In early October, Patricia Coyle died in the Mount St Joseph’s Home at Randwick after a prolonged period of ill health. She was born in Sydney as the only daughter, with two younger brothers (Geoffrey & Dennis), to Charles Coyle and Hazel (née Bayliss) on 27 October 1929, and thus died just before her 96th birthday.
Patricia left school at 15 for office work at a Dairy Food Manufacturer with evening study (accounting & comptometry) transferring after two years to laboratory work with the same employer. Then, after a further three years, she transferred to Royal North Shore Hospital Laboratories. In 1952 she matriculated to University having studied privately whilst working as a laboratory technician. Patricia then enrolled at Sydney University Medical School, living in Sancta Sophia College, and graduated BSc (Med) Hons 1959 & MBBS 1960. She did her Internship at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH), and in 1961 she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, professing in Rome on 2 July 1969. Patricia never spoke about what had motivated her to enter the Society and avoided any queries on the topic. At that time it was not possible in the Society to practice medicine so Patricia began teaching in secondary schools (Rose Bay, Sydney & Baradene College, Auckland).
In 1969-70, Patricia studied for her Diploma of Pastoral Theology at the University of Montreal, Canada. Her Religious Society then suggested that she train as an anaesthetist to enable her to carry out missionary medical work in Africa for the Society. This specialisation occurred in Auckland and Sydney (FFARACS 1978). Following 18 months Staff Specialist experience mainly in intensive care at Lidcombe Hospital, she then in 1981 completed a six month course for the Dip.Trop.Med (School of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium), and moved to Kampala, Uganda, as Consultant Anaesthetist Mission Hospitals 1983-84, & then Senior Lecturer in Anaesthesia at Makerere University 1985-89 where she established the Diploma of Anaesthesia and degree of Master of Medicine (Anaesthetics). During much of her time in Kampala, the Ugandan Bush War 1980-86 was occurring. When the post-graduate degrees were established Patricia retired leaving the first graduates she had trained in charge of anaesthesia.
In 1992, after a refresher year in anaesthetics at Concord Hospital in Sydney, Patricia spent a year as Associate Professor at the Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. This was the first year following the Ethiopian Civil War of 1974-91 and unfortunately Ethiopia was still relatively unstable. Patricia considered that she was not able to improve either the teaching or clinical activities and left Addis Ababa after the year. More missionary work followed in 1992-93 at Red Cross Hospitals on the Thai-Cambodian border (Khao-I-Dang) and in Quetta, Pakistan, returning to Sydney in 1994 with some VMO sessions at RPAH and a Staff Specialist position at the United Dental Hospital Sydney. Later she worked as a part-time Medical Officer in Emergency Medicine at RPAH, Balmain & Sydney Hospitals.
In 1997, she returned to northern Uganda for a 6 months term as an anaesthetist, and later a brief cameo as an MSF anaesthetist in East Timor (November 1999 to January 2000). She had been elected an Anaesthetic Consultant Emerita to RPAH in August 1995. During her “retirement years” she made return visits to lecture and run courses in anaesthesia in Kampala and Nairobi, where she was revered for her excellent teaching and her expertise in paediatric and obstetric anaesthesia particularly in relatively primitive conditions. Patricia contributed to Australasian Anaesthesia in 1994 with an article on “Anaesthesia in the Developing World 1, and maintained an active interest in approving and providing appropriate medical technology for the Third World.
Following her experience of wars in both Africa and Asia, Patricia became a passionate opponent of land mines joining the Campaign to Ban Landmines (CBL), as she had seen all too often the appalling destruction these mines had inflicted often on innocent civilians who had inadvertently walked into a mined area resulting in devastating injuries. During her debilitating final illness when she knew she was failing she arranged for a trusted friend to take on her passionate opposition to these land mines in the CBL.
Patricia’s experience in Africa made her an expert in Third World anaesthesia for which she was recognised by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain & Ireland with the Pask Certificate of Honour (1984), and Fellowship of the FA,RCS by election (1988) which later became FRCA. She also became an editor for WFSA Electronic Publishing, and as an invited contributor to both the WFSA and the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics (Oxford) courses on “Difficult Anaesthesia”.
Patricia was an extremely humble person who never pushed herself forward, and often had to be coaxed to contribute her experience to clinical discussions, which when she did were invariably succinct and completely relevant contributions. Her faith was a major sustaining joy but she never evangelised, though she was always very pleased and happy to discuss her faith and how it might help others in difficult situations. Sadly her last years were marred by dementia. She will be remembered by all who knew her professionally as an excellent anaesthetist who devoted the major part of her professional life to missionary and anaesthetic work in the developing world.
In the 2001 Australian Queen’s Birthday Honours List Patricia was awarded an AO:
For service to the community, particularly humanitarian aid overseas, as a medical practitioner in the field of anaesthesia, and through the Catholic Church.
This Eulogy was prepared by
AB Baker AM
MB, BS (Qld), DPhil (Oxon),
FANZCA, FCICM, FRCA, DHMSA
University of Sydney
Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetics,
University of Sydney
Dean of Education
Australian and New Zealand College of