In this riveting new novel by a real-life anesthesiologist, an intimate story of relationships and family 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 constructed her professional 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 she has been estranged from her Texas roots for decades, the ultimate responsibility for their father’s care is falling on Marie.
As her carefully structured life begins to shatter, 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.
"Written by a practicing Seattle anesthesiologist, the novel goes inside the operating room to describe hospital hierarchies,... the relentless pressure for profits and the fear of malpractice suits."
“a startling plot twist, combined with Cassella’s first-hand understanding of our ailing healthcare system, makes this involving debut just what the doctor ordered.”
A Parade Magazine Pick® "First-time author Carol Cassella used her experience as an anesthesiologist to write Oxygen . . . the spine-tingling story of a doctor whose life unravels after she unwittingly kills a patient."
"Unlike the silly voice-overs on the other fictional medical drama set in Seattle, television's "Grey's Anatomy," Cassella's musings on medicine are astute and probing. In one meditation on the art and science of anesthesiology, Heaton says, "I'm playing a psychiatrist as well as a 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 ... Readers who like medical details will enjoy the ease with which the doctor-protagonist gets down to business. Also impressive are Cassella's lively thumbnail sketches of various minor characters."
Seattle Post Intelligencer
"Write what you know" remains the quintessential advice to aspiring writers, especially those hoping to pen a novel. Carol Wiley Cassella certainly is following that time-honored advice. . . .This gripping novel's main character is Dr. Marie Heaton, who is at the top of her profession at the fictional First Lutheran Hospital. But a mistake in the operating room leads to the death of an 8-year-old girl. That tragedy sets Heaton's career on a downward spiral toward the inevitable malpractice suit. . . .Cassella's own hospital experience . . .helps turn "Oxygen" into a riveting look at the challenges of medical care today. She also captures the reality of the physician's life -- different from what you get on TV."
"Anesthesiologist Carol Cassella is obviously at home in the medical world that houses her vibrant debut, Oxygen. And it isn't until the last quarter of the book that readers realize they're looking at a finely crafted mystery, as well as a sparkling literary work...Oxygen is the work of a writer who is in full command of her craft. In lesser hands, the story could have bogged in medical minutiae, but Cassella never loses sight of the fact that stories are most compelling when they are about people. Marie is a fully realized, fully human character complete with flaws and blind spots. Traveling with her on this particular journey is memorable and humbling."
Dallas Morning News
"OXYGEN combines realistic detail with fictional characters and events in a subtle, compelling plot that twists and twists again. This quickly becomes a book you cannot put down ...."
"Powered by Cassella's 25 years in the medical field, this nicely wrought debut follows the travails of an experienced Seattle anesthesiologist after an eight-year-old patient dies while under the knife. . . . the plot moves at a brisk pace, but the real hook is Cassella's knowing portrayal of the health industrial complex's inner workings; she knows the turf and doesn't spare readers the nasty bits."
"Practicing anesthesiologist and freelance writer Cassella is perfectly positioned to shed light on the medical profession in this well-crafted debut that takes surprising turns. Quiet yet descriptive language further enhances her invaluable insight into this less-than-glamorous job."
"The protagonist of Carol Cassella’s debut novel improbably turns anesthesia into poetry. From the first paragraph of “Oxygen,” Dr. Marie Heaton’s reverence for her work putting people to sleep comes through in a way that’s – oh, let’s just get it over with – breathtaking. Of course, as with any juicy and well-crafted story, there’s more to Marie than she herself lets on, and her tendency to over-embrace the rigors of her job hint at conflict and denial that any reader who loves her work, perhaps too much, will identify with."
Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Apple Orchard
"OXYGEN tells the story of Dr. Marie Heaton, a gifted anaesthesiologist facing a doctor’s worst nightmare — dealing with the fallout after something in the O.R. goes terribly wrong. It’s not a thriller, although a sense of impending danger and doom pervades each scene, building to a stunning and inexorable climax. Nor is it a medical procedural, though the book pulls aside the curtains on the mysterious and frightening (to lay people, anyway) workings of the operating room. OXYGEN is a story of tragedy and redemption, intricately plotted and told in a compelling voice that will keep you riveted to the page..."
Stephanie Kallos, Author of Broken For You
"In her debut novel, Carol Cassella has crafted a rich, layered tale. This medical mystery is told with lyric grace and deep compassion. Like her protagonist, Carol Cassella has the heart of a poet and the mind of a physician; the result is a striking meditation on the complexities of love, the fragile miracle that is the human body, and the burdens and blessings of being a healer. Closing this book left me with a sense of wonder, gratitude, and hard-won redemption."
"This novel is written with a clear, even hand, and the reader feels like a part of the heady world of high-stakes surgery. Marie is an appealing character ---All in all, OXYGEN is a great read with some juicy surprises."
Physician Carol Cassella’s haunting debut novel has generated a lot of pre-pub buzz — for good reason. It’s exactly the sort of book that gets people excited — fresh and different, something you can’t wait to share with a friend or better yet, with your book group. It’s a clear-your-schedule and turn-off-the-phone novel, the kind you want to hide away and read straight through to the end.
Poets and Writers Magazine Beginners to Blockbusters book selection
Open Letters Review
"Oxygen is a fantastic book and manages in very few pages (very nearly from page 1) to reclaim your attention. Since it’s a debut novel, you won’t be surprised to learn that its main character is a female Seattle anesthesiologist, but Dr. Marie Heaton is a remarkable fictional creation in her own right, and by the time an operating room mishap results in a patient’s death and brings all kinds of darkness into her life, the reader is thoroughly hooked. Every aspect of the American medical bureaucracy is here flawlessly rendered, but it’s Cassella’s grasp of character and great ear for dialogue (spoken and otherwise) that propels the book, as in this tense encounter Dr. Heaton has with a hospital administrator who talks to her about possible negligence: Negligence. It’s the first time anyone’s spoken that word to me out loud. I’ve said it to myself. I even looked it up: “failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances.”
Duke University Alumni Magazine
"We put such faith in the tools of modern medicine. Clinical breakthroughs and sophisticated technology seduce us into thinking that whatever ails us can be taken care of with a dose of medicine or a surgical intervention. But in the opening pages of Carol Cassella's debut novel, Oxygen, we're reminded of the fragile hold we have on life. . .Given her clear-eyed understanding of the medical profession, one hopes that like Gawande, she will provide us with further opportunities to peer into the mysterious and unpredictable nature of the human condition."
"OXYGEN was a gripping read, one that involved my mind and my heart. I was amazed to find that this is Cassella's first book. Her 25 years in the medical field were used to good effect; the medical and scientific information was fascinating and comprehensible, as were the descriptions of the grueling job of anesthesiologist. The plotting was complex, twisty and plausible; and there was a surprising resolution that knocked my socks off. OXYGEN is on my short list for best debut novel of 2008. To sum it up in one word: Wow!"
"This is an amazing first novel by anesthesiologist, Carol Cassella. Dr. Marie Heaton, the protagonist, is also an anesthesiologist at Lutheran Hospital in Seattle. The book will give you an inside look at what makes doctors tick and how they interact with one another. This story is part mystery, part love story, part what-is-the-meaning-of-life story. . . And if this book isn’t one currently being read by a majority of book clubs, it should. Not only will the story keep you reading into the night, the prose is lyrical. Here’s just a snippet: ''Yet.' What a generous, forgiving word, so opulent with possibility-the carrot perpetually dangled from the advancing stick of denial.' It is writing like this that fills the pages of this well-crafted story."
"Oxygen by Carol Cassella. 5 out of 5. Mesmerizing. That is the only word to describe this book."
Quality Book Reviews
"The author of this book is an anesthesiologist and she writes with detail and tells the story in the first person. The author has superbly penned a suspenseful story and has the capability of drawing her reader in and keeping you on the edge. I highly recommend this one and give it 4 stars."
Mostly Fiction Book Reviews
"The protagonist of Carol Cassella's Oxygen is thirty-seven year old anesthesiologist Dr. Marie Heaton, a dedicated and conscientious physician. After introducing herself to her patients and reassuring them that they are in good hands, she administers drugs that bring about "a temporary loss of sensation, an absence of pain during ... otherwise painful procedure[s]."
Dr. Wendy Harphan, On Healthy Survivorship
"Oxygen, a novel by anesthesiologist Dr. Carol Cassella, 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."