"How are you feeling today?" asked doctor Jason Posner in his usual automatic, inattentive salutation to Vivian, which is both humorous and distressing. There is a connection between Vivian Bearing and Jason Posner. Prepped for research and scholarship by Vivian herself (he took her class on the metaphysical poets) Jason possesses many of the same traits as Vivian. He is smart, ambitious, dedicated to the complexities of his medical research, and inept at human relations. Like Professor Bearing, who could be overbearing with her students, Jason prefers research to "the part with the human beings." Both Vivian and Jason are arrogant and unfeeling, much to their own detriment. Vivian is forced to temper her arrogance when illness becomes agony. Jason's arrogance causes him to make a serious blunder when he tries to resuscitate Vivian despite her do not resuscitate (DNR) orders.
Vivian is part of a clinical trial for a new drug regimen to fight ovarian cancer.
She is a subject of research for the doctors who attend her and is urged by her doctors not to compromise their study, that is, to endure the "full dose" of chemotherapy. Ironically, Vivian is sympathetic to the researchers. As a researcher herself, she sees the value in gaining further knowledge about cancer, even if she is the subject of study. "What is the alternative?" she asks, "Ignorance? Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not a very noble goal." With an arrogant confidence in her fearsome intellect, Vivian assumes that her mental prowess alone will allow her to master ovarian cancer, just as she has spent 30 years mastering the 17th-century metaphysical poets.
On being informed that she has advanced ovarian cancer and that the treatment will be difficult to endure, Vivian replies cavalierly, "It appears to be...