Life and Death on 10 West

Time Books, 1984

Every day on Ward 10 West of the UCLA Medical Center lives are being saved by doctors and nurses at the frontiers of medicine.  But the risks are high, as author Eric Lax explains in this fascinating vision of life in a big hospital.

Praise for Radiation

From The New York Times

LINDA GALBRAITH was 26 years old and six months pregnant when she learned that she had acute myelogenous leukemia, a cancer of the blood that her doctors said gave her 18 months to live at best. Normally a patient begins chemotherapy the day after such a diagnosis. Then, if the disease should go into remission, his or her best chance for  survival may be a bone marrow transplant, a highly risky treatment still in the early stages of research. But Mrs. Galbraith’s case was further complicated by her determination to have the baby, even though it meant waiting a month, then inducing premature birth. Because of the speed with which her leukemia was progressing, this decision increased the odds against her survival. It was an agonizing choice, like so many she faced in the weeks that followed.
     ”Life and Death on 10 West” is a riveting, fastidiously reported account of Mrs. Galbraith’s fight to beat leukemia, beginning four months before Eric Lax, a magazine writer, met her at one of the foremost cancer research units in the world – ward 10 West of the U.C.L.A. Medical Center. What begins as the chronicle of one patient’s case and the difficulties she endures through painful weeks of treatment, becomes, in addition, a larger portrait of the people who share Mrs. Galbraith’s fight – her husband, her younger sister, who donates the healthy bone marrow essential to saving Mrs. Galbraith’s life, and brave Nellie Tapia, an 18- year-old fellow patient facing almost certain death. Also central to the story is Dr. Robert Peter Gale, ward 10 West’s chief clinical physician, a driven, idealistic man who must divide his time and attention among lab work, running the ward and procuring the grants needed to continue ground-breaking research.
     It is a measure of Mr. Lax’s skill as a reporter that he is able to tell the emotional side of Mrs. Galbraith’s story with considerable power and compassion and still accurately convey the medical science involved. ”Life and Death on 10 West” is penetrating medical journalism. Mr. Lax not only clearly describes the state-of-the- art medical technology employed on the ward, but also the medical ethics that come into play. He also examines the long-term psychological and emotional effects of a bone marrow transplant, other possible future applications of the procedure and the politics of the medical profession. If some of these short sections lag in contrast to Mrs. Galbraith’s life-and-death story, it is not for lack of lucid writing. And on the whole, Mr. Lax makes an enormous amount of technical information accessible to the reader and integrates it with the drama of Mrs. Galbraith’s struggle.
     In his prologue, Mr. Lax says that he came to ward 10 West with the intention of staying a month; instead, he remained seven. He was warned by the medical personnel that if he didn’t maintain a safe emotional distance from the patients he met, he would be overcome by the intensity, and sometimes futility, of the struggles he witnessed. His humane book is a testament to the delicate balance he manages to strike between personal participation in the lives of the people he observed and journalistic remove. Every page is graced with extraordinary commitment, thoughtfulness and feeling.
– Andrea Barnet