Oxygen by Carol Cassella
I started (because of an alma mater connection), then stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy after the first season (although I’ve had to revisit it in spurts with my teenage daughter since she discovered it last fall), but that limited exposure was enough that I can’t help but compare Cassella’s debut medical drama with the over-the-top primetime soap. That said, unlike the untrained actors populating that make-believe set, Cassella is a real-life, practicing anesthesiologist tightly controlling the narrative. And, best of all, you’ll find far more believable heart-thumping on the page (or stuck in your ears – this is one of those few titles I chose for the narrator (!) Jennifer Ikeda) than on the flattened screen (as always).
Dr. Marie Heaton became an anesthesiologist for all the right reasons: “‘I like helping people through a critical time.'” With reassuring words, she eases them into deep sleep, and wakes them gently when the cutting, repairing, stitching are over. “‘I love figuring out how to take away somebody’s pain.'”
She can only put such heartfelt thoughts into words when she can no longer be helpful, when her anesthesiologist’s license is under grave threat: During what should have been a routine surgery on a healthy young girl, the child inexplicably dies in the operating room. What is initially accepted by the hospital administration as a faultless tragedy quickly devolves into a malpractice suit and far, far worse.
Even more unbearable than the legal battle is Marie’s agony over her young patient’s death. Marie is jolted awake from her comfortable existence – her medical title and successful career having been her personal anesthetic cocktail of privilege, prestige, and hard-earned routine – and suddenly she must face uncontrollable emotions and damaged relationships in the midst of fighting for her professional life. To save herself, Marie must confront her difficult past, her estrangement from her elderly father, her questionable bond with her best friend and colleague (and more?), and the specter of a dead young girl and her ever-grieving mother.
Next time you grab for that remote in search of Seattle Grace, get yourself Oxygen instead. Got choice? Go for the book. Always.