In March 2020, soon-to-graduate medical students in New York City were nervously awaiting “match day” when they would learn where they would begin their residencies. Only a week later, these young physicians learned that they would be sent to the front lines of the desperate battle to save lives as the coronavirus plunged the city into crisis
... remarkably, with her sensitive reporting and deeply human portrayals of Sam, Gabriela, Iris, Elana, Ben and Jay, Goldberg has created a work that not just documents a significant moment in time but helps us heal from it, too. For anyone seeking to understand, or remember, what New York and its hospitals were like in the spring of 2020, Life on the Line is essential reading ... the stories in Life on the Line offer a refreshingly different view of the pandemic than those eye-catching headlines and talk of war ... Goldberg skillfully places the hospital scenes in the larger context of American medicine and medical education. She is spot on in describing American medicine’s 'devotion to elitism masked by meritocracy' and delineates how structural racism is embedded in medicine’s history ... The fresh medical graduates to whom Goldberg introduces us give me deep hope for the future of medicine as we begin to heal from this devastating crisis.
This is the kind of story that gives life to books about medical training. Unfortunately, there are too few of them here. The back story of the various characters takes too long. Drawn-out digressions on medical racism or the history of the internship system further disrupt the narrative flow. By the time we get to the wards, the book is nearly a third over. Goldberg would have done better, I think, to start the book when the internships begin and fill in the back story later. How Gabriella’s mother started her hair salon isn’t as interesting to us as the sounds, smells and action on the front lines ... When the action does begin, the stories are often truncated. We thirst for more details. We want to know more about what these young doctors were thinking in life-or-death situations. We yearn for a glimpse into their souls as they come of age in their new profession. On this measure, the book falls a bit short ... Still, I believe the book is a valuable chronicle of what interns and residents went through fighting the pandemic this past year.
Memorable, emotional, and even everyday anecdotes fill the pages ... Goldberg’s close-up look at inspiring, fast-tracked med-school graduates who became essential front-line pandemic physicians is bracing and invaluable. Still with lots to learn, these heroes already have so much to offer.