The character Susie Monahan is an RN who plays a crucial role in providing the professional treatment and personal assistance to the protagonist, Vivian Bearing. Playwright Margaret Edson draws a strong contrast between the ways that the physicians interact with Vivian, who has ovarian cancer. Over the course of the chemotherapy treatment, Vivian increasingly needs help to understand her condition in physical and emotional terms. Her efforts to approach her critical situation intellectually—as she is a professor—have limited effectiveness. The two physicians, Dr. Harvey Kelekian and Dr. Jason Posner, have different concerns and personalities, but both are detached and clinical. Susie’s approach to treating her patient is holistic; this commitment to seeing and treating the whole person is one way of knowing that distinguishes her as a nurse, according to this play, and sets her apart from the doctors.
There is a stereotypical element, however, in the gender dimensions, as the nurturing aspect of her character seems to inhere in her femaleness, as a contrast to the male doctors. Overall, though, Susie emerges as a skilled professional whose knowledge of the disease and the medications that Vivian takes is contextualized by her communicative talents. As the disease progresses, Susie’s skill and humanity are inextricably intertwined, and prove invaluable in helping Vivian move through the stages from optimism to acceptance of the inevitability of her imminent death.