A child’s inexplicable death on the operating table causes an implosion in the life of the anesthesiologist in charge.
Cassella, a practicing anesthesiologist in Seattle, writes what she knows in her debut, a breathless exploration of the career- and mid-life-crisis of Seattle-based anesthesiologist Dr. Marie Heaton. An insider’s description of hospital routine, pressures and politics helps ground the story that swoops into tragedy when eight-year-old Jolene dies during routine surgery, leaving Marie at the mercy of lawyers, insurance people and malpractice-claims managers, and desperate to understand what went wrong. One person she can talk to is best friend, colleague and ex-lover Joe. After the autopsy reveals Jolene had a heart defect, Marie’s strain and plight intensify: A criminal investigation begins and the hospital distances itself. Taking a leave of absence, she visits family in Texas, notably her frail, emotionally remote father, and when Joe drops in the sexual relationship is resumed. But Joe, it turns out, is the problem, not the solution. He’s an addict who has been siphoning off drugs by faking Marie’s medical reports and who lied about what he’d administered to Jolene. Now Joe does the noble thing, and Marie is eventually able to start a new job and a new chapter in her family relationships.
With its small cast, one-note plot and obsessive earnestness, this is a claustrophobic, simple but readable ER-like combination of procedures and human drama.