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.
Reading Group Guide
1. After Jolene's death, Marie thinks almost as much about Bobbie as she does about her own experience. Why is it so important for her to see Bobbie? What does she hope to accomplish?
2. Marie says that no death she has witnessed affects her as Jolene's does, yet one experience was different: the death of her mother. How do you think learning of her mother's condition and attempting to help her parents understand it while she was in medical school affects Marie as a doctor? How was the time of her mother's death a turning point between the life she was raised for and the life she chose?
3. When Marie learns that the Turner Syndrome revealed in Jolene's autopsy could make losing the case and therefore her career more likely, she wonders "if all the money and possessions were stripped away, what, exactly, would be left?" What choices does the case force Marie to reconsider? What doubts does she have about her life and career?
4. Discuss the relationship between Marie and her sister, Lori. Why doesn't Marie tell Lori about what happened to Jolene immediately? What conflicting emotions does Marie have about Lori's life and marriage?
5. When Marie and Joe are in the hotel in Texas, he describes his theory of the "Big O," a theory that could apply to several characters in the book, perhaps Joe most of all. Why is it significant that Joe be the one to hold this hopeful belief? In what ways are each of the characters "c see more