This memoir reconstructs event by event the hospitalization of the author’s husband, Elliot Gilbert, for prostate surgery, his death in the recovery room, and the efforts of his wife and family to find out why he died. The account of those efforts over the ensuing months, which involved friends and lawyers, raises numerous legal, social, and medical questions about how medical mistakes occur; how the medical establishment may seek to protect itself; patients’ and families’ rights to information about norms and procedures; and the vulnerability of both patients and doctors in a litigious environment. The book also reflects on the process of mourning, and begins with an acknowledgment that the writing of it has constituted part of that process.


Sandra Gilbert is widely known as a poet and feminist literary critic. Her understanding of the function of story, the complexity of language, and the blurred boundary between fact and fiction gives an extra dimension to what might otherwise be simply a chronicle and expose of what she calls a "medical tragedy." The reconstruction is organized by dated episodes, each preceded by an epigraph from literature on grief, articles on medical law, and a variety of other sources to which Gilbert turned for help in the aftermath of her husband’s death.

The factual reportage is interwoven with visual detail, dialogue, and personal reflection that make each chapter read like a short story. Readers might find the 347-page account repetitious, yet the repetition of events reflects repeated frustrated efforts to obtain information from unwilling members of the hospital staff. A disturbing but useful story of how personal loss and grief are complicated by uncertainty, anger, and an outraged sense of justice.


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



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