Shortly after I made the decision to specialize in anesthesia, my mother gave me a copy of a book she had just started reading,Oxygen by Carol Cassella, and suggested I might enjoy it as well. After all, the main character is a young anesthesiologist. At the risk of sounding a bit book-clubish, I absolutely loved it – tearing through its pages as only the refreshed mind of a fourth-year medical student can, picturing my own future career. But as the story developed, I became acutely conscious of an aspect of my profession to which I had paid little attention before, and as residency approached, I found the book seemed to haunt me.

The plot revolves around an intraoperative error and its wide-reaching ramifications, both professionally and emotionally, for its main character. In those last few bright days of...

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