Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review - Oxygen by Carol Cassella

Title: Oxygen 
Author: Carol Cassella
Year: 2008
Page: 288
Genre: Fiction - Medical

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
With the compassion of Jodi Picoult and the medical realism of Atul Gawande, Oxygen is a riveting new novel by a real-life anesthesiologist, an intimate story of relationships and family that collides with a high-stakes medical drama.

Dr. Marie Heaton is an anesthesiologist at the height of her profession. She has worked, lived and breathed her career since medical school, and she now practices at a top Seattle hospital. Marie has carefully constructed and constricted her life according to empirical truths, to the science and art of medicine. But when her tried-and-true formula suddenly deserts her during a routine surgery, she must explain the nightmarish operating room disaster and face the resulting malpractice suit. Marie's best friend, colleague and former lover, Dr. Joe Hillary, becomes her closest confidante as she twists through depositions, accusations and a remorseful preoccupation with the mother of the patient in question. As she struggles to salvage her career and reputation, Marie must face hard truths about the path she's chosen, the bridges she's burned and the colleagues and superiors she's mistaken for friends.

A quieter crisis is simultaneously unfolding within Marie's family. Her aging father is losing his sight and approaching an awkward dependency on Marie and her sister, Lori. But Lori has taken a more traditional path than Marie and is busy raising a family. Although Marie has been estranged from her Texas roots for decades, the ultimate responsibility for their father's care is falling on her.

As her carefully structured life begins to collapse, Marie confronts questions of love and betrayal, family bonds and the price of her own choices. Set against the natural splendor of Seattle, and inside the closed vaults of hospital operating rooms, Oxygen climaxes in a final twist that is as heartrending as it is redeeming.

First Sentence:
People feel so strong, so durable.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I read a blog review on the author's second book, and her first book (this one, Oxygen) was mentioned in the review. I was more interested in Oxygen as I liked reading medical-related fiction since I work in health care. Suppose to have a big twist too so right up my alley!
First thought:
  • Didn't quite live up to expectation...
Cover Art:
  • Related to the story, but I wish it had a bit more to do with oxygen or anesthesiology since it played such an important role in the story too. But the white-on-white design is quite eye catching
  • Made sense and catchy (I prefer short and to the point title to overly frilly title... The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, anyone? I can never recall the whole title)
  • While not a difficult read, it was slow at times. I thought it'd be more engaging. 
  • Probably being a bit picky, but in the beginning, one of the surgeons was referred to by his last name, then in a chapter later on, he was referred to by his first name instead and I had no idea who that was since his first name was never mentioned before, and I figured it out by deduction.
  • There were some side-stories that didn't really contribute to the main story so it dragged down the pace
  • The big family secret (about the main protagonist and her father) seemed forced and didn't really quite fit into the story
  • Not sure if it was because I worked in health care (not direct patient care though), I could guess the big twist early on... so that took the surprise out 


  • Felt indifferent about the characters. None of them really jumped out - good or bad
  • What I liked best about this story was the main portraitist's perspective on being an anesthesiologist. I haven't worked with anesthesiologists yet so it helped me understand their role a bit better.   
  • The twist was predictable, but the actual ending about one of the characters seemed a bit unrealistic? 

  • Even though I was supposed to feel sad when the sad event happened, I didn't feel particularly sad...
  • But I do feel for doctors in general - their crazy schedules, the office politics, the fear of losing the patients, and the possibility of facing malpractice lawsuits... 

What I Learned:
  • What goes inside an anesthesiologist's mind
  • I wondered when the story was set? It seemed like the protagonist worked in a modern hospital, and yet documentation was all on paper instead of electronically 
Read this Author again?
  • Depends... 


With the right preparation I look forward to cases like this -- calming a challenging patient in my preoperative interview. I'm playing psychiatrist as well as medicinal artist, a chemical hypnotist beckoning the frightened and the uninitiated into a secure and painless realm of trust. It's a private world I build with my patient, a world the surgeon never sees, a secret pact that never makes it into the hospital record or onto an insurance billing form. I like to think it is where I can make the most difference -- spinning the first layer of the anesthetic cocoon with language instead of drugs. (p14)

Overall Rating:
3 Stars. It's okay, could be better.

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  1. It's too bad it wasn't better. I like the premise. I also dislike it when you have to keep flipping back to figure out who somebody is!

  2. There's so much that seems to be happening in this book. I saw it on B&N stacks last month and was really curious about it. Too bad it's not that good. The title and the cover really seem to call out.