The story begins as a young woman enters the hospital for cancer treatment. She struggles to maintain her identity despite the institutionalized depersonalization typical of the hospital environment. Later, loss of hair from her cancer treatment also threatens her identity, for her appearance is a large part of who she is. Although she is rather proud of the fact that she refuses to buy a wig, preferring scarves instead, she covers all the mirrors in her home. Finally, she learns that even her naked skull can be beautiful, and dares to walk outside bareheaded for the first time after her treatment.


This story explores how and why medical treatment that is detrimental to a woman's appearance is so threatening. One can consider all the kinds of losses that are inherent in medical treatments and in diseases. The piece works well in discussions about suffering and illustrates Eric Cassell's ideas about sources of suffering ("The nature of suffering" in: The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine).


Copyright 1989, by author

Primary Source

Vital Lines: Contemporary Fiction about Medicine


St. Martin

Place Published

New York




Jon Mukand

Page Count


Secondary Source

Vital Lines: Contemporary Fiction about Medicine