By Helen B. Castle, ©1963
Three men wanted Nurse Ivy Anders. Dr. Paul Farrow wanted her to be his mistress. Detective Dick Rudd wanted her to marry him. And patient Sebastian Cruz wanted to disfigure he beautiful body beyond recognition. Here is the thrilling story of a lovely young nurse and the passions which threatened to destroy her—revenge, jealousy, love, and her own unshakable dedication to the noble profession of healing.
“It is a rough, lonely business to stand over someone with steel in your hand, knowing you must try to play God, knowing how inadequate you really are.”
“So who needs dates? It’s a pretty ridiculous routine, really, the whole business of working at being vivacious, companionable, and terribly interested in the details of some man’s job, when he is usually thinking only of setting up an opportunity to neck, a poor word to describe what he actually has in mind.”
“Men were interested in pretty, decorative women, not those who displayed some intelligence and ambition.”
“Sometimes I think a surgical gown is the most efficient man-trap ever devised, though there is a good deal to be said for a nurse’s uniform, too, at least where doctors are concerned.”
“I’m all for any woman who can get a man to an altar. It is a knack that I certainly never acquired!”
“Maybe this was what is in store for her, Ivy thought wryly, to grow old in a nurse’s uniform. Maybe she ought to get a cat. Old maids and cats seemed to go together.”
“See that he marries you—and no more foolishness about running around with a street gang!”
Ivy Anders works the night shift at St. Vibiana’s Hospital, located somewhere near Atlanta. At 26, she is starting to seriously sweat the fact that she’s not married. Working the night shift makes dating difficult, and she’s very devoted to her job. But suddenly, it’s raining men: Detective Sergeant Dick Rudd, coming to the hospital after visiting hours to visit a family member, slips and puts his arm through a window and is promptly sutured closed and admitted to Ivy’s ward. Dr. Stan Dykestra, about to conclude his residency, is asking her to have coffee with him in the cafeteria. And Dr. Paul Farrow starts hanging around the nurse’s station to talk to Ivy about how his wife doesn’t understand him and how lonely he is. Yes, a married man!!
Things begin to look up for Ivy when Dick asks her out on a date and promptly proposes. She says she’ll think about it, because “as for getting to know Dick Rudd, Ivy remembered a thought offered by her sister Benita on one occasion, ‘You tell yourself you know a man, marry him, then discover he isn’t quite the person you thought he was, at all.’ If this was true, why bother to wait—?” A match made in heaven. Dick’s talking about the honeymoon in Hawaii when he drops the deal-breaker: “You won’t be doing any more nursing. My wife isn’t going to work!” When Ivy points out that she spent more time training to be a nurse than he did to become a cop and asks him if he could quit his job, he says it’s not the same thing because he’s a man. “A man’s duty is to make a living, a woman’s duty is to make a home, and to take care of the kids.” So that’s the end of that. “She was not going to throw it all over simply because this man high-handedly demanded that she do so!”
But then Stan is looking at her as though Ivy was “very much in his thoughts.” She tries to find opportunities for them to be alone together so he can pop the question. Eventually he asks her—not exactly to marry him, but to “go with me when I leave.” She will, and now her days are full of “making many plans and of getting acquainted, of attempting in a hurry to learn a man’s ways, his likes and dislikes, an interesting but frequently perplexing business.” Yet she has a “sense of some indefinable obstacle between them.” Sure enough, the day Stan ends his residency, he disappears, and sends her a postcard from his hometown in Idaho. He shows up at the hospital a week later with a woman on his arm. He introduces her to Ivy as his wife, whom he married four years ago, a week before he started his residency. He hasn’t seen her in all these years, and he’d gone home to divorce her—but he couldn’t. “It is an obligation I must carry,” he tells her, adding that he also has an obligation to a church group that financed his medical education to go to Burma to run a clinic there for seven years, and he and his wife are leaving next week.
It’s a close call for Ivy, but now all that’s left for her is Dr. Farrow. Either him or she becomes one of those “staff nurses, unwed, middle-aged or older, who were inclined to be fussy, short-tempered, the objects of amusement. They were women who had turned inward on themselves, who had reached the point where their world had narrowed down to the hospital and a lonely apartment or a room at the nursing home, nothing else.” So when Dr. Farrow asks her to dinner, she accepts. He kisses her goodnight, then “sudden forceful insistence, an attempt to go farther which Ivy found difficult to handle.” But she can’t stop seeing him. “Perhaps, she thought, what Paul was offering her was all she was ever going to get, life in a man’s shadow, but that the half-loaf of an affair with him might be more desirable than nothing at all.”
Part of what is driving Ivy is her fear, never expressly stated, of dying a virgin. One of her patients, an 18-year-old girl named Jill, is sleeping with Sebastian Cruz, the head of a gang called the Toros. Jill is brought in when she and her boyfriend are attacked by the rival gang, and Ivy is tucking Jill in for the night when the girl pulls up her nightgown and shows Ivy her naked body. “I’ve got a real classy shape, huh?” she says. “I bet you don’t even know what it means to be a woman. Well, I do! I’m Sibby’s woman, all the way. When we get together, it’s thunder and lightning, we really blow up a storm! Like, there’s no tomorrow, and what’s the use waiting—?” Jill isn’t the only unmarried woman getting some action; Ivy catches another single nurse wearing nothing but a slip in a hospital room with a man. “A perverse imp—or her other self—seemed to whisper that she might be missing something desirable that life had to offer, and perhaps should begin to find out for sure before it was too late.” So Ivy mulls over Paul’s offer to become his mistress. “She would know what it meant fully to be a woman. Jill’s scornfully derisive charge that she did not know still rankled in her.”
Fortunately for her, Ivy never has to make up her mind about what to do. She tracks down the gang leader, who is suffering from stab wounds, and en route to the hospital is stopped by the rival gang and injured in the battle that ensues before Dick Rudd runs them all off and literally carries Ivy, whose uniform has been ripped down the front, to the hospital. When Ivy comes to, after demonstrating why healthcare professionals make such lousy patients, she worries only that her hair has been shaved off, she isn’t wearing any makeup, and Dick saw her exposed body. At the end of the book, when one of her suitors shows up and Ivy is safely engaged, one of the floor nurses gives Ivy “a look which contained many things—congratulations, admiration, envy, plus a whole-hearted sharing of this moment which only a woman could savor, the moment when the puzzling, exasperating and often torturing business of being a female at last had meaning and purpose.”
This book, more than most VNRNs, clearly paints the difficult corner that women of Ivy’s generation were in. She might have a satisfying, meaningful career, but she’s expected to toss it away without a second thought the minute she gets engaged, because it’s not a career that gives her life real value in the world but a husband (and, by inference, a sex life). But marriage is a tricky business. The husband in question, fashioned out of a near stranger, is beguiled or even fooled into marriage, and her career—possibly her happiness as well—are sacrificed at the altar for this “greater” good. I appreciated the book’s ending, which does not force Ivy to give up her work, but I’m not convinced that Ivy, once married, is going to be all that happy. I had been looking forward to this book after enjoying Helen Castle’s Emergency Ward Nurse, and Ivy Anders doesn’t disappoint. It’s not exactly a classic VNRN, but this book stands out because it is the most clear-eyed—not to mention risqué—example of the genre I have met to date.