The story begins as an MRI technician assures Baily that "Contrary to popular opinion, . . . this is not a torture device." The test was ordered because her arm suddenly went numb and she suddenly lost most of her vision during algebra class. With no idea what's wrong, Baily speculates about the possibility of a brain tumor, about how disease will change her life, about early death. She is uncomfortable with her mother's cheery reassurances, which consist mostly of simple theories like the possibility that Baily was reacting to missing lunch, but wants them, nonetheless.

Since the pediatric wing is full, she is put in a room with an old woman for observation overnight. The nurse runs her through a series of highly irrelevant questions about her physical health from drug use to dentures. Then her mother is required to leave for the night. In the morning they take her for an EKG before her mother can get there; Baily returns to her room in a state of morbid conviction that she's dying, which is finally overturned when the doctor comes in to explain to her that she had a classic case of severe migraine.


The story strikes a fine, readable balance between description of Baily's hospital environment and her internal reflections. Her fears are treated with appropriate respect, the inappropriateness of some of the adults' questions and comments artfully implied, and several encounters with the roommate or medical personnel offer well-timed bits of comic relief.

The relationship between Baily and her mother is developed as one of fairly normal ambivalence. When the mother fails to arrive on time to be with her during her final tests, Baily has a chance to take a step toward adulthood in having her own conversation with the attending physician. A helpful story for raising discussion of medical environments, institutional protocols, and the process of testing and diagnosis.

Primary Source

On the Edge: Stories from the Brink


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York




Lois Duncan

Page Count