by Robin Cook
Published by: Penguin
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Lynn Peirce, a fourth-year medical student at South Carolina’s Mason-Dixon University, thinks she has her life figured out. But when her otherwise healthy boyfriend, Carl, enters the hospital for routine surgery, her neatly ordered life is thrown into total chaos. Carl fails to return to consciousness after the procedure, and an MRI confirms brain death. Devastated by Carl’s condition, Lynn searches for answers. Convinced there’s more to the story than what the authorities are willing to reveal, Lynn uses all her resources at Mason-Dixon—including her initially reluctant lab partner, Michael Pender—to hunt down evidence of medical error or malpractice. What she uncovers, however, is far more disturbing. Hospitals associated with Middleton Healthcare, including the Mason-Dixon Medical Center, have unnervingly high rates of unexplained anesthetic complications and patients contracting serious and terminal illness in the wake of routine hospital admissions. When Lynn and Michael begin to receive death threats, they know they’re into something bigger than either of them anticipated. They soon enter a desperate race against time for answers before shadowy forces behind Middleton Healthcare and their partner, Sidereal Pharmaceuticals, can put a stop to their efforts once and for all.
I love reading a good medical thriller and was excited to dive into Host by Robin Cook. While the tale was engaging and the investigation into what was happening at South Carolina’s Mason-Dixon Hospital kept me flipping the pages, I had issues with a few things.
- We meet Lynn Pierce a fourth year medical student on the morning of her boyfriend’s routine knee surgery. Carl fails to regain consciousness after the procedure. Lynn and fellow classmate Michael investigate and uncover something disturbing.
- I loved the investigation and all the geeky medical talk; it had an easy of readability and kept me flipping the pages to uncover what was happening. Cook shared the story of other patients ramping up the suspense angle and the threat to our protagonists.
- Russians, hit men, and those in power added twists and turns as we uncovered what was happening to patients. Middleton Healthcare and their partner, Sidereal Pharmaceuticals with profit as their end game were believable villains.
- The convalescent center and its futuristic care system and diabolical treatments are sure to please your inner geek. Some aspects felt plausible and will give you cause to shiver.
- While Lynn sometimes annoyed me, her tenacious determination to uncover the truth made her a strong heroine. Michael was the more level-headed of the two and I admired him from the start.
- Michael is black and about to graduate second in his class. While I love diversity, I do not believe his race, nor his ability to speak both as if from the “hood” and as an “English professor” should have been so heavily weighted. The author I believe was trying to shed light on racism but I hated the attention drawn to the color of his skin. While I certainly respect the message, I would have preferred a showing not telling approach. I felt like I was reading one of those learning books in school that was meant to be fun but teach a lesson. It was unfair to Michael who was a strong, humorous and bright character.
- Discussions on the of cost of medical care, pharmaceutical companies with their hands in Congress’s pockets and the cost of new drugs took up a significant chunk of page time. While I completely agree, it did not flow well and felt more placed into conversations for “the message”.
- Having read Coma by Cook, Host felt like a revamped “newer” version leaving me feeling a tad disappointed. The similarities were substantial.
Despite the issues I had with Host it was still an entertaining read. My recommendation is to save this one for your library haul.
Read an Excerpt
The following private journal entries were written by the late
Kate Hurley, a thirty-seven-year-old, physically fit (played
lots of tennis and was careful about her diet), moderately
compulsive, third-grade elementary school teacher and doting
mother of two boys, aged eleven and eight. Until her death
during a horrific home invasion, she lived with her family at
1440 Bay View Drive in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina,
across the harbor from Charleston. The house stands in a
relatively secluded wooded section at the very end of the
road. She was married to Robert Hurley, an aggressive
Saturday, March 28, 8:35 A.M.
It is a dreary, gray day as I look out the window of my hospital
room in the Mason-Dixon Medical Center. Hardly the spring
weather we all expect. I haven’t been good about writing in my
journal over the last six months even though doing so has always
been a great solace for me. Unfortunately I have been exhausted at
night and much too busy getting the boys and myself ready for school
in the morning, but I will make an effort to change. I could use the
consolation. I am in the hospital, feeling sorry for myself after a
dreadful night. It had started promisingly enough as Bob and I had
met Ginny and Harold Lawler for dinner on Sullivan’s Island. They
all had fish, and in retrospect, I wish I had done the same. Unfortunately I had chosen the duck, which was prepared on the rare side
and which I would later learn from the emergency room physician
probably had been contaminated, most likely with salmonella. I
began to feel strange even before finishing the entrée, and it got progressively
worse. While Bob was taking home the babysitter, I had
my first episode of vomiting—not pleasant! I made a mess of myself
and the bathroom. Luckily I was able to clean it up before Bob returned.
He was sympathetic but tired from a busy day at the office
and soon turned in. Since I still felt horrid, I parked myself in the
bathroom and threw up several more times, even after I thought
there was no way there could be any more food in my system. By
two A.M. I realized I was weak and getting weaker. It was then that I
woke up Bob. He took one look at me and judged that I needed to be
seen by a doctor. Our health plan directed us to the Mason-Dixon
Medical Center over in Charleston. Luckily we were able to get
Bob’s mom to come over to be with the kids. She’s been a lifesaver
on a number of occasions, this being one of them. At the emergency
room, the nurses and the doctors were great. Of course I was mortified
as the vomiting continued and bloody diarrhea began. I was
started on an IV and given some medication, which I’m sure they
explained, but I don’t remember. They also advised that I be admitted.
I felt so out of it that I didn’t object, even though I have always
feared hospitals. I also must have been given a sedative, because I
don’t even remember Bob leaving or my being transferred from the
ER to a hospital room. Yet a few hours later I do remember partially
awakening when someone, probably a nurse, came into the dark
room and adjusted or added something to the IV. It was as if I were
dreaming, because the person appeared like an apparition, with
blond hair and dressed in white. I tried to talk but couldn’t, at least
not intelligently. When I awoke this morning I felt like I had been
run over by a truck. I tried to get out of bed to use the bathroom
but couldn’t, at least initially, and had to call for assistance. It is one
of the things that I dislike about being in a hospital: you’re not in
control. You have to give up all autonomy when you check in.
The nurse who helped me said that a doctor would be by shortly.
I will finish this entry when I get home to talk about how this episode
has made me realize how much I take general health for
granted. I had never had food poisoning before. It is much worse
than I had imagined. In fact it is god-awful! That’s all I can say.
Sunday, March 29, 1:20 P.M.
Obviously I already have failed to follow my resolution about
writing in this journal more frequently. I did not finish yesterday’s
entry as I promised myself because things did not go as I had planned.
Soon after I had written the above, I was visited by one of the hospital’s
resident physicians, Dr. Clair Webster, who noticed something
that I hadn’t, namely that I had a fever. It wasn’t a high fever, but it
was a change, since I had a normal temperature the night before.
Although I didn’t realize it, machines were recording my pulse, blood
pressure, and temperature continuously, which was why I hadn’t
seen anyone during the night except for the person who had adjusted
my intravenous. Even my IV is being controlled by a small computerized
device. So much for the human touch in the modern hospital!
Dr. Webster said my temperature had started rising about six A.M.
and that she wanted to wait to see what it did before discharging me.
I called Bob to let him know about the delay.
As it turned out, it was more than a delay, as my temperature
did not return to normal but rather proceeded to climb all day and
all night up to 104º F, so here I am still. And there have been some
further complications. Right after Bob and the boys left from their
afternoon visit yesterday (the boys were not supposed to visit
because of their ages but Bob snuck them up to the room) I started
to get very achy, and now I understand what people mean when
they say they have joint pain. Worse than that, I have begun to have
some breathing problems, and as if that is not enough, when I took
a shower yesterday, I noticed I had a slight rash under my arms, and
under my breasts, that are flat, tiny red dots. Luckily they don’t
itch. The nurse said I had some on the whites of my eyes also. All
that brought the resident doctor back. She said that she was confused
because the symptoms were suggesting I might have typhoid
fever, and she insisted I be seen by an infectious-disease specialist.
So he came by and examined me. Thankfully he said it wasn’t
typhoid and gave a number of reasons, chief of which was that I
didn’t have the right strain of salmonella. Still, he was concerned
that my heart had speeded up while I’ve been in the hospital. To
check this out, he called in a cardiologist, a Dr. Christopher Hobart,
who examined me as well. My room was like a convention center,
with all these doctors coming and going. Dr. Hobart immediately
ordered a chest X-ray because he thought I was having some fat
embolization! As soon as I had a chance I looked up fat embolization
online (thank God for the Internet) and found out it is globules of
fat in the bloodstream, a condition usually seen in patients with
severe trauma, including broken bones. Of course I haven’t had any
trauma except emotional, so the cardiologist concluded it was from
severe dehydration. But since I already had the intravenous line, he
said there was no need for any further treatment, especially since
my breathing seemed entirely normal. I was pleased about that, but,
I have to say, all this has made my hospital phobia skyrocket. I read
something about hospital complications a few months ago in the
Post and Courier, and what was going on with me seemed similar
and was making me really anxious. The only thing that was wrong
with me when I came in Friday night was food poisoning, and now I
was supposedly having fat embolization. I called Bob and told him
how I felt and that I wanted to get out of this place and come home.
He advised me to be patient and that we would discuss it later, when
he comes to visit, after his mother comes over to the house to watch
the kids. I will finish this entry after Bob and I talk. On top of my
other symptoms I’m having some trouble concentrating.
Monday, March 30, 9:30 A.M.
Once again I failed to write in the journal, as I had planned after
Bob’s visit. My excuse was feeling spaced out. That’s the best way I
can describe it. I had written yesterday at the very end of the entry
that I was having trouble concentrating. It got worse. I don’t even
remember all that Bob and I talked about when he was here, although
I do remember that he, too, got upset about all my emerging
symptoms, demanding to talk to the doctors who had come to examine
me. Whether he did or not, I don’t know. And I don’t remember
much else that he said, although I do remember that he was going to
call Dr. Curtis Fletcher, our old family doctor, and get him involved.
I vaguely remember getting agitated after Bob left, worrying
that I was getting worse and not better. That got Dr. Webster back,
and she prescribed a sedative to calm me down, which certainly did.
The next thing I remembered was again waking up in the middle of
the night. This time it was with someone doing something to my
belly that felt like a needle prick. Maybe it was the same person who
had adjusted my IV the night before. I’m not sure. When I awoke
this morning, I wondered if it had been a dream until I found a
slightly tender area on my abdomen. Are some sedatives given there?
I will try to remember to ask. My fever is down slightly, although
still above normal. More importantly, I don’t feel so spaced out, and
the achiness is much improved with ibuprofen. Maybe they will let
me go home. I hope so. My dislike and fear of hospitals have not
improved. They’ve gotten worse.
I am back writing! I am very upset. I am not going home. Dr.
Chris Hobart just returned with bad news. He said he had ordered
an albumin test yesterday, which turned out to show that the albumin
was okay but that I had another blood protein that was way up!
He said I was developing a monoclonal gammopathy, whatever the
hell that is. I have yet to look it up on the Internet. I hate it when
doctors talk as if they don’t want you to understand. I know this
sounds paranoid, but I think doctors do it on purpose. To his credit,
he did say that the elevated protein was probably not a problem, but
he wanted me to have another consult with a blood specialist, meaning
I wasn’t going to be discharged.
The blood specialist just left, promising to return in the morning.
If her visit was supposed to calm me down, it didn’t work. My
worst fears about hospitals are coming to pass in spades. This new
doctor is a blood cancer doctor! An oncologist! I’m now terrified I’m
going to come down with something like leukemia. The doctor’s
name is Siri Erikson, which sounds Scandinavian, and she looks it.
All I can say is that I want to go home! Unfortunately I still have a
high fever, and Dr. Erikson said it would be better for me to stay
another few days to see if they can find out what is causing my temperature
to go up, or, at the very least, let it come back to normal.
But I’m really anxious. Everything that is happening is convinc-
ing me that hospitals are not safe places to be unless you really need
them, like I suppose I did Friday night. It seems that the longer I stay
here, the more problems I get. I will talk to Bob about all this when
he comes to visit after work. On the plus side, my GI system is getting
back to normal. My diet has been upped to normal foods, which
I am tolerating fine. I just want to get out of here and get home with
Bob and the boys.
Bob expects to be here around six P.M. In the meantime I put in
a call to Dr. Fletcher, our old family doctor, which Bob had forgotten
to do after he said he would. I remembered seeing the GP for a
physical about two months ago, when Bob and I were toying with
the idea of getting some life insurance. The examination had included
some basic blood work, and I wondered if it included blood
proteins. At the time I had been told everything had been normal.
When Dr. Fletcher called me back to commiserate about my bout
of food poisoning, he told me that the blood work he had done did
include a blood protein screen. He confirmed it had been normal.
When I told him about possibly having a protein problem now, he
was surprised, although he said such a problem can start at any
time but usually only involving people much older than I. His advice
was that the test should be repeated, and I told him that it
had already been ordered. As far as getting him involved in my inhospital
care, he said he couldn’t do it. He said that he did not have
privileges at the Mason-Dixon but would be happy to talk to any of
the doctors taking care of me if they wanted. I thanked him and
told him that I would suggest it. Needless to say, I’m disappointed
with what’s going on, and I have decided, no matter what, I will
check myself out of the hospital tomorrow as long as Bob is okay
with the plan.
Bob just left. Unfortunately I’ve gotten him really upset. After
telling him what I had learned from Dr. Fletcher, that my blood
proteins were normal a few months ago, he wanted to sign me out of
the hospital immediately. Strangely enough, his emotional response
made me hesitant about leaving, especially since I had been told that
it would entail signing out against medical advice. Finally I was able
to convince Bob that we should wait at least until the morning,
when I would be seeing Dr. Erikson again. After all, blood problems
were her specialty, and I wanted to be reassured I didn’t have something
really bad, like cancer.
Now, lying here at the mercy of this place and listening to the
sounds drifting in from the corridor, I wonder if I should have let
Bob check me out no matter what I needed to sign. To make matters
worse, I have just noticed what might be a new symptom: my belly
feels slightly tender. Or at least I think it does when I press deeply.
But maybe it always feels that way. I don’t actually know. Maybe I’m
being overly melodramatic and even a little paranoid. I’m going to
ask for my sleeping pill and try to forget where I am.
Tuesday, March 31, 9:50 A.M.
I just hung up with Bob. I’m afraid I have ignited a firestorm. I
told him that Dr. Erikson had come by with the news that the protein
abnormality, or gammopathy, in my blood was real, and the
level was even slightly higher than in the previous test. When she
saw how upset I became, she tried to backtrack and calm me down.
But her reassurances fell on deaf ears. Not after reading what I had
on the Internet about blood protein abnormalities. As soon as she
left, I called Bob and, bursting into tears, I told him what had hap-
pened. He told me to start packing my things because he was coming
in to sign me out. And that was not all: he said he is going to sue
the bejesus out of Middleton Healthcare, the corporate owners of
the Mason-Dixon Medical Center and thirty-one other hospitals.
When I asked why, he told me he’d pulled an “all-nighter” doing
research using his inside channels (he actually pays informants at
area hospitals to find out about difficult cases so he can contact the
patients directly). He said he had learned something disturbing concerning
Middleton Healthcare hospitals that he needs to follow up
further and will explain when I get home. Meanwhile, he wants me
out of the Mason-Dixon Medical Center pronto (his word). He said
that the Middleton Healthcare hospitals had excellent stats in relation
to hospital-based infections, but when it comes to a discharge
diagnosis of a new, unsuspected blood-protein abnormality, like I
supposedly have, their numbers are off the charts. He believes that
he may have stumbled onto a class-action lawsuit that could make
his career. He said that his intuition was telling him that Middleton
was doing something strange, meaning some sort of corporate
wrongdoing, and he intended to find out what it was and do something
about it. We talked for quite a while, with him doing most of
the talking. I have to admit I progressively felt a bit betrayed. His
main interest had morphed from my problems and mind-set to a
lawsuit supposedly in the public interest.
After I assured him I would be ready when he got to the medical
center, and we disconnected, I stared out the window, feeling
particularly lonely and worrying that Bob’s state of mind was going
to cause problems for us over the long haul. We had to use MasonDixon
Medical Center, as it was the only area hospital in our insurance
network. The problem is, when Bob gets started on
something like this, involving a major lawsuit, he is like a dog with
a bone. I can’t imagine why Middleton Healthcare Hospitals would
see more blood-protein abnormalities than other hospitals. It doesn’t
make sense. Does Bob think they are drumming up business? I can’t
imagine that could be true! But his aggressiveness about the hospital
gives me a bad feeling, especially since the doctors and nurses really
did help me when I was in need on Friday night. What if the boys
need hospitalization in the near future? Could Bob jeopardize that?
What I do know, and know better than anybody else, is when Bob
says he is going to sue somebody, it happens. I suppose I can hope
that once I am home I can calm him down, and we all get back to
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