This story draws attention to subtle ramifications of organ transplantation for the survivor(s) of the donor as well as for the organ recipient. Also at issue is coming to terms with the sudden death of a loved one. Hannah, a woman in her thirties, finds that three years after the violent death of her husband, she is still caught, "unable to grieve or get on with her life . . . . "

The physician in charge had persuaded her both to allow life-support to be terminated for her brain-dead husband, and to agree to organ donation. "That way your husband will live on." Seven different people are the living recipients of his organs. To Hannah, it seems that her husband is both dead and not dead, an intolerable situation.

She becomes obsessed with trying to meet the person who received her husband's heart. This will be the means by which she can re-connect to the living and achieve closure--she will hear and feel her husband's heart in the chest of the recipient, her ear "a mollusc that would attach itself . . . and cling through whatever crash of the sea." At the end of the story, Hannah has succeeded in her quest and the man who is the heart's recipient, at first suspiciously hostile, has become Hannah's co-conspirator and protector.


Selzer, a surgeon for many years, writes both lyrically and humorously here. The story has impact, in spite of the bizarre twists it takes, because the human issues surrounding death and mourning cannot be denied. The role of the physician in end-of-life decisions is also a concern. Selzer explores how modern medical practice (the stethoscope and other technology instead of the unaugmented human ear) and the language that physicians use may have the effect of distancing doctors from those they treat, and of glossing over the brutality as well as the human consequences of some medical practices.

Primary Source

Imagine a Woman and Other Tales


Random House

Place Published

New York



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