Cover illustration by Bob Stanley
It was love at first sight when Surgical Nurse Evelyn Taylor encountered handsome Dr. Hank Young, who came to Tower General with an emergency operation. Right from the start, they seemed to be a team—professionally. Privately, Hank seemed to be more interested in the glamour and glitter of Louise Hayden, daughter of Dr. Dan Hayden, Chief of Surgery. Evelyn knew she couldn’t compete with Louise’s obvious attractions. She could only hope that Hank would see through her superficiality before it was too late. Meanwhile, Evelyn had to go on working beside Hank, assisting him in the dramatic fight for life at every operation, trying to control her emotions when he praised her for her efficiency as a nurse and went on ignoring her desirability as a woman.
“She was too beautiful to die, even if she did drive like a darned fool.”
“Can’t some doctor ever get to this hospital on time?”
“Would you rather kiss me—or spank me?”
“Like all advice, no matter how true, each man usually had to learn his own lesson, the hard way.”
This is another not-a-nurse-novel that made it into the pile. Our hero is Dr. Henry J. Young, M.D., D.A.C.S. (Diplomate of the American College of Surgeons), as we are introduced in the first paragraph. You can bet when we are introduced to the OR Supervisor, we don’t even get the RN after her name; instead we are told that “Miss” Evelyn Taylor is known as “Elusive Evelyn.” She’s calm, cool, and collected when he comes barreling into the OR with a car crash victim with a shard of glass embedded in her heart, and he condescends to thinking that Evelyn is “remarkable” and “competent,” but needless to say he won’t give her another thought after he meets Louise Hayden, daughter of the chief of surgery: “Long blond hair, a youthful line of bangs partially hiding her high forehead, warm blue-green eyes, long legs and beautifully proportioned figure; they were all part of one breathtakingly beautiful picture.” The shallow bastard.
Now, I shouldn’t be catty. Louise is actually a fine person, which is not usually the case with these not-to-be first girlfriends. She’s 13 years younger than Hank, though, a senior in college at “Swarton,” a rich-girls’ school outside of Boston. She spends her summer attending parties with Hank, and two months later, just as she’s about to go back to school, the couple actually kisses, which means that it’s time to “make plans,” apparently for their wedding. I continue to be amazed at the speed with which these VNRN pairs move, and only pray that it wasn’t really like that in the 1960s.
It’s Hank’s professional duties, however, that make up the bulk of the story. He’s been brought in from Los Angeles County Hospital after extensive training in cardiovascular surgery to whip the surgical residency program at Tower General, somewhere in the Midwest, into shape. It’s a political battle that involves numerous doctors and a board of trustees and different alliances and warring factions, and I won’t bore you with all that, but suffice to say that Hank’s chief nemesis through all his efforts turns out to be his Chief, Dr. Dan Hayden, father of his fiancée. Dr. Hayden just hates change, and vows to keep it out of his hospital to the best of his ability, at least until his daughter winds him around her finger and he relents for her sake.
Then Amos Cole comes in: He’s 54 but looks 65, with a clogged artery in his heart. At the time this book was written, this means increasingly limited activity until the ole ticker just gives out. But Hank had been working in Los Angeles on a new, pioneering surgical technique that would remove the clot from the hardened cardiac artery and restore the patient to good health. Except for one thing: Of the 18 cases they’d done, 14 died on the table, two survived but had no improvement, and two were “cured.” “If the mortality seems terribly high,” Hank explains, “remember they would all have been dead very soon—if we hadn’t done the surgery. We saved two.” Well, says the suicidal Amos, sign me up!
Now the lines in the sand are drawn and deep: Dr. Hayden, who had been warming to Hank, tells him if Amos dies, he will have Hank fired. Louise, caught between two men she loves, is in a tough position, as each of them lies to her in their attempts to win her loyalty: Her father tells her, “He didn’t care about you or me. He was more interested in stealing a patient than he was in my good will or your love,” and Hank tells her that her father “made a mistake on the course of treatment of Amos Cole, and isn’t enough of a man to admit it.” Well, advising against a surgery with an 80 percent mortality rate isn’t a mistake, it’s a judgment call, and Hank, who’s spent the past three years at a research hospital, ought to know the difference.
Louise, young and afraid, tries to talk Hank out of the surgery, and when he balks, she tells him that they’re over, and that she will drag Evelyn’s name through the mud—Hank has gone out for spaghetti a few times with Evelyn, purely on a platonic basis, much to rejected Evelyn’s chagrin. Hank tells Evelyn before Amos’ surgery the next morning that she may be the subject of some vicious gossip, but Evelyn is not upset, she’s thrilled! Because this means that he and Louise are over, and now she has a shot! Hank, too, is suddenly looking at Evelyn with new eyes: “He couldn’t help contrasting her calm assurance of his ability to Louise’s performance of the night before. How could he have been so blind?”
You’ll not be shocked to hear that the operation goes off without a hitch. Louise tries to make up with Hank, but he essentially dumps her by telling her that he’s moving to New York, knowing that she will never leave the Midwest and her father. After the surgery, he celebrates with Evelyn at their Italian restaurant, and asks her to come to New York with him and be his scrub nurse—not quite the proposal she was hoping for, but as the book closes, she knows the real one will be hers one day, as well.
Told from the doctor’s point of view and written by a man, this book lacks the deft touch of some female VNRN writers who bestow more subtlety of feeling upon their characters. Louise is a carefree, vivacious dish—and if she’s not shallow or stupid, she’s not a rich or nuanced character. Evelyn is either heartbroken or efficient. Hank, it must be confessed, is usually angry, unless he’s in raptures over Louise. Hank’s outings with his friend Mike to play handball lack the gentle fondness or the attitude of conviviality that surrounds a night out with the girls in a Lucy Agnes Hancock story. Now, perhaps it’s not fair to chalk up mediocrity of writing to the author’s gender—lord knows, there are plenty of bad women VNRN authors—but none of the gents (Dan Ross, Jean Webb, Richard Wilkes-Hunter) have ever been able to create the same sweetness that Jeanne Judson, Faith Baldwin, Lucy Agnes Hancock, and Maud McCurdy Welch regularly whip up. Just saying. Even if this book were a true VNRN, it’s more concerned about political maneuvering at the hospital than it is in Hank as a person, and so I didn’t find it all that interesting.