Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nurse Under Fire

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1964
Jock had once tried to commit suicide because of his frustrated love for Nurse Ruby Compton. Now he was her patient in a psychiatric clinic and his emotional struggle was starting all over again. Ruby didn’t love him, but she pitied him too much to push him out of her life—even though his mental instability could make him dangerous. Even though being kind to Jock was ruining her chances with the doctor she really loved.
“What’s the use learning fancy words if you don’t trot them out to show how smart you are?”
“Ruby hated the current rage for pants, but she had to admit that Connie looked like a doll in them.”
“You mean I should marry a character who bores me to death, then spend the best years messing around with pots and pans and babies while he struggles through college? And turn into a worn-out old hag before he lands a job that really pays off? Uh-uh. All the fellows I know are pretty much like George. They’re poor, they bore me stiff, and all they’ve got on their minds is going to college for the rest of time and learning a lot of stuff so they’ll be big shots—some day. And they really want to marry just to have some girl around to cook and clean and make life easy for them, while they sit glued to their books. I can’t see it.”
“You’d be surprised how many patients we get who have cracked up simply by driving themselves to make more and more money to buy more and more things which they didn’t really need.”
Ruby Compton is, to my eye, about as deranged as the patients she cares for at the Olive Hill Psychiatric Clinic. Her ex-beau, Jock Jordan (and what a name!), tried to hang himself six years ago when his rich father broke up his relationship with the less socially endowed Ruby, and has since nursed a major obsession with Ruby while living so recklessly that his antics on the freeway resulted in a multi-car crash that left several people critically injured and one killed. Instead of heading straight to jail, Jock’s father managed to get him committed to the booby hatch, but now his time is served and Jock is going home. And insisting that Ruby escort him on the 100-mile drive. Given the fact that she’s had no compunction about serving as Jock’s nurse, it was a long shot that she would agree with her boyfriend, hospital physician Nat Casey, that it would be best if she skipped that trip.
So off she goes—even bringing her 17-year-old sister Connie on the trip. The jaded Connie has designs on the wealthy Jock, and it comes out that she’s even been visiting him on the sly in an attempt to land herself a rich husband. “So what if he is a psycho?” she asks. “If Jock were to fall in love with a cute girl, get out of that place and get married, I’ll bet he’d be as normal as anybody.”
Of the actual road trip, which has been built up for 55 pages, we get not a sentence: After Ruby’s final argument with Nat, the next sentence has her pulling into Jock’s father’s house. Joe Jordan is away on a business trip, though, and Jock’s stepmother Dorothy refuses to allow Jock to come into the house, instead steering him and Ruby—Connie has been deposited at a local hotel—to the gatehouse: “I’m scared of crazy people,” she explains. But Ruby insists that they be allowed to stay in the main house. Once back in his old room, Jock is “brooding and staring, like someone in a stuporous daze,” and Ruby is concerned that this might be one of Jock’s “depressed spells which, once or twice, had come close to being a psychotic breakthrough.” Her solution is to take Jock and Connie out for dinner. Connie is all in favor of this plan: “Hey, it is okay if I douse myself with that perfume that Mom says smells like a hussy’s boudoir?” she asks her sister. But out at the restaurant, when Connie begs Jock to dance, Ruby reminds her, “He’s not supposed to dance. Doctor’s orders.” Because we all know that dancing can cause psychosis, especially the Wahtusi.
So while Connie finds someone else to boogie with, Jock takes the opportunity to beg Ruby, again, to marry him. When she refuses, he asks if she’s in love with someone else—and she lies to him. But when Connie returns to the table and is again rebuffed by Jock, she decides to settle the score by telling him that Ruby is engaged to Dr. Nat. Jock responds by taking a trip to the loo and not returning. In another dramatic jump between scenes, we are back at the oceanfront Jordan house, and Ruby spots someone swimming—gosh, who could that be at this time of night? Instantly she is powering through the waves, dragging Jock’s limp body back to shore, and pumping the salt water from his lungs. The paramedics arrive and bundle him up to bring back to the house (not the hospital), and now Ruby has another disaster to cope with: Mrs. Jordan, and she is pissed. “Lucy tells me what that lunatic has been up to: trying to kill himself again, making trouble and disturbance for everyone,” she shrieks, insisting that it’s out to the gatehouse with Ruby and Jock. Or not; Ruby insists that Dorothy go to her room: “Must I remind you that I am a psychiatric nurse? I have been trained to use force when it becomes necessary.” And it does become necessary, so Ruby seizes Dorothy Jordan in a judo hold and locks her in her own bedroom. What a gal!
Nat shows up unexpectedly, fortunately before Mr. Jordan gets home, so he can break the news about all the goings-on. Amazingly, Pa Jordan lets everyone stay, and in the morning has a heart-to-heart with Ruby in which he offers her $1 million if she will marry Jock. Next thing we know, the whole gang is back at Olive Hill, and Ruby is actually, amazingly, thinking over the offer: “Even if there is no more than once chance in a thousand, I must see that he gets that chance,” Ruby tells Nat. “I cannot have it on my conscience that I might have saved Jock from a living death, and did not.”
Only a bout of pneumonia keeps Ruby from eloping with Jock at once. But that gives Connie time to cook up a plan to prevent the marriage—yes, Connie, the girl who at book’s open deplored poverty, now declares that “what she really wanted was to marry some nice guy, love him to death, have a cute little house, and kids, and all the stuff most girls wanted.” So off Connie goes to see Dorothy, and tells her that $1 million of her husband’s precious fortune will slip through her fingers if Ruby marries Jock. Dorothy instantly reaches for the little pearl-handled revolver she keeps hidden amongst her underthings and hops into her black Caddy with the red leather seats to pay Jock a visit. She tells Jock about the bribe—and that Ruby is planning to go through with it, then have him committed to an insane asylum, annul the marriage and run off with Nat. She offers him her car and some money—$60, the cheapskate—but Jock’s not that dumb. He grabs the gun instead, knocks Dorothy down—poor Dorothy seems to have a “kick me” sign on her back—and heads for Nat’s office, just as Ruby herself is trotting down the Olive Hill corridors with the same destination. Oh, how will it all end?
The four or five final paragraphs of the book are actually quite sweet, but the perfunctory and plodding 17 preceding chapters are a hard slog. When the heroine holds multiple enormously flawed opinions, it’s hard to feel very sympathetic toward the little dunce. Florence Stonebraker pulls out a few great scenes in this book, but Nurse Under Fire is no match for her best works (i.e. City Doctor, The Nurse and the Orderly, Runaway Nurse). I love Florence Stonebraker enough that I could never just dismiss one of her books as not worth reading, but I do have to say, sadly, that you needn’t put this one at the top of your reading pile.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Celebrity Suite Nurse

By Suzanne Roberts, ©1965
Poppy Helden had never forgotten her promise to return to her hometown as a nurse in the little clinic there. But Miami Beach, where she was training, had many distractions. There was the warm lazy sunshine of the beach, and the beguiling attentions of young Dr. Steve Harper. When Poppy’s singing idol, Nicky Farrell, became her patient in the Celebrity Suite, Poppy’s heart began to beat to a new and different tune and she was caught in a clash of conflict … in which both her love and career hung in the balance.
“We certainly don’t want an interne around who’s slightly psycho.”
“You look much too unworried to be a doctor.”
“Poppy—don’t fall in love with somebody famous before I get you down to the chili parlor tonight—okay?”
“If I’m running a fever, baby, you’ve got only yourself to blame.”
Goodness, she thought suddenly, men can certainly complicate a girl’s life!
“I’ll bet a wife like you could save a guy millions of dollars a year. I’ll bet you watch for all the sales and I’ll bet you can cook.”
“Stop behaving as if you’re still a silly student nurse, dying to get married!”
“There are very few girls who look really pretty in the early morning.”
On page one, Poppy is a new graduate, a hard-working hillbilly from a hardscrabble town in the Georgia mountains who borrowed money from the hometown doctor to complete her training. She’s sworn to return home to work after her training, but she’s planning to take one more year at Marymount-on-the-Beach Hospital in Miami Beach to gain a little more experience before packing her bikinis and heading home to the mountains. Unfortunately for her, the nursing supervisor has decided that the experience our little waif really needs is with the idle rich: She’s been assigned to the celebrity suite, where she will tend to just one patient at a time.
She’s not too excited about this, as she had hoped to be a little busier. But nursing supervisor Isabel Duncan has other plans. “I think, with the life you have planned,” she explains to Poppy, “that seeing the so-called pampered darlings of the world with their masks off, will do you good.” Why the hospital would waste the skills of someone who is acknowledged to be the most dedicated graduate they’ve seen in years on private duty with just one patient to teach her this trifling life lesson is perplexing.
But then, when Poppy gets one look at pampered darling Nicky Farrell, a singing sensation checked in with fatigue to rule out leukemia, it doesn’t do her good at all—she’s suddenly, unprofessionally, off her head over the poor, possibly dying boy, leaving the hospital after her first shift to go sit on the beach and brood all night over him—missing her date at the chili parlor with Dr. Steve Harper. This is a blow to the young interne, who has been planning to marry Poppy for quite some time, though up to this point she’s refused to consider herself “his girl.” Now she’s staying late after shifts to visit Nicky, her heart hammering wildly every time she pulls a thermometer from her pocket and pops it in his mouth (cringe), swooning when he tells her he’s in love with her, and, on her third day on duty, dancing with him and kissing him. She’s very confused: “Which man do I belong to?” she asks herself, as if she should belong to anyone, especially a patient she just met 72 hours ago.
Now we enter the middle of the book, which is mainly a lot of moping about whether Nicky loves her, whether she loves Nicky, her feelings for Steve—the fact that she has previously declared that she has none beyond friendship notwithstanding—and “her duty towards the two men who cared about her!” We learn fairly early on that Nicky just has a “glandular infection,” not a fatal illness, but he still insists that he’s in love with Poppy and wants her to come on tour with him. His manager, Joe, fruitlessly tries to warn Poppy that Nicky will leave her for his true love, performing, and tells her that Nicky always thinks he’s in love—the last time to a “crazy chick” who tried to kill herself with sleeping pills after he left her, and whom he never visited when she was in the hospital recovering, the selfish lout.
And Nicky now reveals that he thinks that his manager Joe only cares about him for his money, though it’s clear that’s far from the case—and Poppy wonders, “What if that worked both ways? Suppose that Nicky, feeling that no one could truly love him for himself, was unable to love back?” Quite a stretch, but we have to have some reason for Poppy to decline his marriage proposal—the fact that she’s known him less than a week apparently not sufficing.
Then Luzette Theibou, a French actress who is all the rage in Hollywood, checks in. “She comes to the hospital every time one of her boyfriends doesn’t jump when she tells him to. She tried the sleeping pill routine” when her last romance ended, Poppy is told—and the startling coincidence between her recent escapade and Nicky’s last girlfriend’s suicide attempt is never explained, though it seems Nicky and Luzette had never met. Sloppy plotting, apparently. Then, when Poppy discovers the patients slow-dancing in the Sun Lounge and Nicky insults Poppy by telling her to bring them some Cokes, it appears Poppy’s “relationship” is on the rocks, because “when a boy told girl he cared, and then proceeded to dance with another girl as if there were no tomorrow, it could be pretty darned confusing!”
Suddenly Steve is looking better, but not much: “She didn’t feel that wild and wonderful way around him that she felt in Nicky’s presence, but still, Steve was somebody very nice and comfortable to be with. Like houseshoes, she thought, and she flushed. It didn’t seem like a very complimentary comparison.” Indeed. “Was this love? The easy, friendly, comfortable, quiet thing, where two people sat watching a calm ocean, where two people talked of medicine more than of love or passion, where two people could not see each other for days and when they did, feel as comfortable as they had the moment they left each other.” I hate this device, where the author tries to convince us that friendship is a better foundation for marriage than passion. Call me a romantic fool, but it comes across as lowering your expectations, as putting matrimony ahead of personal happiness: Better to marry a nice man who wants you than remain single and hold out for a man you really love.
When Nicky is released from the hospital, he invites Poppy to come to a concert, and seats her at a table in the front, replete with flowers and a quick visit before the curtain goes up. “You know what? I was hoping you’d wear a white dress tonight,” he tells her. “In your white nurse’s uniform, you looked so pretty. White becomes you.” Poppy immediately feels this means that Nicky only loves her as a nurse—but she’s saved from awkwardly running out the door when Luzette crashes the party and seats herself at Poppy’s table, and tells Poppy that she’s in love with Nicky, whom she’s known for only a day—this guy is really something else! Poppy kindly tells Luzette that it will take time for her to convince Nicky that she really loves him, due to his “seeming inability to accept love,” but that they will be married by spring—so it won’t take that much time, after all.
On her way out of the music hall, however, there’s a bloody disaster, and Poppy calmly saves the patient and calls for an ambulance. Arriving at the hospital, they’re met by Dr. Steve—and now it’s the young doctor who is making Poppy’s heart miss a beat, nauseatingly enough.
This book has two fundamental and conflicting problems: Too much going on, and not enough. The central anguish we are subjected to for pages and pages—so much somber wallowing about who loves whom and whether it’s real or not—seems foolish when the relationship is silly and inconsequential and reduces our heroine to some very tacky, not to mention unprofessional, behavior. The questions about whether Nicky is capable of love, whether Poppy’s feelings for Ole Houseshoes Steve is real love, even the question whether Luzette is the old flame of Nicky’s who tried to kill herself, just clutter the story in an unhelpful way, because the story should be about a real relationship developing between Poppy and Nicky so we can find out if what they feel is substantial and long-lasting or just one of those things. As we have it, this is a trivial story about a pair of shallow individuals who just latch onto whatever is convenient.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cruise Ship Nurse

By Dorothy Daniels, ©1963
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Karen Carlisle thought her frantic flight from the past was over when she boarded a luxurious ocean liner, to become the ship’s nurse. There, among strangers—the richest and most glamorous people in the world—she felt safe. Nobody asked why she was there. And she could pretend she was free like the others. But when an infant was stricken with a fatal disease which only Karen understood, her safety, her career, the love she had learned to cherish above all else, must be sacrificed. Though it might mean disgrace and the loss of her fiancé, Karen Carlisle prepared to reveal the scandalous truth.


“What a bedside manner. You’ll charm the women out of their minor illnesses.”

“I suppose everyone is entitled to a ship romance. It must even be included in the brochure of the cruise.”

“Now run along and attend to your gown and your makeup, all the things that will make everyone appreciate you so much.”

“There’s nothing better than a pizza in Japan.”

“They want a doctor, not a fashion plate.”

Seldom do we meet a VNRN heroine as smart and as feisty as Karen Carlysle. In truth, she should really be a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, so focused is she on diagnosis and treatment (she had wanted to be a doctor, but financial considerations forced her to drop that dream). This interest surfaces right away when she is assisting society hack Dr. Radcliffe, who is “oozing his bedside best” with a rich, demanding woman with a thyroid tumor. The patient wants an immediate diagnosis, so Dr. Radcliffe pulls out a Vim-Silverman needle for an on-the-spot biopsy. Karen, who had been studying up on thyroid cancer, looks upon the doctor with horror and reminds him that a needle biopsy of a cancerous lesion can seed tumor cells, causing metastasis. He drags her into the corridor and, as she argues with him that the procedure is incorrect and dangerous, declares that he will have her license revoked for interfering with a doctor.

Fortunately, though, also present in the room was her fiancé, Dr. David Logan, who will naturally back her up with this important but outdated doctor. “I’m a lowly resident. I don’t know anything,” he tells her. “A nurse should know even less, but the most important thing she should know is to keep her mouth shut. Damn it, you’re not a doctor. You’re just an interfering nurse who shouldn’t even wear that uniform.” Thanks, Dave. Needless to say, when called to testify before the chief of staff that Dr. Radcliffe had been about to perform a contraindicated biopsy, Dr. Logan “promptly” denied it.

Karen, expecting to lose her license as quickly as she lost her fiancé, is on her way out of the hospital when she passes the room opposite the thyroid patient’s, where she finds an elderly man in respiratory distress. She cannot resist a patient in need, so despite her own problems, she helps him until he is better. It turns out that he had heard the entire exchange, and now wants to help Karen. It turns out that he is the owner of a cruise line, and with one phone call gets her a job on the Prince Thatcher, a luxury liner embarking on a three-month cruise through the Pacific tomorrow.

So off she sails … but her troubles are not exactly behind her, because the ship physician, Dr. Lloyd Dunlop, is more concerned with cocktail parties and bridge games than he is with medicine. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see what is coming next. One patient on board, a Filipino diplomat named Ramon Morrano, is returning to Manila with a fatal lung cancer to die, but it looks like he won’t make it. Karen “had made it a habit of reading all of these journals she could find.” This was how she had known so much about papillary carcinoma of the thyroid; “the hospital library had been at her disposal and she’d studied case histories thoroughly. It was like Karen to do that because her interest in medicine and nursing was such that all this hard work was of vast satisfaction to her if she understood a little more.” So now a little paper about advanced treatments of terminal cancers is teasing her memory. A few hours and a stack of Dr. Dunlop’s virgin medical journals later, Karen discusses a new anabolic medication with Mr. Morrano, who would like to try it—but a nurse can’t prescribe, only Dr. Dunlop can. Needless to say, he is not at all impressed with his uppity nurse. “I refuse to take any responsibility for administering a drug I know nothing about,” he shouts.

Fortunately, Karen has a new friend on board, Pete Addison. Pete refuses to tell Karen what he does for a living and seems to be trailing—and photographing—another passenger, Robert Nesbit, a shy recluse who turns out to be one of the richest men in the world. Karen is upset about this, but Pete tells her that he has given his word to keep this secret and so cannot tell her about it, much as he’d like to. Karen believes Pete to be honorable, and it also turns out that he’s powerful, because he has some of this drug flown by jet from New Jersey to Los Angeles, then on a military bomber to Hawaii. Pete also has a few words with Dr. Dunlop, and soon Mr. Morrano is well enough to take some liquids and even go out on deck to enjoy the views. And remember that Pete is a journalist for a very important and quite conservative news magazine, who had interviewed him once in Washington. “You must never let him become aware of the fact that you know who he really is and what he’s up to,” Morrano advises. “Let him tell you himself, for then he will feel more important and honest. Never bring a young man’s head down out of the clouds.”

And it’s not too long before Pete’s compunction to keep secret his mission fades, and he tells Karen that he is trying to do a profile about Mr. Nesbit, who has always refused any press in the past. But “he has no right” to privacy, Pete states, that the public has “a right to at least know what he looks like,” a curious assertion. And Mr. Nesbit’s six-month-old baby, Melissa, is looking a bit blue about the lips and not taking her food. Dr. Dunlop prescribes a change in formula, but our bold diagnostician Karen has cardiac ideas. When she finds, after a more careful examination than Dr. Dunlop’s, that Melissa is limp, pale, afebrile, and tachycardic, she insists that the baby has more than a minor stomach upset, but Dr. Dunlop furiously denies it. “See that you remember your place,” he snaps. “You are a nurse, not a doctor.”

Needless to say, however, the formula change makes no difference to Melissa, and now the Nesbits are calling for Karen, not Dr. Dunlop. “Frankly, I think you know more than he does and you apply your skill better,” he tells her. Karen is worried, of course, that she’s just adding to her troubles: “I guess I’m not a very good nurse. The first thing we’re taught is to obey the doctor.” But Pete has confidence in her: “If you saw Dunlop going off on a wrong diagnostic tangent, you’d step right in and do what you honestly knew to be right, even if it meant more trouble. You stick by your guns, my girl.” So she returns to the sick bay and promptly starts reading up on pediatrics. When she discusses the case with Dr. Dunlop the next day, he declares that the baby may have acute appendicitis, and Karen is “almost in awe of the man’s complete ignorance.” A blood count proves him wrong, but Dr. Dunlop is afraid to do and EKG for fear of upsetting the Nesbits. Feeling powerless to contradict the doctor, Karen pours out her worry to Pete, who has a talk with Mr. Nesbit. Mr. Nesbit listens to Karen’s reasoning and insists that she do the EKG, but now Karen is in the precarious position of having introduced the journalist to her patients.

The EKG shows ventricular hypertrophy, and Karen diagnoses coarctation of the aorta. The baby will need immediate surgery, but again, a medication, plus oxygen and antibiotics, will help relieve her symptoms until she can have the surgery. She just has to go up against Dr. Dunlop again. “If she was wrong, she was finished as a nurse. But she was certain the medical books backed her up—if she had read them properly—and she knew she had.” In her discussion with him, she is calm, confident, and insistent that he do the right thing, advising that he communicate with a cardiologist by radio—which is promptly done, and the MDs ashore confirm Karen’s diagnosis. In a meeting with the captain, however, Dunlop brings up Karen’s insurrection with Dr. Radcliffe, suggesting that she “has some type of complex and is possibly psychotic. If that’s all, Captain, I’ll return to my party.” But Pete steps up and asks the doctor if he even knows what the proper treatment for the baby is. He does not, unsurprisingly, but Karen sure does! Her treatments are confirmed by the cardiologist ashore, so now all we have to do is get Melissa to a hospital that specializes in pediatric cardiology in the next 36 hours. But Pete—first confessing his occupation to Mr. Nesbit, destroying his film, and tearing up his story—calls on his amazing contacts with the military and arranges a helicopter from a nearby aircraft carrier to swing by and pick up Melissa, Mrs. Nesbit, and Karen, take them to the ship and then to Honolulu by military jet, then by private jet to Los Angeles—the very hospital Karen was to be drawn and quartered at. There, the baby is saved, and Karen is cleared of all wrongdoing in the thyroid case, after sworn affidavits from the cruise ship owner, the supply room manager, and the patient herself showed that Dr. Radcliffe had called for a Vim-Silverman needle. Phew! All that’s left is for Karen to receive Pete’s proposal of marriage over the telephone from Singapore, and all is well.

I’m not really certain that Karen is going to be happy professionally as a nurse, now that her name is cleared—she most positively would not be content as a housewife. But I appreciated both her confidence as a healthcare practitioner, her diligence in doing her homework, and her assertiveness (and her doubts) in challenging the doctor. She is truly an enjoyable heroine, one able to toss of a biting remark when necessary. The writing is slightly above par, and the characters were, for the most part, well-drawn. And when the first class of physician assistants matriculates at Duke in a few years (the first four PAs graduated in 1967), we can only hope that Karen Carlyle will apply.