Saturday, February 6, 2016

Caribbean Nurse

By Diana Douglas 
(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1972
Cover illustration by Josep Maria Miralles

For lovely, blond Rowena Garland, being head nurse at the clinic of the luxury hotel on Lago Island in the Caribbean was the perfect job—glamorous, exciting, and full of surprises. She had never expected to be working with a doctor as attractive as Paul Martin. Or that this handsome young man with the deep blue eyes would become interested in her. But the biggest surprise was the mysterious man she encountered on the beach early one morning. Little did Rowena suspect that this intriguing stranger would involve her in mystery, danger—and romance. She would be forced to face the ultimate challenge of her nursing career, and make the most crucial decision of her life—to follow the true yearnings of her heart …


“I feel the two of them—nursing and marriage—don’t really go together. My feeling is that you can be committed to only one or the other.”

“It was a known fact, proven over and over again, that by giving a complaint, no matter how paltry, the importance of their interest, doctors only served to perpetuate it. The patient was stuck with the complaint, and the doctor stuck with the patient.”

I pick up a book by Diana Douglas/aka Richard Wilkes-Hunter with more than a little trepidation: The eight other books by this author that I have read have garnered a pretty solid C- average, and not a lot of high praise. But duty calls, so I waded into Caribbean Nurse to offer up this travelogue. It’s like many of this author’s other books, namely simple and boring. This one has the significant bonus, however, of not being overtly misogynistic or irritating. The opening pages, however, gave me significant concern: When we first meet nurse Rowena Garland, she’s wearing a string bikini, plopping down next to the only other person on the beach, and striking up an intrusive conversation in which she expounds to the man, who is sporting a thick robe, hat, and zinc oxide stripe on his nose, about the therapeutic benefits of sunshine. All while rolling around on her towel as we are treated to descriptions of her “well-shaped” or “long golden” body. “You’re probably thinking I’m a kook or something,” she says; if he’s not, I certainly am.

After he retreats back to his car, which is driven by two men in suits with binoculars, she returns to the Buccaneer Inn, which has been established on the Caribbean’s Lago Island as a destination for wealthy individuals who want to undergo medical care in an exotic location. Before long it is revealed that the hotel has been acquired by billionaire Ryan Stressor—who, you will not be surprised to learn, was the gentleman on the beach that Rowena had been harassing in the opening chapter. After ejecting all the paying guests, Stressor and his staff move in, leaving Rowena and hotel doctor Paul Martin with little to do but swim on the beach every day—and pander to the hypochondriac Ryan, who is prone to staying up all night and pestering Rowena with demands for medical attention for various minor complaints that he’s convinced are killing him. He’s also excessively concerned about security, and maintains a force of armed guards that rivals an American president’s. “Many people wouldn’t even stop at murder to prevent, or to learn about in advance so they might profit at our expense,” he explains with grammar to rival any of the Bush clan, and a not insignificant dose of paranoia to boot.

Rowena has enough gumption that she calls Ryan out, telling him to stop being such a baby and get some exercise. All sequestered away in his penthouse suite, she says, “there is only one way for you to escape, and that is into your snug shelter of ill health.” So with the help of a staff member’s daughter, she encourages him out onto the beach—after a bristling perimeter of security guards has been established—and day by day he grows more tanned and healthy. The climax of the book comes with an assassination attempt that any four-year-old could have seen coming. After Ryan emerges from surgery, he insists that Rowena marry him, a proposal that we expected from the opening chapters but that nonetheless feels sudden, given the fact that he has made no overtures whatsoever up to this point. Another surprise follows: Rowena declares that she is in love with Dr. Paul Martin, a man about whom she has previously stated after their one date (to “eat real Creole food and watch a frenzied display of local dancing”) that what she felt for Paul “wasn’t love at all.” The only thing of actual interest in this story, little as it may be, is the fact that it ends after this conversation between Ryan and Rowena; the scene in which Rowena breaks her news to Paul is to be played off-stage at a later date. It’s a scene probably far more exciting when imagined than if it had been written out by this author, though, so we’re probably better off. Overall this book could certainly have been a lot worse—and we know the author is certainly capable of it—but there really isn’t anything to recommend it, either, apart from the glorious cover illustration.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Nurse in Panic

By Jane Converse, ©1971
Cover illustration by Robert Abbett

Diane Whitley was reluctant to leave her nursing job at Greenhaven Memorial for a position at a strange clinic in the New Mexico desert. But the promise of an exciting new medical discovery and the possibility of a new romance made the trip seem very appealing. Yet the moment she arrived at Hollingsworth Clinic she felt a vague sense of uneasiness. At first she thought she was just being foolish. Dr. Darryl Hollingsworth was a dedicated man and his handsome assistant was an earnest medical student. It wasn’t until she found herself falling in love that she realized how foolish she really was—and how easily a mirage of happiness could become a well of heartbreak … and terror …


“He remembered that he hadn’t told Diane that he loved her. ‘I don’t have to say it, though, do I?’ ”

When we first meet Diane Whitley, RN, she is serving her best friend, Polly Cravelle Richards, a dish of cherry Jell-O unadorned by even a dollop of Cool-Whip. Diane has taken a pause in her jet-set life to attempt to persuade Diane to leave her dull, dull life in Newark—“there isn’t one single, eligible male on the staff at the hospital. Not one!” Diane complains—to come work at a clinic where a revolutionary doctor has found a cure for cancer. Dr. Darryl Hollingsworth has discovered a medication, Tychorodryn, but despite his miraculous results, he has been dismissed by the medical community at large. Her advocacy on behalf of the Hollingsworth Clinic has a personal note: Her dear wealthy father has come down with a “terminal” case of cancer, but has personally benefitted from the magic touch of Dr. Hollingsworth and is “pepped up like a teen-ager.” In gratitude, Dad is about to bestow a huge chunk of his fortune on the good doctor, and Polly is crisscrossing the country to drum up further support amongst the family’s close (also rich) friends.

You won’t be shocked to learn that Diane agrees to visit the doctor’s hospital in remote New Mexico, no doubt encouraged by Polly’s description of Steve Bates, a medical student on leave for financial reasons: “He’s unmarried, and all of the aides are over forty. You have clear sailing.” And you also won’t be shocked to learn that Diane and Steve quickly tumble for each other, and Diane agrees to stay on full-time. She quickly falls under the thrall of Dr. Hollingsworth, as she sees all his patients growing pink and energetic under his care, and begins to quarrel more with Steve, who is rightly suspicious of the whole situation and is investigating Dr. Hollingsworth on the side.

Before long, Diane finds herself alone on the night shift when Dr. Hollingsworth stumbles in, smelling of bourbon, and grabs her for “a smothering kiss.” This is especially awkward because Polly has told her that she herself is in love with Dr. Hollingsworth. Though Diane is quite clear about her disinterest in the doctor, Steve suddenly turns quite frosty. And despite her repeated rebuffs, Dr. Hollingsworth continues to grab her behind closed doors before she can shove him off—sexual harassment, anyone?—and it isn’t long before Polly catches him putting the moves on Diane. Though Diane becomes increasingly concerned about the fact that the patients seem to be sleeping an awful lot, she still argues with Steve every time they cross paths, making for page after page of detailed discussion about the many, many problems with Dr. Hollingsworth’s story and treatment, and Diane’s increasingly thin defense of same. Her professed inner doubts make her continued justification of the doctor even more aggravating.

Eventually, though, Steve has one too many arguments with Dr. Hollingsworth and leaves the medical facility. Diane soon decides that she should leave as well—but it takes her quite a while to get around to it, given all the sick patients who need her care and her paranoid feeling that she can’t tell anyone that she’s going, lest they try to keep her prisoner. As she’s sneaking out of the hospital at 11 pm, she unfortunately encounters Dr. Hollingsworth, and starts babbling that she’s going on a date and taking some clothes to a friend who’s helping out a poor Indian family—but the doctor cuts her off and starts doing some babbling of his own, about how he’s converted all his money into Mexican bonds or stashed it in a Swiss bank, and is planning on moving his practice across the border, and darling, won’t you come with me? “Don’t disappoint me, darling,” he says, grabbing her again—you’d think she’d know what’s coming by now and just run when she sees him coming.  car pulls into the nearby parking lot, but rather than scream, she tells him to let her go or she will scream. Naturally he slaps a firm hand across her mouth and drags her into the hospital, but she’s eventually able to jerk free and scream and run into Steve’s arms.

Dr. Hollingsworth naturally gets what he has coming—he’s shot to death by his long-suffering secretary—and Diane gets her man, too, who curiously proposed by suggesting that instead of accepting a loan from Polly, “I’d rather be supported by an R.N. who’s silly enough to go back to work … put me through school.” How could she say no?

It’s a hackneyed story made all the more irritating by our heroine’s stupid inability to see the obvious, though she herself has doubts all along. The endless pages of back and forth about whether Dr. Hollingsworth’s treatment is for real quickly become monotonous; it’s a short story, and not a very good one, stretched into a novel. The writing is perfunctory and the entire situation is baffling, and I am baffled as to why anyone should read this book. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Resort Nurse

By Nell Marr Dean, ©1960
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Young Lynn Ryan was thrilled by her new assignment—hotel nurse at the glamorous Tamarac Lodge. Her duties would be informal, and she’d have a chance to meet fascinating people—at a salary that would enable her to help the family she loved. Lynn didn’t reckon with the three exciting men who appeared, each offering his own brand of romance. Nor was she prepared for the sudden challenge to her professional vows—a challenge to which at first she could find no answer …


“This climate has wrecked my hair.”

“She was unaccustomed to foreigners and their continental manners.”

“Spanish people have very colorful names.”

“Today almost every girl at some time or another thinks she wants to go into nursing. She feels it’s a way to do something constructive—something within her reach.”

Lynn developed a wild curiosity to see the inside of a gaming house. Woman-like, she planned a campaign to get Steve to take her.”

“Girls who are going to have babies simply don’t engage in strenuous sports. Probably the reason you got hurt today is because you were nervous.”

Pearl had just given her a shampoo and set, and she had the fresh feeling that always comes with a new hairdo.”

“Being a very chic little redhead, Audrey was indeed someone to be very proud of.”

“Kay, stop crying! You’re going to get married in ten minutes. You can’t do it with red eyes.”

“ ‘Missy Ryan, come quick! I take you with me.’
“ ‘With you where?’ she asked, trying to cut through his devious Oriental ways.”

“Any woman might as well face it. The responsibility for creating a happy courtship is mostly up to her—just like creating a happy marriage is. In fact, it’s about ninety per cent up to her. If nine out of ten women weren’t such fools, they could get—and keep—the man they want.”

Lynn Ryan, wearing a cashmere coat and a warm sparkle in her blue-green eyes, is awash in excitement about her new job at Taramac Lodge at Squaw Valley. She’s a little bit nervous about the job because she’s never set foot on skis, but is going to have to be ready to dash out to the slopes at any minute to minister to a hapless skier with a sprained ankle or a broken rib. But she’s going to overcome her fears for her stepmother, Carmen Marie, who’s lived in poverty her entire life: She’s spending her exorbitant salary—$250 per month—on a lot in the Los Angeles suburb of Fernando Acres, where Carmen and Lynn’s father will finally have a house of their own.

En route to the resort on the bus, she meets Steve Matson, an engineer working to widen the roads to four-laners before the upcoming Olympics. Later Steve drops by to visit and takes her out snowshoeing—and they come across a wealthy hotel guest, whom Lynn had previously treated for intoxication with lemon and honey and a cold bath, lying in the snow. As Steve races back to the hotel to get help, Todd Gilmore tells Lynn that he came out into the woods to commit suicide by freezing to death. When Todd is safely packed back, she whispers to Steve what Todd told her, but Steve completely laughs her off, as does the doctor who is treating Todd for frostbite. After the amputation of a few fingers and toes, Todd is back at the hotel recovering, and Lynn is dropping by daily to manage his care, and slowly becoming his friend.

Her interest in Todd takes her to the new casino he’s built nearby, and soon she’s won $3 on the nickel slots. You can see the writing on the walls. Before long, Lynn gets word that her father has been injured and can’t work, so he will have to live off the money that he and Carmen were saving to make the next payment on the Fernando Acres house. Lynn doesn’t have quite enough money to cover the whole payment herself, so she hustles back to the Pair-O-Dice with Wong Duck, the Chinese cook, and loses $195, all but $5 of the money she’d saved. If that weren’t enough, she returns and loses her entire $250 paycheck, just to put the icing on the cake.

Then, out on a date, Steve tells Lynn he loves her because “you’re soft and sweet.” This might be a nice turn for Lynn, but no: Steve very peculiarly becomes nasty and jealous of Todd after Lynn tells him of her gambling losses, though his biggest accusation is that Lynn, on her routine nursing visits to Todd, is being instructed on gambling techniques while she’s there, the scandalous tramp.

After a week in which Steve doesn’t call, Todd asks Lynn to drive him to a meeting, as he’s still sore from his toe amputations and can’t operate the gas pedal very well. En route, he tells Lynn that he’s in love with her. He’s a lot nicer than Steve’s been lately, especially when Lynn returns to the hotel and finds a ridiculous letter from Steve, telling her he won’t bother her again because he can’t compete with Todd’s money. Todd, desolate over Lynn’s kind refusals, gets drunk and flings himself off a cliff, and Lynn is forced to rescue him again. Safe back at the lodge, Lynn is tending to him in the lobby when Steve walks in and naturally transforms into a raging ass, making snarky remarks and jealous assumptions without pausing to listen to Lynn’s reasonable explanations. Fortunately, she has her friend Pearl to give her sound advice: “What do you expect me to do? Keep fawning over Steve?” she asks Pearl. “If you love him, you’d better,” Pearl answers. “Lynn, a woman has to make the fellow she adores think he’s the only guy in the universe.” Ah. Thanks for the tip. Though it does beg the question whether Steve is worth adoring.

This being a VNRN, however, that vital question goes unexamined. Instead, Lynn calls Steve and makes up a dumb story about needing medical supplies and then pretends she doesn’t know how to get to Carson City. She’s exulted when Steve falls into her trap and offers to drive her. She dresses for the drive—“for once he wouldn’t find her in a starchy white uniform, looking like a pillar of salt. Pearl’s words rang in her mind: Men like to be with women who are beautiful and feminine. Women who intrigue them.” On their drive, Lynn remembers more of Pearl’s pearls: “Men are like little boys. They love praise.” So she compliments the job on the roads he’s been doing, and sure enough, Steve melts long enough to hear Lynn tell him that Todd’s been committed to an insane asylum for a year because of his suicidal tendencies. He’s so pleased that he offers Lynn some advice for making the $700 payment she and her family need for the second installment on the house: Just ask for an extension on the option. He’s so smart! Before long, he’s calling her a bonehead and ordering her around: “ ‘Move over closer to me,’ he ordered brusquely.” She swoons: “It was the old Steve talking again, Steve with the same bossy sweetness in his voice, the same strong hard arms that could hold you so tight you hurt.” You know it’s real love when he hurts you. It’s enough to make you want to stop at the nearest quickie wedding chapel, which, unfortunately, they may well be about to do at book’s end. Run, Lynn! Run!

There’s a lot of campy writing and situations to be found in this story. Its deep flaws—the insidious racism (see Best Quotes) and the horrific attitudes about relationships—are pretty dreadful, but at the same time they make the book more interesting, they give you something to think about and cluck over, and be grateful that times have changed. I feel quite certain that Steve is not going to make Lynn happy, but I also feel quite certain, after Pearl’s advice, that happiness is not really the point of being married; being married is the point of being married, and Lynn is about to score on that point, so it counts as a success. Sometimes a book that makes you irritated is not necessarily a bad book, and in this instance, that is definitely the case.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nurse in Istanbul

By Ralph E. Hayes, ©1970

When Donna Mitchell left City Hospital for private nursing, she didn’t expect her first job to take her halfway around the world—to Istanbul. But there she was, accompanying her employer-patient—a wealthy importer named Eastman—on a business trip. Besides Donna, Mr. Eastman had with him his secretary, Penelope Winslow, and Steve Chandler, his accountant. Donna liked Steve from the moment they met and sensed that he like her, yet he tried to talk her into quitting the job! She couldn’t imagine why … until an accidentally overheard conversation made he wonder about the nature of Mr. Eastman’s business in Istanbul. He was there to buy a rare emerald-studded necklace, the Green Medallion, and everything about the transaction had to be kept secret. Was it possible the necklace had been stolen, Donna wondered. If so, did Steve know it? The questions were still unanswered when a murderer struck … and the Green Medallion vanished!


“Is this a nurse or a go-go girl?”

“They definitely did not tell me in nursing school that there would be days like this.”

“Donna was suddenly very impressed with Steve’s ability in hand-to-hand combat.”

The back cover blurb, above, is one of the more dull ones I’ve come across—and an apt predictor of what’s inside that same cover. Our heroine, Donna Mitchell, is a paradoxical creature who can’t decide if she really loves the genuine ass she is dating, yet the next minute is credited with being so steady of mind that she single-handedly recovers a priceless stolen artifact (a tribute we readers, who have witnessed the whole affair, will receive with astonishment). I guess it’s possible to be both, but the author does not have the talent or depth to pull off a character this complex.

We first meet Donna when she is interviewing for a private nursing job for the “wealthy but aging gentleman with a serious heart condition,” like there is any other kind in a VNRN. Everything that is wrong with the status of women in 1970 is summed up by the opening remarks of his secretary: “You are a lovely girl,” the woman tells Donna. “I think Mr. Eastman will be pleased. I’m unmarried, dear, and you may call me Penny.” Mr. Eastman’s accountant, Steve Chandler, tries to warn Donna against accepting the job, but here she shows her spunky side: “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” she snaps at him, a declaration we later find to be completely untrue.

Before she leaves for Turkey, Donna must sort out her love life. She can’t decide if she really loves Dr. Richard DeForest, whom she describes as moody, presumptuous, condescending, arrogant, and unbearable, concluding, “she did not like her young doctor very much.” Yet even in the middle of sort of breaking up with him (“I just need to get away for a while, to sort out my thoughts about you,” she tells him), she thinks, “She still felt something for him.” As he has aptly demonstrated throughout this scene that he is a complete Neanderthal, we can’t imagine why she would, or ever did.

On the slow boat to Turkey, Donna begins to realize Mr. Eastman is not the innocent businessman when Steve tells her not to ask questions or “get involved,” and that she is in danger on this trip. When they finally arrive, they are ensconced in the “glamorous” Istanbul Hilton, which sports luxuries including “the latest automatic elevators.” It’s not too long before she stumbles across a meeting between Mr. Eastman and “two very dark gentlemen with heavy moustaches, looking very Turkish,” during which they discuss a necklace called the Green Medallion. During her eavesdropping, she notices that Steve is wearing a holstered gun—“Accountants definitely did not carry guns,” thinks our astute heroine, finally starting to catch up.

Cue the postman, who brings a letter from Richard. As it happens, he is in Beirut, and informs Donna that he’ll be popping up to Istanbul to apologize for his atrocious behavior. Naturally the wishy-washy Donna is soon dropping tears on the pages, wondering, “maybe she still loved Richard,” even though she’s also starting to fall for Steve, of course.

She does get in a little sight-seeing, visiting the Grand Bazaar, and when she returns, she finds that Mr. Eastman has “stepped out of character” and bought her a brass lamp (upon which Donna wishes for love, ew!). Not long afterward, the old man is found beaten to death in his room. Over the corpse, Steve decides to enlighten Donna regarding the fact that “Mr. Eastman was a dapper gentleman of the underworld,” who had come to Istanbul to purchase the Green Medallion, which had been stolen from the Topkapı Palace. Steve himself is revealed to be a Federal agent, and Penny is packed off to the Turkish authorities, to be extradited to the U.S. for “a short time in a nice comfortable American prison, and then get a legitimate job.” Uh, yeah, you keep telling yourself that.

On their way home from the police station, however, Steve and Donna’s cab is chased and shot at. The pair jumps out at a corner and ducks into the old Roman cisterns, where they jump into the water and hide behind literally the first column they come to. Donna barely endures this brush with death without shrieking at the thought of “all sorts of slimy things crawling on her legs in the dark water” and the bat that had flitted by them—neither of which actually bother her. The bad guys follow them into the cistern but can’t be bothered to venture beyond the doorway before quitting the scene. “Come on, honey,” Steve says. “Let’s get out of here.”

Back at the hotel, they discover that the medallion is actually hidden in Donna’s brass lamp! While Steve steps out to hide it somewhere until they can deliver it to the police, Donna meets Richard for breakfast. After she tells him that her employer is a smuggler who was murdered yesterday and she’s at the hotel with an armed government agent, Richard insists Donna leave Istanbul immediately. “Instead of trying to understand her situation, instead of listening to what it was all about, he had made up his mind that she was silly to further expose herself to the situation, and that was that.” Exactly! No, wait—“She had been right. Richard was incorrigible. He was a domineering, arrogant man who obviously felt that girls and wives should be treated like children, to be seen but not heard. He simply lacked a basic respect for her as a woman.” Right. Three pages later, Steve tells her he is taking her to the police station to be kept in protective custody, because “it might get rough at times. I don’t want you involved in it.” Our tough, courageous nurse, who has just stood up for her independence and autonomy, “smiled her warmest, broadest smile and put her arm through Steve’s. ‘All right, Steve. I’ll do whatever you say,’ ” she tells him.

But as fate would have it, they are captured and imprisoned in a stone cell, kiss, dig their way out through the ubiquitously loose bars, kiss, escape in a stolen car but are pursued by the gunmen, kiss, jump a ferry, kiss, disarm two of the gunmen with karate chops to the neck (that was Steve, actually), kiss, and are recaptured and forced to the top of a minaret. Donna saves the day by pretending to faint, allowing Steve to jump the gunman, whose pistol “went flying to the floor beside Donna.” Guess what our brave heroine does? “She stared at it fearfully as the two men fought. She could not bring herself to pick it up. She had never held a gun in her life.” It isn’t until Steve has actually knocked the bad guy unconscious that Donna “picked up the gun gingerly and handed it to him.” Thanks, honey. Then they kiss again.

The medallion returned to the Turkish authorities and the caper wrapped up, now we are given Donna’s new-born insecurities about her relationship with Steve. Though the book comes to a damp close after the crazy kids have clasped hands, “gazed into each other’s eyes and were ecstatically happy,” the fact that it’s over quickly is the best thing about it. I appreciate that the author makes a show of presenting Donna as a strong, capable person (and a very competent nurse), but in the end she is nearly helpless in the worst moments, and this dichotomy makes me dislike both the heroine and the book.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Village Nurse

By Joanne Holden, ©1964

Lorena read it in Deke’s glazed eyes. He had lost his battle to clean up River Street. And failure could mean an epidemic. As Deke’s office nurse—and the woman he loved—Lorena had to help him. There was just one way. The one who could save him was Beat Wetherill, the richest man in town. Lorena would go to him—and plead. But she was asking for trouble. Beat Wetherill—once Deke’s friend—was now his enemy. And he was irresistably attractive …


“You’re what is known as a natural dancer. I ought to have gotten the message from the way you cross the office floor.”

“I wasn’t born with a thermometer in my pocket. I’ll date anyone I please.”
“You add a decorative touch to this plain office.”

“I’m sorry you felt it was necessary to mix your threat to me and your proposal to Lorena in the same breath.”

Lorena Loring is a rare nurse with a blot on her record. Of course, it’s ill-deserved: She was once sued for assault and battery for having given a patient a blood transfusion despite the fact that the patient refused it on religious grounds. It’s actually an interesting story, from today’s perspective: An unconscious man, brought to the ED, had been ordered blood. When he came to, he told her to stop it, but she was unable to reach the doctor who ordered it. All she could do was “tell the patient once more she could not stop the transfusion except by doctor’s orders.” It’s curious in that, at least in this fictional event, (1) the doctor’s orders superceded the patient’s, (2) Lorena could not bring herself to at least put a hold on the order until the mess was straightened out, and (3) the patient didn’t just rip the IV out of his arm. I certainly hope this sort of thing didn’t happen even in the long-ago ’60s.

Anyway, she moves back to her hometown of Laurelton, in the Berkshire Hills of (presumably) Massachusetts to escape the ignominy, and quickly winds up working alongside Dr. Derek “Deke” Collingwood. There are other men on her horizons, too: the unfortunately named Beat Wetherill, the heir to the paper mill owner. This “exalted being,” as Lorena describes him, was the object of an alarming high school crush; Lorena had spent her time “lurking near the entrance to the Wetherill driveway, hoping to catch sight of Beat Wetherill. She had even been successful a few times and, as Beat flashed by in his sports car, had felt her heart jump in her throat.” What goes around comes around, though, as now she’s the object of an obsession: former casual beau Clyde Furness is convinced she’s returned to town just for him, and can hardly wait for her to marry him and quit nursing. “I’ve going to have you for my own,” he tells her. “Go on and play at being a nurse, and I’ll be waiting when you come back.”

Dr. Deke wades into the action when he tells her, “I’m not going to make a practice of this, but I’m going to kiss you, and nothing you can stay will stop me. Relax.” I can only hope this never really passed for romantic, because today it’s just creepy. Nonetheless, “Lorena did as she was told and thrilled to his kiss,” but not wanting to get into a relationship with her employer, pulls away and offers him a sandwich. Having disposed of him, she now has to fend off Beat, who walks in off the street and kisses her hard as she struggles to get away. Discovered by Dr. Deke, “Lorena was furious: with Beat for his thoughtless attentions; with herself for not anticipating his actions; and with Deke for having picked that moment to come out of his laboratory.” Curious that she blames not just her attacker but herself and the one who helps her fend him off, even if he is pissy about it, though it’s unclear whether he realizes she was being assaulted.

Naturally, Lorena is soon dating the insufferable Clyde and Beat as well, perhaps just to prove Clyde wrong, who has told her that Beat would “never look at a village girl” like her. Their first date is curious, from a sociological standpoint: Out on a picnic by the river, he puts his arms around her and tries to kiss her, “but she slipped away” and started setting out lunch—and then “silently scolded herself for putting him off so abruptly.” Then she brings up the name of a young woman in town who is putting the moves on Dr. Deke, suggesting that Beat would rather have brought her to the picnic. Beat becomes annoyed, telling her, “You’re a spoiled brat. If you weren’t such a beautiful spoiled brat, I’d be tempted to spank you as you deserve.” She, for her turn, becomes upset by his “resentful attitude” when she had brought up this other woman, and wonders if she should “plead a headache and ask to be taken home.” All these headgames brought me back to junior high, yet Lorena doesn’t seem to mind them and continues to see Beat.

Deke, meanwhile, is busy mounting a crusade against the slum that lines River Street, all owned by Clyde Furness. Sure enough, a small epidemic of German measles breaks out, claiming the child of the local handyman. Clyde’s own nephew Eddie is also a slum victim: There’s a cute little rumble between the River Rats gang and the slightly less imaginatively named Bridgers of nearby Bridgerton in which several boys are injured with antiquated weapons including switchblades, a skid chain, the antenna from a car, and a zip gun, and Eddie is the only fatality. Clyde responds to this personal tragedy by stating that he will publicly (and falsely) accuse Deke of malpractice and expose Lorena’s past unless Lorena marries him and Deke leaves town. Deke agrees to go, and Lorena is furious, calling him a quitter for abandoning the poor and the effort to improve health conditions in town. Deke argues that the next doctor will pick up the effort, and that if he didn’t succeed, he furthered the fight. “I don’t feel as if I’d failed, or that I’m running away from the problem at all,” he says, though he clearly has done both. Lorena, relieved, hurries off to make instant iced coffee.

Over these refreshing beverages, Deke tells her he’s going to take a research position in New York and he wants her to marry him and go with him. Her main objective accomplished, she’s suddenly tepid: “She had thought she might be in love with him. Yet now she felt curiously detached, as if they were casual co-workers.” Her main concern, it seems, is that, “suppose he ever wants to talk to me about his work? It would be another language as far as I am concerned. A nurse doesn’t deal in abstractions or theories. All nurses deal with people.” I’m not quite sure I follow this at all, but Lorena’s landlady renders the argument moot when she points out that “you would give up nursing anyway and start to raise a family.” The ending soon follows, a tidy resolution to all Lorena’s problems, including that pesky career, as her fiance (and you knew there would be one) tells her, “I’d expect a home-cooked supper” every night. Phew!
Lorena is a curious character. On one hand, she is feisty, often ready with the snappy comeback, and not afraid to tell people off. Yet throughout the book we are given example after example of her bizarre motivations and self-defeating decisions, and the two sides of her character seem incompatible. In the end I am just puzzled by the whole book, and the nauseating ending just confirmed the feeling. With the slums about to be revitalized (and you knew they would be), the poor families are summarily dealt with in a way that the healthcare team could have accomplished themselves, had they thought for five minutes about the problem. Furthermore, Clyde’s defense of the slums still echoes: “Suppose I fixed up those houses and charged the people a fancy rent—could they pay it, when they can hardly pay the pittance I ask? How many houses are there in Laureltown where these people could go, if it were not for me? Where would they live, if not on River Street?” Now that the slums are going to be torn down, and the developer emphatically telling Lorena that he plans to make money on the deal (Lorena answers, “You deserve to make money when you do something as fine and necessary as cleaning up the River Street pesthole”), it seems that all that really mattered was that the poor folks be relocated somewhere else so their blighted neighborhood could be eliminated. Both professionally and personally, Lorena has accomplished her missions, and we can all rest easy. Unless you’re one of those poor families about to lose their homes.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nurse Craig

By Isabel Cabot
(pseud. Isabel Capeto), ©1957
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig

Toni Craig, student nurse at Riveredge Hospital, wanted no part of Chad Barlow. He had the reputation of being a wolf; besides, her ideal was Dr. Matt Nicoll, a brilliant, ambitious young surgeon at the hospital. But Chad refused to be discouraged even after her engagement to Matt. And then Toni began hearing disturbing rumors about her fiancé. They were saying he would stop at nothing to get ahead. And so she faced a new heart-twisting question. Could she marry a successful doctor whose practices she couldn’t respect?


“Never make a pass at a girl with a lighted cigarette in her mouth.”

If there is one thing that VNRN characters should know, it’s never let another woman “tend” to your boyfriend, no matter how briefly. Toni Craig is a nursing student in her first year of nursing school, and after the capping ceremony, which punctuates the probation period, class vixen Melita Fanning makes the grave error of pushing her boyfriend, Chad Barlow, on Toni until she can get rid of her parents. Toni’s friend Gail Sanders does her best to warn Toni of Chad’s low character, advising, “Don’t go behind any potted plants with him.” Toni needs no reminding, having met the young man in question at a previous social event in which he punched a police officer. At this meeting—under the sheltering bower of a large fern, as fate would have it—Chad rises to expectations by telling her that her uniform is “all wrong” because “it doesn’t do a thing for your figure. Now that little one-piece number that you wore at the beach party …” When she objects to this comment and to his constantly referring to her as “darling,” he drawls, “Honey, it doesn’t mean a thing. It’s like calling a guy ‘Mac.’ It saves straining your brain to remember names.” Chad is just drawing his arm around Toni when Gail appears—“I’m little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother,” she quips—and sends Toni off on an errand. Here we learn from various cryptic comments that Gail has had some encounter with Chad in the past that has hurt her deeply, but Chad apparently has no recollection of the incident. More to come later.

Five months later, Toni is working in the hospital and pining after Dr. Matt Nicoll; Ruth, the nurse’s aide who grew up with Matt, is something of an encouraging confidante, and Matt soon warms to Toni. He asks her out for coffee, and she accepts without hesitation. (When Ruth hears of their date, her smile seems a little forced, Toni thinks.) But who should show up at the diner? Chad Barlow, of course, and when Matt suddenly realizes he’s due back at the hospital, Chad offers to walk Toni home.

After Matt has departed, Chad reveals to Toni that he only barged in because Matt’s conversation (a full-volume and in-depth review of each of their patients, and confidentiality be damned) sounded so boring. Though she agrees to allow Chad to walk her home, she doesn’t speak to him the whole way—but when he calls the next day and asks her out, she accepts, curiously just after she has told him that for him she would never be free. She ends up having a great time, or so she says, as we don’t spend much time with them on their date. When she tells Gail about it, Gail seems disgusted, and that night goes missing. Toni phones Chad for help, and he delivers Gail, passed out drunk, safely home. So when he asks her out again, she feels obliged to go. During that date, he makes the obligatory pass/assault: “With a swiftness that stunned Toni, Chad had her in his arms. His lips were on hers, bruising and demanding. Toni had to fight to break his hold. She was breathing hard as she pushed away from him to the far side of the seat. Chad started to reach for her again, but involuntarily, Toni began to cry. ‘Cut it out. You’re not hurt,’ Chad said roughly.” The next day she blames herself, of course, for having suggested they stop to look at the ocean, which apparently is akin to asking for it.

To help a doctor friend, Dr. Gus Rogers, who has an unrequited crush on Gail, Toni agrees to double-date with the couple and Chad. To put her at ease, Chad declares that Toni need not fear him; the two will just have “a strictly buddy-to-buddy relationship” from now on. They start going out regularly, but just as friends. She’s still seeing Matt as well, but growing a bit more concerned about his worship of Dr. Heally, the pompous yet successful chief of surgery who is universally disliked among the nurses (always a bad sign, even today!) for never accepting personal responsibility and for throwing everyone else under the bus if something goes wrong with his patients. Then Gail and Gus, out on another date, are in a car accident, and Gus is badly injured. It comes out that Gail had been married seven years ago, but her husband had been killed in a car accident—and the other driver was Chad Barlow. Even though Chad had been “out carousing” and speeding to get home on time, he’s forgiven, because he’d crawled a mile with a broken leg to get help, and that though he’d been “a little wild in those days, he’s done his best to make it up.” We really haven’t seen him be anything but a little wild since we were introduced to him, however, so his easy absolution doesn’t really jibe.

Soon after, Matt proposes to Toni, who is giddy with joy, though Gail doesn’t approve. Matt’s busy sucking up to Dr. Heally, though, so Toni keeps on with her buddy dates with Chad. The other nurses are starting to criticize Matt, noting that he’s the first one to laugh at Dr. Heally’s jokes: Even if Matt is a smart and excellent surgeon, his use of flattery of Dr. Heally to win a position as the chief’s main assistant is considered a very serious offense. Then there’s more trouble in paradise: Matt’s mother becomes very ill and is hospitalized for several weeks. This drains Matt’s father’s bank account of the money he was going to lend Matt to start his own practice. Matt is very upset—not about his mother, but about this setback in his plans. Then he ditches Toni for the big Winter Festival parties and insists that she go with Chad instead, and on a scavenger hunt the two are locked in an abandoned ice house for most of a night, during which Chad grabs her and kisses her hard again. Matt’s not too pleased to hear about this, and also not too pleased about his lack of funds, and hers too: “It wouldn’t hurt any if you had a little money of your own,” he says, perhaps thinking of his old friend Ruth, who has recently inherited a bundle of money and left her job as a nurse’s aide to become a very successful businesswoman, tripling her fortune in a matter of months.

The ending is abrupt, dumb, and completely what you would expect, unfortunately. While this book is not without its charms—Gail is the perfect wise-cracking sidekick, and Melita and Ruth were also enjoyable characters—but the men in the book are not so rewarding. Chad Barlow proves again and again to be an ass, so Toni’s attraction to him is puzzling, and Matt’s transformation from hero to “twenty-carat heel” is also inexplicable. Isabel Cabot’s prior offerings, Private Duty Nurse and Island Nurse, are also fairly mediocre—more so Private Duty Nurse, which is also quite rife with scenes of sexual assault cum romance. It’s positively amazing that violence toward women could have been so casually accepted—even blamed on the victims—and that these scenes of humiliation and degradation are apparently meant to be titillating. But I guess we need look no further than the enormous success of Fifty Shades of Grey to realize that maybe we haven’t come so far, after all.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Surgical Nurse

By Ruth Ives, ©1962

An accident completely changed Susan Sande’s destiny. Instead of joining her father and sister at their clinic in the Far East, she chose to stay in her home town and nurse her Aunt Jessica. The choice was a difficult one, but it was made easier by the presence of Dr. Burke Tanner, her girlhood hero. However, Susan was no longer a little girl, but a lovely and dedicated surgical nurse who loved her work despite the heartbreaks it sometimes brought her. Burke Tanner had turned into a subdued, grim chief of surgery and was nicknamed "Old Ironheart." Then Aunt Jessica died on the operating table and, because of the will she left, ugly rumors began spreading about Susan. It took all of Susan’s courage to see her way through the dark days, but in the end she found the happiness she was waiting for …
"I’m glad she’s home to nurse me after the operation, instead of chasing off to the Far East to take care of those heathen children in her father’s mission."
"They’re young, and if they don’t marry too soon, I just might manage to make good registered nurses out of them."
Author Ruth Ives is a bit of a puzzle to me. She seems to have written just three nurse novels, and the trio—including Navy Nurse and Congo Nurse—could scarcely be more different from each other in tone. Congo Nurse was flat and insipid; Navy Nurse was over-the-top campy, shallow, and scattered. Surgical Nurse is easily the best of the lot, an honest, serious book that reminded me of Ivy Anders, Night Nurse, in that the two were pretty dark for a VNRN. I can identify writers like Rosie M. Banks, Peggy Gaddis, and (ugh) Peggy Blocklinger from the first paragraph alone, but it’s frankly hard for me to understand how these three were written by the same person.
After finishing up five years of training at Boston Medical Center, Nurse Susan Sande came home to Westwalk, CT, to care for her ailing Aunt Jessica instead of joining her father and sister at their clinic in Bangkok. She’s shocked to learn that Aunt J has metastatic colon cancer, and even more shocked that Dr. Burke Tanner, her high school crush and now local surgeon, told Jessica of the diagnosis. "But the shock—" she stutters to Burke before he shuts her down, saying that her aunt deserves to know the truth.
But Sandy, as she’s known, never has the chance to take care of Aunt J, who dies in the OR. Sandy doesn’t spend too much time grieving, though, and instead focuses on the disbursement of her aunt’s $250,000 fortune: Jessica wanted to use the money to build a new wing for the hospital, but only if it is done according to the exact specifications she and her architect have drawn up. Jessica had concerns that the board of directors, a gouty collection of backslappers, is more interested in lining their own pockets with kickbacks than in improving the hospital. Indeed, when Sandy makes the offer to the board of directors, the gang turns her down—and now a "whisper campaign" in town is suggesting that Sandy refused to give the hospital the money so as to profit herself. Sandy feels the board is trying to pressure her into giving them the money, no strings attached, but she refuses to give in, despite repeated insults and even physical assaults from townspeople and coworkers alike. Even more upsetting to Sandy is the fact that the subdued, disinvolved Dr. Burke, who has a seat on the board, does not go to bat for her. She even argues with him about it, but he just cannot bring himself to care.
This betrayal by her longtime crush is Sandy’s other chief obsession. Back in high school, Burke was the star halfback and Sandy just in fifth grade when she fell hysterically in love with him, pasting articles and photos of him in her scrapbook, insipid as that sounds now, 50 years before the advent of sexting. Now, after a school bus accident two years ago, Burke has transformed into "Old Ironheart," a snappish, icily formal martinet "who had seemed to relish terrorizing her during the day"—though he melts into a sweeter version of himself outside the hospital, giving her a ride home in the rain as he has noticed that her car was not in the lot that morning. This contradiction in his character, and his rudeness to her in the hospital, pass essentially unremarked by Sandy—though if it were me, I would seriously reconsider that crush. It’s true that she does see him with a more jaundiced eye and has many debates with herself about how "she no longer felt that childish, blind adoration for Burke Tanner, football hero of Westwalk High. She saw him as an adult, and perhaps as an adversary." It’s not clear, though, how much we should believe this. She’s obviously not star-struck any longer, but she can’t help crying herself to sleep on occasion over his rudeness. In some books this could come across as sloppy, but Ruth Ives paints a picture of conflicting and contradictory emotion that never feels phony.
When she’s not brooding over the changes in Burke’s character, Sandy is dating handsome swashbuckler Dr. Bob Parker. He takes her to glamorous parties, introduces her to kind and interesting people, and then slinks off with other women, leaving her to find her own way home. She doesn’t seem to mind too much, though, since she’s not really attached to Bob and is making lots of friends. When Bob takes her to another high-flying party and proposes out of the blue, she waffles and tells him she’s going to have to think it over. Bob responds by downing three consecutive martinis. He’s hard at work on the fourth when a fellow party animal attempts to cure an enormously pregnant woman of nausea by taking her for a drive and smashes into a tree. Cut to the OR, where Dr. Burke and Sandy stand by as the obviously plowed Dr. Bob attempts to operate on the driver, soon severing an artery and backing out to let Dr. Burke try for the save, and fail. That night, Burke drops by her house and tells her the story of the school bus accident, how he tried to save all the children but lost too many due to inadequate supplies and staffing, and how he decided that from that point on to harden his heart. In an attempt to bring him back to humanity, she asks him if he loves her. He does, he answers, but says he will never marry her and storms off. What will possibly make Burke realize that all the best doctors have hearts? Why, another devastating accident: The new plastics factory on the edge of town collapses, and it’s surgery and death and mud and mayhem all over again.
You know how everything is going to play out, and it’s not a bad ending. Overall the story has quite a few dark turns, between all the patients dying in the OR and Sandy’s ostracization in town. Sandy is a spunky and outspoken character who had considered becoming a surgeon herself before opting for nursing. She even has no qualms—and relatively few regrets—about having told Burke that she loves him, unlike most VNRN heroines who would rather lose their love forever than "chase" him, which is how telling someone how you felt was viewed in those days. Her only flaw is her utter inability to stand up against the false rumors about her aunt’s will, as she never once attempts to explain the truth to her detractors; a small but constant annoyance, as there are a lot of them. I contemplated giving this book an A- rather than a B+, but didn’t quite find quite enough here that is really stellar beyond the uniqueness of its somewhat grim tone and the excellence and shades of gray in Sandy’s character. Still, it’s easily worth reading.