Dr. Wendy Harpham on Oxygen

This week on her Healthy Survivorship blog, Dr. Wendy Harpham posts about a novel I recently read and liked a lot: Oxygen by Dr. Carol Cassella, an anesthesiologist, whose debut novel is a medical thriller/mystery written with a very Jodi Picoult issues-oriented-faux-lit-fiction feel.

From the Oxygen press kit:
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.

Says Wendy:
[Oxygen] took my breath away. And not just because the story was gripping and the writing superb. This story brought into relief a growing fear of mine: the role of litigation in widening the disconnect between doctors and patients...

Most media coverage of the current litigious medical environment focuses on the sympathetic side of patients who've been hurt by incompetent and/or uncaring physicians. Oxygen brings into relief how dedicated, excellent physicians are negatively affected by lawsuits. Many resort to defensive medicine, routinely ordering extra tests and/or avoiding risky cases. Others leave medicine prematurely, deciding the risk isn't worth it.

Wendy's done more than anyone I know to bridge that doctor/patient gap. Forced to close her private practice after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, she started writing and became a bestselling tour de force. Check out the rest of her Oxygen review here and visit Wendy's website for a wealth of resources.


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