A woman who has had extensive bowel surgery and a colostomy now must deal with her changed appearance. She feels unattractive, and the strong odors and liquid stool that come from her colostomy are repulsive to her and to her husband. She is angry about her loss of identity, and takes the anger out on her husband. He feels guilty about her illness and surgery, and tries to overcompensate by trying extra hard to please his wife. He finally begins reading "Moby Dick" to his wife as a way to say that he will stay with her through the long haul.


This work is effective in stimulating consideration of how the entire family is affected by one family member's illness. All the characters' roles in the family are changed, and this adjustment is difficult for all. The story also raises issues of grief, changed body image, and the need to renegotiate one's sense of self as well as one's place in the family structure after a major illness.

Primary Source

Vital Lines: Contemporary Fiction about Medicine


St. Martin's

Place Published

New York




Jon Mukand

Page Count