cancer on the eve of the ASA 2010 annual meeting. During the last three decades of his tenure, he meticulously had been compiling an annotated bibliography of the Rare Book Collection of the WLM. This was an enormous undertaking that demanded knowledge not just of history and the English language, but of science, medicine, Chinese, French, German and Latin as well. Indeed, I enjoyed quipping to Patrick that he was the modern incarnation of Edward Casaubon, the fictional character in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, who labored on the interminable Key to All Mythologies. At his death, The Heritage of Anesthesia: Patrick Sim’s Annotated Bibliography of the Rare Book Collection of the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, was unfinished. Patrick left behind 1,028 pages of notes and 27 chapters that required organization, editing and completion. Dr. Donald Caton, the 2004 WLM Laureate of the History of Anesthesia, had been working with our Distinguished Librarian for several years before Patrick’s death to facilitate the project. Eventually, medical editor Pauline Snider, WLM Archivist Felicia Reilly and I joined Don in completing this massive undertaking that highlights the context and provenance of the WLM’s priceless books and manuscripts, several of which predate 1454, arguably the year when the oldest known version of the Gutenberg Bible appeared. Realizing that this scholarly compilation was Patrick’s labor of love, the four of us felt compelled to complete Patrick’s work as a tangible expression of the love and respect he engendered in each of us. The final version, consisting of 450 pages, 19 chapters and more than 200 discrete entries, was unveiled at the ASA 2012 annual meeting.
Collaborating on this project was an extraordinary privilege, offering us the opportunity to keep Patrick Sim close to our minds and hearts, just as Michel de Montaigne during the Renaissance embarked on his Essays as a means of keeping his friend Étienne de la Boétie alive. Despite the immutable fact of loss, we hope with a searing tenderness that Patrick’s presence will waft and bloom across each page and that his work will bask in richly deserved appreciation. I dream (in English) that Patrick’s annotated bibliography will have an honored place in the library of every department of anesthesiology in the United States.
Kathryn E. McGoldrick, M.D., is Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York.