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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Oxygen by Carol Cassella, 2008, * * * *

The protagonists of Carol Cassella's debut novel Oxygen is a 37-year old anesthesiologist Dr. Marie Heaton, a dedicated and conscientious physician.  After introducing herself to patient and reassuring them that they are in good hands, she administers drugs that bring about "a temporary loss of sensation, an absence of pain.."  Marie loves the precision and focus of her job with its balance of technical skill and judgment.  Marie's life, however, comes to a screeching halt when she administers anesthesia to an 8-year old girl named Jolene Jansen.  For some inexplicable reason, Jolene's heart rate plummets and her blood loses its oxygen supply.  Although Dr. Heaton tries every technique at her disposal to bring the child back,  she fails.  The devastating tragedy leads to sleepless nights during which Marie second-guesses herself, wondering what she could have done differently. She is also on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable malpractice suit to be filed.  she is raked over the coals by lawyers and members of the hospitals board and the events in this novel demonstrate how selfish and callous individuals bring untold misery to their friends, family, and coworkers.  The author, who is a practicing anesthesiologist, provides an insider's look into the political, legal, and human sides of modern hospital care.  She also imbues the story with an added dimension by shedding light on Marie's personal life. Oxygen builds in intensity until it reaches its electrifying conclusion.  With the compassion of Jodi Picault and the medical realism of Atul Gawande,  Oxygen proved to be a very satisfying read about relationships and family that collides with a high-stakes medical drama. 

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