Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine” as Want to Read:
Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  721 ratings  ·  86 reviews
A celebrated humanitarian doctor's unique perspective on sickness, health and what it is to be alive. In this deeply personal book, humanitarian doctor and activist James Maskalyk, author of the highly acclaimed Six Months in Sudan, draws upon his experience treating patients in the world's emergency rooms. From Toronto to Addis Ababa, Cambodia to Bolivia, he discovers that although t ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by Doubleday Canada
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Life on the Ground Floor, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Life on the Ground Floor

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  721 ratings  ·  86 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: can-con, nonfiction, 2018
I sit behind the nursing station, stomach rumbling, humbled, watching white coats flash behind curtains. It's tough to say I'm proud of these people, as I have had nothing to do with making them. Still, daily, I feel something akin to that when I watch these doctors navigate a floor full of sick and worried people. Maybe it's awe. Maybe that's what pride was supposed to be in the first place: the awe one feels at participating in something beautiful.

Like author James Maskalyk does currently, my brother
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I knew I had to read this book when I heard Dr Maskalyk interviewed on CBC about this memoir. His passion balanced with skill and commitment came through then and throughout the book. The fact that he practices emergency medicine at St Michaels Hospital for part of his life drew me as well because I am a long ago graduate of that hospital's School of Nursing. The values I was trained in are evident in his medical practice whether in Toronto or Ethiopia or when he is assisting his aging and belov ...more
Nov 11, 2017 marked it as did-not-finish
Fascinating glimpses into the world of emergency medicine and some heartwarming moments with his grandfather, but the writing style just gets really confusing. I guess it makes sense given the frenetic pace and all the activity in his work, but he jumps from one topic to another and then another so quickly it feels like a flurry of glimpses of all the various pieces in his life (Toronto ER work, Addis Abba hospital and time with grandfather).

Possibly my brain is just tired or it's no
Hailey Van Dyk
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As an ER nurse who has worked in the busiest ER in western Canada... I appreciated this book so much. To read things that I have thought, to take in another perspective of emergency medicine in another country... anyone who plans to seek out care in the ER should read this book. It’s well worth it.
Feb 23, 2019 added it
Shelves: abandoned
No thanks.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is difficult to's an autobiography, an exploration of emergency medicine, a look at the issues surrounding foreign aid...but most of all it's an eloquent journey through the alphabet.
Absolutely recommend it to anyone interested in medicine today, philosophy, and the meaning of death in all our lives.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canada
This is a really inspiring book. The author describes life in the ER in two hugely disparate cities: Toronto and Addis Ababa. The miracles the medical teams perform in Addis are stunning, but he pulls no punches: the work is hugely impeded by the lack of even the most basic resources. At the same time, even with all the wonders of western medicine at hand, sometimes the miracles are elusive in Toronto as well.
My favourite chapters, however, are the ones with his beloved grandfather at his wilde
Mateo Farfan
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellently written memoir of a physician who toes the line between caretaker, educator, and a struggling being. Maskalyk's sharp, and subtle, yet direct prose has a way illuminating some of the bleakest moments anyone in the care professions can experience. Whether your work takes you through the work of a frantic, urban ER, or some other locale, the author's candor and humility, are sure to illuminate and shed light on the reader's own experiences.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was not what it seems. Not only is it stories from the ER at St. Mike's in TO but it is also stories from ER in Ethiopia and a very poignant telling of his time with his ailing grandfather. For a physician Jim Maskalyk is a very good writer, heck not even for a physician. His writing, at time, almost reads like poetry. Thoroughly enjoyable reading. Hopefully this is a trend for 2018.
Sam Newhook
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book, heartwarming.

I devoured this book in a single sitting and am excited to recommend it to everyone I know. Having worked at St Michael's hospital I have seen and met many people like the author and it is always inspiring to learn their stories. The book is fast paced, funny, heart wrenching and all together a worthwhile read.
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Pankaj by: Matt Galloway on CBC
Wow! James has eloquently captured the frenetic activity that could result in life-death decisions, the frustration at not having resources at hand to save lives and the drive to push ahead and not allow anything adverse to impair a doctor's judgment. Brilliantly written.
Adrian Sergiusz
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very humane, full of life and compassion. A well written first hand account of being a physician in the extremes, whether it is in Ethiopia or in a hospital in Toronto. Both worlds are continuously compared and contrasted through first person interactions, showing how the life of being a good doctor living on the extreme can be both immensely rewarding but taxing through all the different types of relationships formed. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of what's happening, the author does jump f ...more
This book drifted between the author spending time with his grandfather, with his deteriorating health, his work life at the ER in St. Mike's hospital and Ethiopia training doctors, with limited resources. It must be hard to see so much suffering with his job that it must be even harder to see his own grandfather's failing health.
I quite enjoyed it, as I like medical shows on TV, and St. Mike must see a lot of action with its location in Toronto.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Had so much potential, and I was super excited for it. The content was disorganized, and the writing fell flat. Disappointed with this one.
Jan Angus
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Engrossing examination of the life of ER professionals by a physician who practices both in Toronto and Ethiopia. Extraordinarily candid and beautifully written, the book is arranged in alphabetical chapters (A is for airway, B is for breathing, C is for circulation . . . Z is for ze end). Maskalyk shifts back and forth between his experiences in a downtown Toronto ER department, his work in Ethiopia, and his visits to his ageing grandfather's remote home in rural Alberta. He manages to convey t ...more
Nancy Croth
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
In his latest book, James Maskalyk has provided a fascinating and discouraging account of life in emergency rooms in Toronto and Ethiopia. Mingled throughout are peeks at his relationship with his hunter/trapper grandfather who is in deteriorating health himself since the death of James's Grandmother.
He begins with the basics... the ABC's of medicine and moves throughout the alphabet of ER necessities. A for Airway, B for Breathing, C for Circulation.... if can't get those back in working
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A truly amazing book by Dr. Maskalyk - moving and humbling and shocking and important.
Robert LeBlanc
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has heavily influenced the way I look at life and suffering
Amanda Munday
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
A- A fascinating read about hospital life in Toronto
B - Breathtaking details about crisis management and especially trauma.
C - Could have used a bit more information about birthing. Aren't labour and delivery some of the most common reasons to be in hospital? Did this doctor never experience birthing emergencies (they all went up to the 15th floor?)
D - Direct experience with this hospital kept me reading through the night.
E - emergency medicine is its own field and I can't bel
Ben Truong
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ben by: RBC Taylor Prize
Before reading one word, I was pleasantly surprised by this medical memoir. At first I thought this memoir would be told in letters written – like an epistolary novel, but not a novel, because it's using real letters. I thought it would be a travelogue of sorts. However, I was quite surprised when I looked at the Table of Contents to see each chapter using a letter in the alphabet for the title. It was then I realized how cheeky Dr James Maskalyk might be.

Maskalyk who practices at St
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Life on the Ground Floor, a fast-paced non-fiction account of life in Hospital Emergency Rooms in Toronto and Ethiopia, follows an ER doctor through his daily routines in two very different hospitals. This book is a natural fit for Dr. Maskalyk, an emergency-room physician, who has written another critically acclaim non-fiction book, Six Months In Sudan.

The book begins with James Masalyk receiving a call from his director in Toronto. James has just returned from a successfully trip to Sudan and he
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Life On The Ground Floor
By James Maskalyk, MD.

Dr. Maskalyk structured his book, Life On The Ground Floor, very very well. He told many stories, chapter by chapter, about his life as an emergency room physician all throughout the world. The chapters have the same text but a different subject, for example there was "A is for airway, B is for Breathing, C is for Circulation, etc..." From what you saw it looked like I actually put those chapters in the alphabetical order but I actu
Olivia Slykhuis
Sep 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I liked this book, but I feel like it didn't quite come together as seamlessly as it could have. The three intertwining narratives were easy enough to follow, but sometimes seemed to make jarring jumps between them. I get that this partly mimics his life - jumping from one context to another - but it just didn't quite work for me. I don't know. It wasn't a significant problem. Every once in awhile there was a sentence that I literally couldn't make sense of, so I feel like a better editor could ...more
Pat Mills
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 18, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julie Callaghan
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
A raw, honest memoir, Dr. James Maskalyk takes you into his life as an emergency room doctor in Toronto and Ethiopia, and offers insight into the vague answers the doctors give when the news is really bad. He describes the conflicting priorities, the frustrations, the toll that his work takes on body and mind, the terrible choices thrust upon him, the mistakes he can never forget, and the outcomes of his efforts - from his particular, unique vantage point. He mixes in his personal life, his retu ...more
Lois Ann
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Several years ago I read Maskalyk' s book on Sudan as it was a country I have always been fascinated by and I found his treatment of that subject riveting.

This book, while interesting, was less so than the first. Perhaps because I was expecting more about life in Addis-- more stories about front line medicine in a developing country.

This book felt like reading a script for ER, House or Grey's; particularly the portions in Toronto.

I wasn't looking for a memoir so much as an introduction to a n
Oct 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this book in fits and starts, hence taking 3 1/2 weeks to finish it. It was interesting for sure, but I found the thought processes a bit scattered in some chapters. I couldn’t figure out his comings and goings between Toronto and Ethiopia. I enjoyed his telling the stories about his grandfather, and it’s obvious that the author is a deeply compassionate man. The chapters taking place in the Ethiopia hospital made for stressful reading for me, as a former ER nurse, although the situations ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
The book is by turns uplifting, poignant, and discouraging, both in his family's life with his aging grandfather and reflections on his own history and life, as well as his working with dedicated people to establish Emergency Medicine as a specialty within Ethiopia, to improve the care of the population. We have little idea of how the public and private systems(or virtually non-systems) work in such countries. The success that starts to come with time, effort, and his commitment and that of the ...more
Powerfully written. Enjoyed the a-z chapter organization. Made me reflect on our world and what it means to give, to be mindful. A lot of people talk about being mindful but this author does it every day!

Realistic in the way that it was a true account of what the emergency room doctors and nurses deal with every day. It should be read by all the general public before they complain about the care they receive.

I found the author's relationship with his grandfather endearing and would've preferre
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • All We Leave Behind: A Reporter's Journey Into the Lives of Others
  • Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary
  • The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family
  • All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir
  • Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD
  • On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock
  • This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications
  • By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz
  • The Stubborn Season
  • The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery
  • That Time I Loved You
  • The Crazy Game
  • Kay's Lucky Coin Variety
  • Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home
  • Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians
  • The Amazing Absorbing Boy
  • Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir
  • Sixty: The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?
See similar books…
James is a physician and author, both of the international bestseller “Six Months in Sudan” and more recently, “Life on the Ground Floor“. He practices emergency medicine and trauma at St. Michael’s, Toronto’s inner-city hospital and is an award winning teacher at the University of Toronto.

He directs a program that works with Ethiopian partners at Addis Ababa University to train East A