Identification of occult shock is a major clinical problem compounded by inadequate criteria for assessing the efficacy of fluid resuscitation. We suggest that these problems may be resolved in part by understanding both the physiological mechanisms underlying oxygen debt accumulation and, more importantly, the debt repayment schedule during resuscitation. We present a simplified tutorial that incorporates the concept of the oxygen supply-delivery relationship with that of oxygen debt and show how this is relevant to the understanding of shock and resuscitation. Use of oxygen debt metrics as end points for shock have been controversial; however, much of the controversy may have been due to incomplete understanding of basic physiology of shock and semantic confusion between the various metrics proposed as end points. Here, we provide working definitions for the frequently misunderstood concepts of oxygen deficit and oxygen debt and discuss the relatively novel concept of oxygen debt repayment schedule. We introduce predictions made on the basis of data derived from animal models of hemorrhagic shock. Our calculations suggest that the amount of debt repaid in the first 2 h of resuscitation, rather than the restoration of volume per se, influences the likelihood of organ damage. Because of difficulties inherent in measuring oxygen debt in the prehospital and emergency settings, various metabolic end points such as lactate and base deficit have been proposed as surrogates. We demonstrate the heuristic value of this model in providing a predictive framework for both the optimum therapeutic time window and optimum fluid loadings before critical transitions to an irreversible shock state can occur. The model also provides an unambiguous and objective standard for quantifying the behavior of various postulated shock "markers."