By Jeanne Bowman (pseud. Peggy O'More Blocklinger), ©1967
Rietta Mendall, R.N., was perfectly happy. She was, in fact, in the middle of counting her blessings—her interesting work, her comfortable apartment—when tragedy struck. Her brother’s teenage son was in trouble, and Rietta’s help was needed. And when such a need existed, Rietta could not place her own happiness first. She knew that her brother’s troubles would clear up in time. But her own way of life was drastically altered. To support herself now, she worked as a visiting nurse serving a trailer community. Her patients’ problems became her problems…and multiplied rapidly. Then romance beckoned…and Rietta knew it was the one problem she might not be able to solve!
“Oh, that we had the right to stab her with a hypo right where she needs it most.”
“Dunbar’s dream was as set as his arteries.”
After Ms. Bowman’s Conflict for Nurse Elsa received the first (and still the only) failing grade I’ve ever handed down, I was reluctant to take up another of her titles. Why set yourself up for that kind of punishment? But—and bear with me—having discovered the blog “Women Running From Houses,” and realized that nurses also have been seen running from houses (see Private Duty Nurse and Nurse at the Castle), I then discovered a sub-genre to that sub-genre: a nurse running from a trailer park. Which brings me to Door to Door Nurse.
Nurse Harriet “Rietta” Mendall has a nice life, a nice apartment, a nice job at Thorton Hospital. “She’d take her profession, with its assurance of an income … in preference to a wildly romantic love affair, marriage and an equally wild divorce with its residue of bitterness,” she says, because all marriages must eventually end in divorce. But then her inconsiderate sister-in-law Sophia, while making a “long cruise to regain nerve strength,” makes a stop in Peru and wires home that she’s going to be staying there for six months, leaving her husband Hal and their two teenagers, Teena and Merton, to fend for themselves. So Rietta quits her job, subleases her apartment, and moves into her brother’s spare bedroom. She takes a job as a visiting nurse, tending patients who are either well-to-do or poverty-stricken, or both, in the case of one widow who was once rich but has run out of money.
We meet numerous patients, too many to keep track of, many with alliterative names such as Leon Lieb, Lenore Lamont, Zelma Zander, and Dorcus Dunbar, who is a man, poor thing. We also meet the up-and-coming attorney and love interest with the unfortunate moniker Hadkin Stratford. He is confusingly nicknamed “Had,” which makes for false starts in sentences such as “Had Stratford arrived before Harold left for the base” and “Had Stratford waited a moment,” leaving you wondering if the first word is a past perfect verb or a proper noun. Or not, if you are less keen on grammar than I am.
One of Rietta’s patients lives in a trailer on his own property, but the town snots are trying to pass a law that prevents private property from hosting said humble dwellings. Had is working to add a clause to the law that grandfathers in properties already containing a trailer, bless his noble heart. He is also attempting to finance a trailer park, where new town residents who can’t afford a home fixed to the ground can put their trailers. Another of Rietta’s patients is trying to sell Had a worthless swamp, which will bankrupt him and make him unable to marry a particular young woman in town who “simply cannot afford to live on a restricted income.” Rietta is bound by ethics not to reveal anything she learns in the homes of her patients, so she is in a bit of a bind, more so because she is hankering for Had herself. He can give her, she believes, “a new life, a supplementary life which would make her more than merely a nurse.”
We get a fair amount of pop psychology suggesting that author thinks that “nerves” are the cause of all organic disease. Thorton Hospital apparently sees businessmen who “come in for recuperative rest when they’re facing some important meeting.” A patient with a new colostomy blames stress for her surgery: “I just tied my innards up in tensions until they wouldn’t come untied and had to be cut.” Rietta cautions herself not to eat when she is upset: “Hadn’t she been trained to relate upset emotions to an upset digestive tract?” Even Had has the curious belief that people who marry for financial or social gain “usually show up at one hospital or another.”
While not as bad as Conflict for Nurse Elsa, the prose contains a healthy amount of Ms. Bowman’s nonlinear writing, which runs around in circles, leaving you muddled and directionless. I give you the following paragraph: “Professionally she need not rush. Personally, she had to escape, get away from the very presence of the housekeeper. Ridiculous but true. Also interesting, a subject often discussed over the Thorton coffee tables: how individuals were like chemicals reacting on each other without motive or desire.” Can you run that by me again? When it’s not confusing, the language is stilted and phony, which seems to be an attempt to be literary but just makes me nauseous. Rietta leaves a note for her neighbor, saying, “Thank you for the nicest breakfast I’ve had in years. I savored peace and the promise of contentment.” When Sophia comes home early and brings a guest, effectively kicking Rietta out of her brother’s guestroom and rendering her homeless, she “sallied forth and bought the newly scorned: a mobile home.”
The wealthy characters in the book are generally haughty and rude, while the poor, like the colostomy patient, have many friends who care for them: “She thought of Mrs. Zander, whom no one wanted to drive to the city, and of Mrs. Minor, who would have to draw lots to determine which of the many would have what they’d consider a privilege. Which was the richer?” So we are treated to treacle about how much better off poor people are: “Mrs. Brown might be poor where money was concerned, but she was rich in understanding, the more lasting commodity.”
This book is barely tolerable, not really infuriating, but bestowing more of a mild queasiness, between the dizzy writing, the cloying sentiment, and the pretentious language. The concept—and the cover—of this book were far more promising than what it delivered. I’ve noticed that the titles of some nurse romance novels are used repeatedly, such as in Head Nurse (both Barbara Villet and Ruth Dorset have written a book of this title) and Big City Nurse (by both Jane Highmore and Peggy Gaddis, not to mention the smutty version by Albert L. Quandt). I’m not sure the title is worth recycling, but in the right hands—I’m talking to you, Faith Baldwin—the concept could be made into something really great.