Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nina Grant, Pediatric Nurse

By Patti Stone, ©1960

The road to becoming a good nurse, Nina Grant discovered, was strewn with many pitfalls. A nurse could not afford even one mistake—because it could prove fatal. Yet she had made one error in judgment, had confessed to a moment of carelessness. One more error would mean dismissal, the end of the work she loved, the end to her strange bitter-sweet relationship with Dr. Halpern. Then an epidemic struck, testing every facet of her skill and courage. Nina Grant and Dr. Halpern found the strength to fight it … and something more …

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“I have none of the social graces, she thought wryly. They didn’t teach me those in the orphanage.”

“I want to wear my new bathing suit. The saleslady said it would do things for me, and it certainly did. It emptied my pocketbook.”

“Now the trouble with me is that no man gives me a second look except Bill, and I suspect he needs glasses bad.”

“Did Miss Susan think she actually—well, chased men? Oh, how awful!”

REVIEW:
Nina Grant has just finished her training as a regular old RN, and has signed on for another year at White Shepherd Hospital in Dallas, where she will learn to be a pediatric RN. You just have no idea how hard it is to take care of kids. It’s a wonder they let just any woman at all become a mother. If she makes one teensy, weensy mistake, she’s out on her ear. Well, she starts off with a doozy, stopping before the hospital door to retouch her makeup, when out barges this guy and bumps into her, knocking her bag out of her hands and spilling her beauty secrets all over the steps. She despises him on sight—and then when she sees him a few days later in the caf and tells him to stay away from her. So guess who he turns out to be? It won’t take you long, because in true VNRN fashion, he’s the chief of staff, Dr. Enoc Halpern. (Enoc? Really? Just who thinks up these names?) She’s horrified, of course, as much as with him as at her own blunder. He’s jaunty, joking, and casual. Of course, he’s a fantastic doctor—“If only he could act more dignified, as a great doctor should!”

But soon there’s another blotch on her record: on the night shift, when she is alone on the ward, a child falls out of bed when the side rail is not locked in place. It’s the sort of error that could have killed little Mellie! She can’t believe she didn’t lock the rail, but she’s the only one on the ward—she must have left it down. The fact that she’d just found seven-year-old Andy wandering out of another child’s room never enters her mind—so she confesses to the crime and takes the pink sheet of shame and a week’s suspension.

This is especially hard on her because she fears everyone will think less of her—“I’m no longer the perfect nurse in their eyes, she thought wryly. They know I’m human too.” And what will Dr. Enoc think? Nina still doesn’t really get the good doctor, but he has shown interest in her progress as a trainee. And then, we are told, “there was something—a strange something—that had been sparkling between them from the day they had chased a cheap lipstick down the stairs.” Now, I just absolutely despise having to learn about a burgeoning romance in this way—it’s lazy and insulting. If we haven’t seen it for ourselves in the interactions between the characters, then it isn’t really there, and this is just a backhanded, cheating way of accomplishing the heavy lifting the author should have been doing all along.

So how can we bring our protagonists together? Here’s a novel idea—how about an epidemic? This time it’s diphtheria, which allows the book to go on a little rant about parents who don’t vaccinate their children: “They feel safe, for what they don’t hear about, or know about firsthand, they tend to ignore sometimes.” If the book gets to rant, so do I: Today parents are not ignoring the issue but willfully choosing not to vaccinate, sure their children will have a bad reaction (though the odds of this are 12.1 per 1 million doses, or 0.00121%, in a recent study of the flu vaccine[1]) while paradoxically convinced at the same time they will not contract a vaccine-preventable disease that could possibly kill them (300 children and 42,000 adults die every year of these illnesses[2]).

Anyhoo, there they are, locked on the infectious diseases ward, where the regulations require the nurses get eight hours of sleep nightly, eat nutritious meals, and shampoo their hair every other day. It’s no wonder that after six weeks of eight-hours-on, eight-hours-off shifts, they fall into each others’ arms in the kitchen when she slips in a puddle of water and he catches her. There’s still 25 more pages of book to get through, so we have to wade through Nina’s manufactured insecurities about whether Dr. Halpern’s wealthy family will accept her, and, in a first among the VNRNs I’ve read to date, we actually get to attend the wedding, but not the reception, and certainly not the honeymoon—for that you’ll have to read something a lot more current.

This is another one of those books that debates the nurse vs. human being question, and comes down squarely on the side of caring for the patients: “The best nurses are the human ones,” we are told in the very first chapter. Nina is told by Dr. Halpern after one of her favorite patients dies, that children need “tender loving care … as much as the medicines I prescribe.” Nurses who “love them with all their hearts and souls, as you do,” he says, are the very best. After he leaves, Nina thinks, “You make me feel so human, Dr. Enoc.” Later, after she’s spent a week socializing at her roommate’s wedding, the bookworm realizes she enjoys hanging out with the boys: “I guess I’m human after all, not just a nurse,” she thinks.

For its flaws, this is actually a pretty good book. It hums briskly along, and is a more laid-back cousin of Emergency Ward Nurse. I liked the main characters, though I wish there were a lot fewer peripheral ones: I counted 15 patients with names and stories, not to mention the scores of others we just zip past. In addition to the kids, you also have to manage the more than 40 named characters that inhabit the hospital. There are also countless pediatric illnesses to learn about: pyloric stenosis, leukemia, burns, diabetes, nasopharyngitis, swallowed nickels, tonsillitis, traffic accidents—they’re all there, and much, much more. It’s a nurse novel that also wants to be a medical textbook and a telephone directory. But it’s an entertaining read, even if it’s not very campy, and easily worth your time.

[1] Liang XF, Li L, Liu DW et al, “Safety of Influenza A (H1N1) Vaccine in Postmarketing Surveillance in China,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2011 Feb 17;364(7):638-647.
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Achievements in public health, 1900–1999: Control of infectious diseases. MMWR. 1999 Jul 30;48(29):621-9.

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