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Oxygen Summary

Dr. Marie Heaton is an anesthesiologist at First Lutheran Hospital in Seattle. Marie is surprised by how much she enjoys her work because as an anesthesiologist she is a doctor but does not have much contact with patients. However, she has come to realize that, in the moment she meets a patient or a patient’s family member, she is able to allay their fear or anxiety with her professionalism and compassion. Marie is very perceptive of the feelings of those around her, which helps her adjust the pain-killing drugs she gives patients while they undergo surgery. First Lutheran is a very busy hospital—so much so that the anesthesiologists go out of their way to give each other breaks midway through surgery—but Marie is a focused and professional doctor with an exemplary record. When a healthy child dies under her care, Marie’s professionalism is undermined and her life is turned upside down.

When Marie first meets Bobbie Jenson, she does her best to comfort the distressed mother. Her daughter, Jolene, is an eight-year-old girl who requires surgery; consequently, Bobbie is very distraught. Marie is a professional and she does her best to get a sense of who this child is. Jolene is a little small for her age, and although Marie struggles to hear the crying girl’s heartbeat, she thinks it is probably due to the noise of the child. After all, no doctor has ever diagnosed her with a specific illness and her mother reports that she is a physically healthy girl. The surgery starts as usual. In the middle of it, Joe comes to relieve Marie so she can take a break. Joe is a good friend of Marie’s in spite of his also being her former lover. When Marie returns from her brief break, the surgery continues as usual. Suddenly, the monitors report problems with Jolene’s heart rate and blood pressure. Marie takes over, but in spite of her best efforts, Jolene dies on the operating table. Marie does her best to explain what happened to Bobbie, but even she does not know what caused the child’s death. Her best guess is that Jolene went into anaphylactic shock as a result of an undiagnosed allergy.

Now First Lutheran will have to prepare for an inevitable lawsuit. Because a child died on the operating table, there is no way the hospital will want to see this lawsuit go to court. Their best bet is to settle out of court, and a mediator will settle the amount they pay. Until the autopsy returns, there is no way to know what happened for sure. However, Marie’s records and analysis suggest that the hospital and its staff did everything correctly. Marie begins facing depositions and continues working, but she feels decimated by what has happened. When her teenage niece calls from Texas, Marie is relieved to hear about someone else’s problems. Joe does his best to console Marie as well. The worst thing about the investigation is that Marie is not allowed to discuss what is happening with anyone.

Weeks go by before the autopsy report is released. It turns out that Jolene had Turner’s Syndrome. Her heart was weak. Even after Marie learns of this, she is not convinced that it would change the case. However, from a mediation perspective, it changes the amount of money for which Bobbie’s lawyers can ask. Marie’s doubts about the complicating legalities are erased when she sees the taped deposition of the opposing witness, a man who makes his living testifying about the incompetence of other doctors. Before long, the hospital informs Marie that she should obtain legal representation that is independent of the hospital. Her new lawyer, Charlie Marsallis, informs Marie that she is possibly facing criminal charges. Marie begins to break down. When Joe visits her, she begins to go on with her life. That night, Joe sleeps next to Marie to comfort her, but he is gone when she wakes up the next morning. Marie feels betrayed by her employer. She takes time off from work and leaves Seattle to visit her family.

Marie travels to Fort Worth, Texas, to...

(The entire section is 1,308 words.)