Coma (novel)

Coma (novel)
Author(s) Robin Cook
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Thriller
Publisher Little, Brown & Co. (first edition)
Publication date 1977
Media type Print (paperback and hardback)
Pages 306 pp
ISBN 0316155101
OCLC Number 2829561
Dewey Decimal 813/.5/4
LC Classification PZ4.C76992 Co PS3553.O5545
Followed by Sphinx

Coma is Robin Cook's first published novel, written in 1977. The book was a New York Times best seller and was also voted as the number one thriller of the year by the New York Times.

It was made into a highly successful film, Coma by Michael Crichton in 1978.


Susan Wheeler is the protagonist of the novel. She is an attractive 23-year-old third-year medical student working as a trainee at Boston Memorial Hospital. Susan, along with four other students — George, Harvey, Geoffrey, and Paul — takes rounds in surgery rooms and ICUs for making post-treatment notations on the health of patients. Mark Bellows, a surgery resident in the hospital, is the instructor and supervisor of this group.

The book is a journey into the inner workings of a hospital. As these students complete their three-month surgical rotation, the dilemmas and problems faced by a woman in a so-called "man's" profession are also highlighted.

There are two patients, Nancy Greenly and Sean Berman, who mysteriously went into comas immediately after their operations. These incidents were attributed to complications within their surgeries due to anesthesia.

Nancy Greenly became comatose when her brain did not receive sufficient oxygen during surgery. Similarly, Sean Berman, a young man in his 30s in good physical condition, underwent a scheduled knee operation. Despite the operation's success, Sean failed to regain consciousness. Medically, the odds for such occurrences are one in 100,000, however, such odds seemed resolutely higher at the Boston Memorial Hospital.

Baffled by the comas of these two patients, Susan decides to investigate the mystery behind these peculiar events and of other recent coma victims. Susan discovers the oxygen line to Operating Room 8 has been tampered with to cause the patients carbon monoxide poisoning during surgery and, hence, brain death. At the same time Susan develops a brief, but intimate, relationship with Bellows and discusses her findings with him. After unravelling further details, and evading pursuit by a man hired to kill her, Susan is led to the Jefferson Institute.

The institute is hailed as an intensive care facility designed to cut down on heavy medical costs. All patients who are declared brain dead or "vegetables" are referred to the institute. Here, she finds that patients are suspended from the ceiling by wires in rooms walled by glass and are moved from room to room with little human involvement. The "samples" are kept alive and healthy until a call for an organ comes in. The organ of choice is removed surgically (and without consent) and then sold on the black market.

At the end of the story Howard Stark, chief of the Department of Surgery at Boston Memorial, is revealed as the main antagonist. Stark confronts Susan over her findings and then drugs her, intending to put Susan in a coma under the pretext of an appendix operation. However, Bellows manages to disable to the oxygen line during the operation, thereby preventing a full dose of carbon monoxide poisoning. Stark is arrested but Susan's fate is left in doubt.


Preceded by
Year Of The Intern
Robin Cook novels
Succeeded by

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