One British hospital. Seven days and nights. Plenty of perspectives from those who work there, train there, and are treated there. Over the course of one week (October 24 thru October 30), the characters in these connected stories spill their secrets and shame, tout their triumphs and tragedies. And the danger of professional and emotional exhaustion looms very large: "Maybe this is how doctors and nurses finally burn out. Past their failures, their hours, all their inhaled sadness" (p40). What ultimately triggers burnout is "the accrued weight of so many tiny things" (p41).

Readers are privy to the thoughts and sometimes nuanced actions of medical personnel - attending physicians, residents, a medical student, and nurses. The musings of a hospital chaplain, cleaning woman, medical secretary, hospital porter, and patients (a hairdresser and a farmer) are also divulged. But the protagonist is the hospital. More than a physical structure, it is a kind of human hive with many strata of workers, occupants, and those (MD's) at the top. The hospital is portrayed as "a place of brokenness," propped up with occasional promises of hope and the might of technology. But decay can be insidious as some physicians no longer appear capable of compassion or empathy.


Positioned somewhere between a novella and a collection of loosely-linked short stories (actually more like sketches), the common thread here is the hospital setting along with a few recurring characters. One theme snaking throughout these stories written by a clinical oncologist is the difficult adjustment to a life in medicine.

Readers are provided with a kind of hidden knowledge about the medical world. There are confessions by doctors and a bit of bad behavior. Boundary issues surface. Physicians routinely flaunt their "confidence and certainty." But are these attributes really genuine? Or just a lie to protect patients (and maybe themselves too)?

Primary Source




Place Published




Page Count