Do no harm is our most important rule, but we break it all the time trying to do good.
In this deeply personal book, winner of the 2017 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, humanitarian doctor and activist James Maskalyk reflects upon his extensive experience in emergency medicine. Splitting his time between a trauma centre in Toronto's inner city and the largest teaching hospital in Addis Ababa, he discovers that though the cultures, resources and medical challenges of the hospitals may differ, they are linked indelibly by the ground floor: the location of their emergency rooms. Here, on the ground floor, is where Maskalyk confronts his fears and doubts about medicine, and witnesses our mourning and laughter, tragedies and hopes, the frailty of being and the resilience of the human spirit.
Yet, he is swept most intimately into this story of "human aliveness" not as a physician, but as a grandson carrying for his grandfather, now in his nineties.
Masterfully written and artfully structured, Life on the Ground Floor is more than just an emergency doctor's memoir—it's a meditation on health and sickness, on when to hang on tight, and when to let go.
JAMES MASKALYK, bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Six Months in Sudan, is an emergency-room physician, award-winning teacher and member of Médecins Sans Frontières. He teaches meditation with the Consciousness Explorers Club and currently divides his time between Toronto and Addis Ababa.
Winner of the 2017 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Shortlisted for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize
Longlisted for the 2018 B.C. National Award for Canadian Nonfiction
Finalist for the 2017 Toronto Book Awards
A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017
A National Post Best Book of 2017
A CBC Best Book of 2017
A Chatelaine Best Book of 2017
"The problem with memoirs, especially when they are written by Western doctors heading off to Africa for work, is they can be self-indulgent and messianic in tone. Dr. James Maskalyk deftly avoids that trap in his highly acclaimed first book, Six Months in Sudan . . . [and] he's done so again in his new memoir, Life on the Ground Floor. . . . [His] idealism and passion are obvious . . . but the strength of the book is that it captures the viscera, real and symbolic, of the ER—its sights, sounds, smells, pulse—without romanticizing the work. . . . Ultimately, that's what the book is about—making connections, across continents, culture and social classes, and clinging to the joyful moments that can be found amid the horror." —The Globe and Mail
"A master of the medical memoir . . . Dr. James Maskalyk has a remarkable talent for description and detail. . . . [He] is entrancingly interesting . . . and his talent is offering serial nuggets of insight into things we rarely consider. . . . What makes Maskalyk so readable? He is a noticer of small things, a person on whom nothing is lost." —Toronto Star
"Maskalyk delivers a vivid and compelling sense of the emotional urgency in the ER—which is the same no matter the continent—for patients, the people who love them and the people who are trying to keep them alive." —Chatelaine
"With his moving and penetrating account of his experiences as an emergency room doctor in hospitals from Toronto to Ethiopia, Maskalyk joined a centuries-old tradition of doctors who write well." —Maclean's
"A raw, authentic and deeply humanitarian memoir of life as an emergency physician, written with eloquence and wisdom." —Gavin Francis, author of Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum
"Another beautiful, tender and moving portrait of humanity from one of Canada's finest new, non-fiction writers. Life on the Ground Floor perfectly captures the human spirit in all of its complexities, weaving a powerful narrative that is at once gripping, evocative and tinged with humour. In the tradition of Ryszard Kapuscinski, Katherine Boo and Wilfred Thesiger, Maskalyk has a rare sense of people and place, bringing readers along on an extraordinary journey." —Samantha Nutt, author of Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies & Aid
"Maskalyk offers penetrating, honest and deeply personal insight into modern-day medical practice with all of its paradoxes, ambiguities and uncertainties. Life on the Ground Floor is yet another superb book from one of Canada's best writers, Maskalyk at his shining best." —James Orbinski, author of An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century
Praise for Six Months in Sudan:
• "This journey is beautifully told in sharp beats and lyrical notes. It is the voyage of a young doctor in a hard world and deep within his own heart." --Dr. Vincent Lam, award-winning author of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
• "Gripping and humane. . . . [A] brave and intelligent memoir." --Daily Mail (UK)
• "Austere as the Sudanese landscape, plangent as a ballad, this book has poetry in it along with pain." --The Washington Post
• "This is a rare memoir . . . with genuinely brilliant writing. I'm sure Maskalyk is a fine doctor, but he's an even better writer." --The Vancouver Sun