top of page



Purchase at

AmazonBarnes &

Or order at your local bookstore!

Add REARRANGED to a Goodreads Shelf!


An Opera Singer's Facial Cancer

And Life Transposed


Chapter 50

Taking a Measurement


seriously was to carry it lightly. I would try to “be myself” over many protracted days, weeks, even months. After all, the whole immersive experience came complete with diverting characters, real and imaginary, in set pieces of their own.


My kindly Japanese oncologist, for example, was unpopular with many patients because of his heavily accented English. Originally, I had been assigned the oncologist whom patients purportedly preferred. Then Evie, who often distracted herself with research on my behalf, discovered that this Dr. O. of the thick accent had co-developed the specific chemotherapy protocol I was about to undergo. We requested immediate reassignment. 

Dr. O. was a scientist, a lab man, his pocket-protector complete with six-inch ruler ever present in the patch pocket of his white coat, and clipboard at the ready. In the examining room, he circled my high mount. His sharp eyes tracked my body as if he were scanning a rental car for dings and scratches, which he duly noted on the blackline map.

Pulling out his ruler, he measured my imperfections. He laid the ruler against my thigh twice to record that foot-long rope of scar, then slipped the ruler smoothly back into his pocket-protector. Moments later he drew it out again, having spotted a scabby square he said he “might as well measure.” 

He moved to my back where a Y-shaped closure over the excision of my left shoulder blade ran south to my rib cage, where the chunk of latissimus dorsi (“lats” in gym parlance) had been harvested for a blood supply. Once stiff with adhesions, the scar had begun to fan out across my back, further reducing the Kelly Blue Book® on my old chassis.


Rounding the procedure chair, Dr. O. took stock of my neck. He drew a picture and pivoted his ruler twice across the full measure of the looping scar where so much had happened to save, then imperil, then save my life again. 

“You married?” My oncologist prattled pleasantly as he measured and sketched. 

A bit blunt, I thought, but he seemed genuinely interested. I anticipated a follow-up about my husband’s occupation, although that would have been a lot of small talk for a man with a six-inch ruler and an accent that all but obliterated his perfectly articulate English. 

“No, I’m not married.” 

“Ahhh... You live alone?” Patients are asked this question to help assess whether anyone will be available to help with stairs, high cabinets, low bathtubs, and other potential hazards of home. 

“No,” I said. “I live with someone. I’ll be fine. Thank you for asking.” We were both enjoying this.

“Ahhh! You fiancée!” he persisted happily.


“Nnnno, that’s not it either. . .” 

The doctor’s courteous curiosity evinced the deferential formalities of his heritage, irresistibly charming to me, and endearing. I started to giggle openly. He paused at my feet, his sprightly interrogation less certain. 

With a sudden intake of breath he cried “Soooo... yooou... 


“Yes!” I pealed. “Yes, that’s it!” 

Smiling broadly at this definitive confirmation of the deductive scientific method, Dr. O. went on measuring. My bare ankles warmed in the pillowy clasp of his generous palms. I have since wondered how, and how much this honorable play figured in sustaining me—for sustained I surely was. 


bottom of page