Saturday, September 24, 2022

Tread Softly, Nurse Scott!

By Marilyn Ross
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1966
Cover illustration by Mort Engel 

Nurse Judy Scott alone knows that Dr. Graham Holland, chief surgeon of the hospital where she works, has made a terrible mistake. Because of his error, a patient may die. Only one person believes Judy—Dr. John Randall, her fiancĂ©. But for reasons of his own, Dr. Randall refuses to do anything. He even threatens to end their romance if Judy exposes Dr. Holland’s mistake. With her future and her patient’s life at stake, Judy faces her most crucial decision as a nurse—and as a woman.


“How do you measure husband material? By the yard? Do you take the quality and width into consideration along with the texture of the hair?”

Nurse Judy Scott is the sort of heroine I can get behind. More than a little feisty, we are told that “she was just a jolly, good-natured young woman until some error caught her attention. Then her temper flamed to match her hair!” Right out of the gate, she’s telling a demanding, rude patient who has attempted to smuggle whiskey into the hospital—the bottle having been seized and stored in the nurses’ station—that “having it around too much has helped put you where you are now. We do not have time to bottle-nurse you,” and walking out. Amazingly, she never gets into trouble for her comments. 

She works on the surgical floor but also gets pulled into occasional surgeries as scrub—because apparently the existing pool of scrub nurses is not as talented as Judy is—which means she is on hand to witness the slow deterioration of Dr. Graham Holland, 65-year-old hospital chief who is moving slowly in gallbladder surgeries, stumbling in the halls, and complaining that the x-rays are too fuzzy these days. She discusses the problem frequently with her boyfriend, Dr. Miles Small, who has proposed multiple times but in whom she is not deeply interested. But Judy doesn’t always have the courage of her convictions, and tells Miles, who shares her concern, “Perhaps, if you ignore it, the trouble will pass and he’ll be all right.”

But the mistakes keep piling up, and soon Judy learns that there are two cases of patients whose gallbadders Dr. Holland had removed who had serious complications and were referred to major Boston hospitals for corrective surgery. Then the nasty alcoholic woman is not recovering from her surgery, and in a trip back to the OR that Judy and Dr. Small are assisting in, it is learned that Dr. Holland tied off the wrong duct (the common bile duct rather than the cystic duct, in case you are wondering).  Dr. Holland walks out of the surgery before it is completed, flies to Boston, and returns a few days later wearing glasses. Could this be the answer?

Well, Dr. Small is not convinced, because when his own father lands in the hospital with pancreatic cancer and Dr. Holland is planning to operate, he transfers his father to the Brigham in Boston for the surgery. “We have agreed that Dr. Holland shouldn’t operate on your father,” Judy says to Dr. Small. “But what about the others, the average patients who are still coming to him and depending on his skill? If Graham Holland isn’t in a fit physical condition to operate on your father, he isn’t well enough to be trusted with anyone else.” Dr. Small is shocked at this suggestion and defers any confrontation with Dr. Holland, because “we owe him our loyalty, Judy.” Judy adroitly replies, “Don’t we owe some basic allegiance to our patients?” Dr. Small answers, “There’s no harm in allowing him to continue as he is,” though it’s been proven that Dr. Holland is in fact harming patients, but Judy agrees to give Dr. Holland more time. Then she catches another mistake that Dr. Holland has made on the eve of major surgery for a prominent lawyer. Does she turn in her beloved colleague or allow the patients to undergo unnecessary risk? It’s an interesting and not uncommon dilemma in hospitals—and one I have personally witnessed—when a leading surgeon is no longer at the top of their game, and the debate around this question makes the book more interesting—the problem being that the answer is obvious to the casual observer.

Another unusual aspect of this book is how it dissects Judy’s relationship with another surgeon, Dr. John Randall. He is a serious, somber man and brilliant surgeon who Dr. Holland brings only reluctantly onto the hospital staff. Some say Dr. Holland is deliberately sabotaging Dr. Randall’s career, though Dr. Holland says his intention is to keep Dr. Randall humble and from acquiring an arrogance that undercuts his skill. It’s not an unwarranted concern; Dr. Randall laments that Dr. Small gets the important patients while his clinic consists of “a sewerage worker, and insurance agent and an elderly retired schoolteacher,” but Judy answers, “It seems to me that patients are all people and as individuals, important, regardless of their social position.”

Judy finds herself caring more and more for Dr. Randall, but she is concerned that if she marries him, his seriousness will eventually undermine their relationship. “There is a barrier between you and other people,” she tells him. “What worries me is that after we’re married and I’m trying to help you in the way I think right, you’ll shut down that barrier on me.” Later, she wonders if “the deep fondness she felt for him would not offset the pain his difficult disposition caused her. Many times she had seen divorce cases in which mental cruelty was listed as the reason for the breaking of a marriage and she saw that this could happen if she and John married.” When most VNRN heroines are grimly determined to marry the first man who presents themselves, not infrequently accepting a fellow who has previously shown himself to be an ass, it is refreshing to see our heroine consider marriage with the seriousness that it deserves.

Between these two weighty story lines, this novel has more gravitas than most, but it is not wholly satisfying. Judy has more gumption than many, but still has the stereotypical faults of VNRN heroines, such as when she needlessly frets about Dr. Randall’s involvement with a drippy woman no one—much less Dr. Randall—likes. A non-mystery is revealed in the final pages and leads to the overly neat solution to a number of problems. The writing is fine but not great, not campy or amusing, with little humor or joy, and the final pages are a series of declarative sentences that tell you rapid-fire how everything turns out, such as, “Patrick Lockary was operated on the next morning and his operation was successful. Miles returned from Boston with good news about his father.” It’s one of the better books (along with Arctic Nurse and Night Club Nurse) written by the extraordinarily prolific William E. Daniel Ross, but unfortunately that’s still not high praise.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Airport Nurse

By Monica Edwards, ©1964

For Joanne Terrell life as a nurse at the International Airport had taken on an air of wonderful unreality. There was the buzz of excitement of the place itself and the frequent emergencies—big and small—that came up every day. And then there was Wesley Hardin. Pilot Wes Hardin was the answer to Joanne’s every dream of romance. She knew it would be easy to fall in love with him. What was it that held her back—made her unsure of her emotions?


“Joanne was old-fashioned enough to believe that women should be the pursued, not the pursuers.” 

“Whoever would have thought this place would have a homey air? I would call it a definite triumph over the landlord’s intentions.”

“They were young, but the coming years would pass swiftly, each day their chances would narrow for their finding just the right one before the ultimate day arrived when it would be too late.”

International Airport, a major hub in some unspecified East Coast city, boasts a medical center with 2½ doctors (one is just the titular chief with no clinical role) and three nurses. Basically it’s an urgent care and trauma center rolled into one, and tends to treat mostly cardiac events, injuries, and major traumas like a bomb explosion and plane crashes. The three nurses, as well as one of the doctors, are all fresh out of their respective training, but when we meet them just four months into their jobs, every nurse has a serious boyfriend or is already engaged.

Joanne Terrell, age 21, is dating pilot Wesley Hardin, and hoping they will soon become engaged. We the readers more than hope they will not, because he’s one of those guys about whom nothing good can be said apart from his amazing looks and athletic physique. He possesses “a restless energy, harder on the people Wes was with than it was on Wes himself.” Joanne finds his driving “terrifying,” and he always ignores her when she asks him to take her home when they’re out on dates. At 36, “he’s one of those iron men who live within themselves and don’t need anyone.” Yet after she finally breaks up with him on page 52, she is a destroyed, empty shell, always thinking about him—until famous singer Howell Bellis shows up at the clinic fleeing a mob of crazed teenaged fans and promptly starts stalking her, sending 12 dozen (well, sometimes 24 dozen) roses to her office daily until she tells him where she lives so he can send them there instead, because her boss is getting pissed off. “Don’t try to resist me, because I'm going to batter your door down if necessary,” he tells her, and so she agrees to go out with him because “there was no use arguing. He was insistent.” Another alternative is a restraining order, but sure.

So she lurches into another awful relationship, worse than the first one: “The whirl Howell had taken her on this week made her frantic evenings with Wes seen pallid by comparison.” Before long Howell has sort of proposed—if you can call it a proposal when the man hands her a ring and makes nothing but demands—“I want to marry you. You’re going to find you love me, because that’s the way it’s got to be!” So we hope this relationship is doomed, too.

In the background of Joanne’s story are those of her two roommates. Beth has become engaged to pilot Tom Evers after dating for three months, and will get married in another four—but Beth has become literally petrified with fear that Tom is going to get killed in a plane crash. “I’m frightened every moment he’s up in that terrible sky,” she days. “The sky has become a big open space of terror to me, something I’m always going to have to fear when Tom is up in it.” Just one page after one of her rants, Joanne thinks “she was glad that things had turned out so well for Beth.” Huh? This is a major problem with this book; it constantly presents a situation the reader can’t help but see as horrifying, then pretends that things are completely different.

The third nurse, Doris Munsey, has inexplicably fallen for a monster even worse than Howell; airport manager Stephen Delmore is a “cold, hard type” who Joanne calls “horrid” because he’s also dating one of the clinic doctors, Elizabeth Pauley, which is creating just a little bit of tension at the office. “He plays Dr. Pauley and Doris against each other. I think it gives him some kind of sadistic pleasure to see them suffer,” Joanne says, so we can understand why not one but two women love him so much.

The other airport doctor, Peter Stadler, is just out of school but is modest, hard-working, highly competent, and, as fate would have it, from a small town in Illinois less than 100 miles from Joanne’s own home town in Indiana. He talks to her now and then, asks her about her life—the only man in the book who does—and only takes her for coffee and conversation when she seems depressed about her romantic situations. So from the first chapter it’s pretty clear how things are going to end—but I will say things came together in a surprising and charming fashion.

The book opens with a bomb explosion and ends with the plane crash you also saw coming from the opening page. This is another place where the book loses points with me, because as in all VNRN major disasters, no one has a clue how to manage a mass trauma event. The medical professionals just start treating people in the order in which they come across them, so a woman with second-degree burns is treated first, while the unconscious man with a depressed skull fracture going into shock is literally the last person they take care of—by deciding not to give IV fluids, which are at least today a core component of shock management. This could be an outdated medical practice, but it’s not the only malpractice. Part way through the book, Joanne and Dr. Stadler treat a choking child by giving her a tracheotomy—but first Joanne places an airway into the fully awake girl’s trachea. If you can get an airway in—and you won’t in an unsedated patient—by definition you don’t need a tracheotomy.

Another problem is that Joanne is aware early on that Wes is briefly losing consciousness at times, but mentions this to no one until the end of the book, when she tells Dr. Stadler, who then allows Wes to fly across the country to Los Angeles and back before trying to ground him. And the writer uses the word “refulgence” (which means “a brilliant or resplendent quality or state”; I had to look it up) twice. Overall it’s not a terrible book, but Joanne is painfully slow in rejecting her horrific boyfriends, which she does eventually but for the wrong reasons; the other two nurses’ relationships, equally obviously doomed, are also much too long in resolving. There’s no camp or humor, but it’s not badly written. You know a plane is going to crash and burn in this book, but it would be nice if the book itself didn’t.


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Libby Williams, Nurse Practitioner

By Virginia Smiley
Cover illustration by Edrien King 


Libby Williams has just completed her training as a nurse practitioner and is on vacation, en route to the Adirondacks with her four-year-old ward Merry, when the child develops strep. She stops to ask a construction worker if there’s a doctor nearby, and he tells her there is no doctor in town since Dr. Sam was debilitated by a stroke, but the doctor might still be able to give her a script. She drives to the closed clinic, “trying not to think of the construction worker. I certainly had no intention of becoming interested in any man for a long time,” after her recent entanglement with Dr Kevin Davis, who she caught holding hands with the new secretary on pediatrics. “Kevin had hurt me too much for me to want to chance being burned by that superhandsome young doctor.” Which doesn’t stop her from kissing the construction worker, Matt Franklin, that night when it turns out he lives at the doctor’s house. 

Dr. Sam asks Libby to stay on as new medico at the shuttered clinic, and it takes Libby about ten minutes to agree. The next day she goes home and packs up her apartment, and the day after that she’s seeing a full waiting room of patients drummed up by Dr. Sam. She dates Matt a few times, but then a couple weeks later Kevin turns up at the new clinic, saying, “I want to be near you, wherever it might be. I was a heel to let you go.” He starts working at the clinic and spending evenings with Libby, hinting that they should get married—and she’s swooning all over again. “Now my life is complete,” she tells him, as they snuggle on the couch after dinner.

But then the secretary turns up again, and out of the blue, “I knew for certain that what I felt for Kevin wasn’t really love.” What?!? And then there’s a woman named Andrea Franklin who tells Libby to stay away from “my man” Matt, so Libby believes Matt is married. Then Merry and Andrea’s son go missing, and Matt is in a bulldozer accident …

So obvious, so perfunctory, so dull, so unbelievable. A four-year-old says things like, “He’d be a terrific father, don’t you think?” about one of Libby’s men. While not an unusual characteristic in VNRN heroines, Libby makes some completely incomprehensible about-faces in her views about the men in her life. Medicine doesn’t fare much better; she treats an elderly woman who says she’s worried that the lumps on her hands are going to keep her from playing the piano for the queen by giving her aspirin for her arthritis while completely ignoring her delusions. I have reviewed four of author Virginia Smiley’s books, every one of them a C grade. I was really hoping the only VNRN I’ve found that stars a midlevel practitioner would be worthwhile, but unfortunately for us, Libby Williams Nurse Practitioner is not that book.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Graduate Nurse

By Ann Rush
(pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham), ©1956
Also published as Florida Nurse 

Her superiors thought Nurse Dee O’Mara was too young, too pretty, and maybe too frivolous, for this kind of work. But Dee had a taste for adventure, and an iron will, so she got the job. She was sent out on a field assignment, one of the toughest ever held by a young woman, and the men she had to deal with didn’t make things easier for her. There was Dr. Barrows, tall and thin, demanding and badly overworked; and Jack Gregg, the cynic, who saw in her only the pretty girl—not the dedicated nurse; and above all there was Van Covington who gave her the biggest headache (and heartache) of all …


“So you’re the reason men have operations.” 

Nurse Diosa O’Mara—mercifully known as Dee—has just graduated from nursing school, and she’s been recruited to work in south central Florida between Miami and Ft. Myers to care for migrant workers because she speaks Spanish (in a very fleeting explanation, it seems her mother is from Spain). Pulling into town, she strikes up a hostile relationship with the first person she meets, realtor Jack Gregg, who is good-looking but too aggressive, looking her up and down and plopping down uninvited at her restaurant dinner table. He’s not overtly horrible, outside of being creepy, though when she starts chatting him up—VNRN heroines always warm up shockingly fast to creeps—we readers can’t wholly blame her. 

There are three big ranching outfits in town that use migrant workers, all run by unfriendly, resistant bosses, two of whom immediately toss her out when she shows up suggesting that they let her give clinics for their workers, but grumpy Van Covington agrees to let her stay—to wash out the dorms where the workers will be living. After one day of scrubbing and cooking Van a sardine omelet (this is apparently a thing; please comment below if you have tried one!), she agrees to go with him to the airport to pick up a planeload of workers he’s paid to have flown over from Puerto Rico, wearing “a smart black dress and a tiny black hat with an exaggerated feather,” the wild inappropriateness of which is never mentioned, but she wins back points when she insists on driving the truck to Van can sleep on the way.

At the airport, Jack shows up and buys her coffee while Van shepherds the workers through immigration—and then the two men exchange fighting words. Turns out Jack is hoping Van is finally going to go bankrupt after two consecutive bad harvests and will be forced to sell off his farm, which is the best one in the area. “You know I’m going to get it one of these days, by hook or by crook,” Jack grins. Van stomps off—only to find that the workers had gotten into the wrong truck and been kidnapped! So his investment in bringing them over is lost … who could be behind it???

A week later she finally gets to start a nursing clinic and attempts to give classes in childcare and sanitation. The classes aren’t going well, because the women don’t trust Dee and they’re too tired after working all day to scrub their houses, too. But a white immigrant worker named Neva Morton steps up to help. Neva is charismatic, intelligent, and hard-working—but she has a cleft lip, which causes Dee to give her “a look of surprise and distaste” when she sees it, professional that she is. Neva plays the accordion and sings comic songs she’s written about the joys of keeping a clean house, and tells the workers that Van will give a prize for the cleanest house. Soon the migrants are planting flowers and buying paint.

Now Van’s workers are all being lured off to a still in the woods and are too drunk to work, and Van is again convinced Jack is behind it. Dee, who has started dating Jack by now, is outraged, though she does find out that Jack is the financial backer of one of the ranches that won’t let her in. “Everything bad in Van’s life is caused by one man,” she fumes. “Jack’s quite a man, but if he tried, he couldn’t be to blame for everything you credit him with. There isn’t time enough in one life.” When she’s with Jack, though, she defends Van, and Jack begins to reveal his hatred for Van. “One more year of poor crops and that land he’s squatting on is mine,” he gloats. Then he proposes in the usual way of men we’re not supposed to like: He tells her, “You know by this time that you’re going to marry me, don’t you, sugar?” Mercifully, Dee “shied away from that, half-frightened by the idea."

Then crop duster Eddie proposes to Neva, but she turns him down because of her cleft lip. This sends Dee to Miami to hunt down a plastic surgeon who will do the repair for free, and of course finds one who agrees: “I do not perform operations like this for sweet charity, but because the ugliness makes me shudder.” Nice. While in town, Dee sees an expose in the newspaper that Jack’s ranch is keeping its workers prisoner in squalid conditions, barely feeding them. Flying back home in disbelief, the first person she meets in town is one of the kidnapped workers, who confirms the newspaper story. She takes the man to the police to help him tell his story and threatens the cops when they initially respond with indifference, and soon Jack is arrested for “peonage.” There’s no point in telling you how the book goes on from there, since you’ve seen this ending coming since the first shouting match Dee has with Van.

There’s a lot to be admired in this book. Dee is feisty and takes nobody’s guff, but it would have been better if we’d seen her work at more nursing and less cleaning and toting wood. Jack is never overtly awful, though he does make you suspicious, so you can’t entirely blame lonely Dee for going out with him. Van is gruff but is still sympathetic, unlike some male would-be boyfriends who never overcome their initial unpleasantness. Neva is a fantastic character, very well drawn, and though the Black characters—and Neva, too—talk in dialect—when I first saw their speech I cringed—the characters are treated respectfully. There is occasional humor in the writing and even some brief politics, when Neva talks about how native American migrant workers don’t like imported migrant workers because they work for less money and so get the jobs. And of course the cover is fantastic. The ending, though, was totally flat and disappointing. So if a couple of minor flaws keep this from being a truly top-notch book, but it’s still one worth reading.


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Recovery Room Nurse

By Rebecca Marsh
William Neubauer), ©1965 

Successful businessman Stan Livermore delivered his ultimatum to Nurse Jane Kemp: either she abandon her career to become a full-time wife, or they must forget each other. But as a desperately needed nurse, Jane wanted to be a permanent part of her profession. At the same time, she was deeply in love with Stan. It was a hopeless dilemma. Until Arthur Howard, her famous—and very handsome—new patient offered an unexpected solution …


“I’m not a kid intent upon storming any woman’s lips. Behave.”

“Some friends you have, Jane! Are they born rude, or do they acquire the knack only after long study?” 

“Jane thought that men were certainly a problem. Yet what a dull world it would be if there were no such problems for women to handle.”

“You’ve come to complain. You disapprove of beginning a subcuticular suture by placing a square knot lateral to the incision. Oh, I know, I know!”

“As a woman ages, she must substitute the charm of thoughtfulness for the charm of beauty.”

“Look, darling, if I didn’t feel good, I’d still put on the act just to keep out of your clutches.”

“The careers of all unmarried women should be smashed. An offense to nature.”

“I’m trained to see facts, recite them, do something about them. Others ought to have the same training.”

Pop the champagne, because this is my 500th VNRN review! I will admit I have been saving this review for a few weeks for this occasion, because there are few better authors to celebrate an occasion with than Bill Neubauer. 

Reading a book by Bill Neubauer is like walking into your best friend’s house. It’s a welcoming, comfortable place where you feel happy and at home, and you know it’s pretty likely are going to have a good time. Such is Recovery Room Nurse, which is about nurse Jane Kemp and her struggles at work and with her boyfriend, Stan Livermore. Stan is a 32-year-old real estate mogul, worth $800,000—a lot of money in 1966, when top doctors didn’t make $40,000 annually—who met Jane when she nursed him through an episode of appendicitis. The problem is that now he wants her to quit her job and be a full-time wife. Jane also has a roommate, Grace Ohlsen, who is a spunky ecologist. According to Grace, Stan insists that “all you must do to make him happy is quit your profession, renounce your individualism, and drudge for him. I continue to think you’d be an idiot to subordinate your life to his.” I really like Grace Ohlsen.

Jane is more torn, though, and struggles with Stan—even breaks up with him at one point—thinking, “Marriage, darn it, couldn’t be a relationship in which one partner had everything his way and the other partner had no individualism or rights or options to speak of!” But, unfortunately, Jane thinks, “Drat the character, she loved him.”

In the interim, she is sent to special a mega-famous TV writer, Arthur Howard, who has a mortal fear of hospitals and is, in a word, a crybaby. He’s due for a hip surgery, and, anticipating a tough recovery, is seeking “a voluptuous blonde nurse who will distract him from pain,” largely because he has a recurring dream in which a jolly, plump nurse chases away a skeleton that is trying to do him in. Unfortunately the supervisor of nurses, Mrs. Dolezal, has decided that he is going to have Jane Kemp, who claims to be neither voluptuous nor pretty (of course, she’s wrong; “the woman was a stunner” “with twinkling blue eyes,” and “her rippling laughter was music,” to name just a few of her charms), but is in fact the best recovery room nurse at Buttrick Hospital (the same site of Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse and TV Nurse).

The politics comes in, as it does with Bill Neubauer’s books, when we learn that Howard is planning to create a new TV series profiling a hospital, and the administrators are eager to please the man in the hope that he will choose Buttrick as the subject of his show. Mrs. Dolezal wants Jane to be his nurse in order to impress him with her skill, which she, of course, does. But on the day of Howard’s surgery, just as he is waking, Jane is pulled out of his room by a student nurse whose patient is choking to death. Jane quickly saves the man’s life, but when she returns to Howard’s room, the man has completely panicked, convinced that Jane “abandoned” him—and only his own brute courage and strength pulled him through the episode. Outraged at his mistreatment, he calls the newspaper to give them a front-page story, and Jane is put on leave. But she is a calm, skilled, intelligent woman, and we watch her play the silly man like a champ. Author Bill Neubauer really liked women, I think, because his female characters are always strong, insightful, supportive human beings who always help out their friends.

One anecdote he describes, though, does break my heart—in the story we are told about a young boy, a diabetic amputee, moved to another hospital ward to die. Though the remaining boys on the ward are not told of the death, they nonetheless scatter Lincoln logs (remember those?) on the floor, so that the boy’s ghost will slip on them and fall, rendering the creature unable to attack them. Neubauer, who was raised in the St. Giles Home for Cripples on Long Island, may well have experienced just such as scene when he was growing up. He led a remarkable life (see his biography), and his back story makes his gifts as a writer all the more extraordinary.

Anyway, in this book, Jane is an awesome heroine, the kind of woman who, stuck in the ear with a fishhook, pushes it the rest of the way through, cuts off the barb with pliers, and while stanching the flow of blood heads to her hospital’s ED, where she quips to the intern, “You’d better be good; I’d hate to perish of tetanus.” But the problem with this book is that Jane is in love with the jerk. We see little of Stan except when he is giving Jane ultimatums about leaving her job, so though she tells us many times how wonderful he is, I can’t believe it. In the end, her “win”—and you know she would have one—feels like less than half a victory because of the terms she unfortunately agrees to. Neubauer’s writing is otherwise witty, entertaining, and deeply satisfying, and the relationships he builds between women characters are more honorable than those created by many female VNRN authors. If he liked his male characters as much as he likes the women, this would be a better book. Recovery Room Nurse falls slightly short of his best work, but even if the “romance” central to the story isn’t much of one, this book is certainly a gem worth reading.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Nurse Jenny

By Margaret Howe, ©1958
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett 

Jenny Dawson was pretty, young and blonde, but she had absolutely made up her mind to dedicate herself to her nursing career and to the little nephew who was left in her care … Then, in her new job at the famous Merriman Memorial Hospital, she met—Dr. Peter Hurley—broad-shouldered and serious-minded … and Jack Merriman—handsome, wealthy, debonair … The story of a lovely and courageous nurse who finds that  life can be very complicated indeed when one is devoted to a demanding career, and much more so when one is young, beautiful, and admired by two very attractive and eligible men …





“The knowledge that Jimmie would never be a mental case cheered her.”


“Jack told me I was silly not to have a pretty nurse. It’s bad enough to be here, without having to watch a homely woman for hours.”


“A pretty girl like you shouldn’t dedicate her future to a crippled child.”


“We’d better get out of here before the hospital gossips start a rumor that they caught me necking with a nurse.”



I have said before that a C grade is really the worst possible grade for a novel: not so awful that it engenders at least some emotion, not laugh-out-loud bad, and certainly not enjoyable, it plops squarely into the category of books that there is absolutely no reason to read.


Nurse Jenny Dawson has inherited her nephew, Jimmie, a four-year-old with cerebral palsy, from the boy’s mother Belle, after the father, Jenny’s brother, died in a truck accident; “how callous and indifferent Belle had been from the moment Jimmie was born. She hated him. She would have put him in an institution.” So Jenny had taken him, then depleted her savings and abandoned her job to travel around the country to see various specialists to try to get him care. Merriman Clinic has gotten her one remaining dime for “this last attempt to find someone who could help,” and sure enough, Dr. Peter Hurley agrees that Jimmie has the potential to learn to talk, possibly even walk. In return for his treatment, Jenny takes on a job as nurse at the next-door hospital, caring for demanding matriarch Nora Merriman, whose money has endowed the hospital, and who has broken her hip in a fall and “might easily become a cripple” without proper nursing care.


Nora’s son Jack is a cad, flirting with everything but settling on nothing, encouraged by his mother, who feels that nothing is good enough for her boy. He starts chasing Jenny, who goes on dates with him and appreciates his charm, but she is put off by his lack of seriousness. At the other extreme is Dr. Peter, who is nothing but serious: “He doesn’t seem to get a kick out of anything but his profession,” observes Jack.


Well, his profession … and Jenny, whom he repeatedly asks out for coffee, even starts hugging and kissing her, all the while telling her, “I can’t allow my emotions to trick me into anything which might endanger my ambition to be a successful doctor.” That’s why he likes Jenny, he tells her, because she “expects no more than I can offer.” What a tease!


Eventually Jenny’s savings are wiped out and she worries she will have to take Jimmie out of the clinic, where he now receives round-the-clock care and therapy three times a week, which has somehow brought him to a vocabulary of ten words from none. But Dr. Peter contacts some wealthy philanthropists who offer to fund Jimmie’s treatment as long as Jimmie’s mother Belle agrees. Belle smells the money that could be made off Jimmie, as Dr. Peter and the investors are thinking of starting a national charity to benefit kids with cerebral palsy and starring Jimmie on posters to draw public attention. (It’s a little weird that either by coincidence or deliberate rip-off, the author has hijacked the story of the Jimmy Fund, which began a decade before this book was written by utilizing a 12-year-old cancer patient to raise funds and awareness, even down to using the same name for the boy with CP.) Now Jack, Peter, and Nora are all working to save Jimmie from Belle’s clutches, all to win Jennie for themselves, as a nurse or a wife. Who will succeed? Well, you won’t be shocked to learn that it isn’t Nora.


The curious parallel between Jimmie and Nora Merriman is only briefly touched on, when Nora wails, “It’s the prospect of a future as a cripple that appalls me.” When Jenny reminds Nora of Jimmie’s deficits, Nora replies, “Thinking about others doesn’t make it easier for me to face the future,” and flops back into her satin pillows and eiderdown quilts.


In the end, Jimmie is saved from his mother, who is essentially bought off, and Jenny wins the man you know she will in the final three lightning-fast paragraphs. The characters are flat and the writing is wooden, which is surprising, given that Margaret Howe has put her name on the cover of 2011 Top Ten VNRN Visiting Nurse—though she also claimed three other mediocre books (Special Nurse, Debutante Nurse, and The Girl in the White Cap). The best thing about this book is the Harry Bennett cover, even if on my copy of this book the printing register is out of alignment, making it look blurry and alien. But what’s inside the cover is off as well, so that may be fittingly appropriate.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Nurse Lister’s Millstone

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1968

Elizabeth Lister had unexpectedly inherited an immense fortune—but, far from making her happy, it only had the effect of becoming a millstone round her neck!


“Don’t let all the good times slip past your fingers, child. When you get to my age you can catch up on all the chores of living.” 

“Most Americans like to tour around a lot and see as much as possible in the shortest possible time, a few historic old ruins, places of literary interest and some very beautiful scenery.”

“Never act foolishly and pretend a compliment means nothing to you. Accept it as graciously as you would a gift of flowers or chocolates. Don’t give way to that foolish habit of disparaging yourself, just because you think it’s the right thing to do. Such an attitude only embarrasses the giver of compliment or gift.”

Elizabeth Lister is an extraordinary nurse. She is so dedicated to her work that when her Uncle Harry unexpectedly leaves her $250,000—apparently a staggering fortune and not just a drop in the bucket toward your kids’ college educations—instead of quitting her job and enjoying the “lolly,” she continues to work, and considers how she might use her inheritance to “accomplish much to help mankind.” (It is curious, and perhaps due to a British sensibility, that leads almost everyone to conclude that Elizabeth is going to give away a substantial portion of her fortune.) Unfortunately, as soon as her friends hear about her good luck, they immediately shun her, “as though I’d some infectious complaint and they were afraid of catching it!”

The answer to this problem is, of course, for her to take a new job far away from her current situation, where no one knows about this “millstone,” which is how she refers to her money. There she meets Dr. Frank Tyler, who believes—the silly man—that “emotional involvement of any kind was definitely out so far as he was concerned for some years to come.” He’s planning on going into research, investigating leukemia, and has plans to apply for a grant from a pharmaceutical company, though that would mean all his discoveries would become the company’s property, to be sold for a profit. Elizabeth quickly decides she will use her money to build a clinic with a lab for the hot young doctor, no .

When he hears about this plan, Frank is overjoyed and deeply grateful! Oh, actually, no, I lied—in true VNRN fashion, he is outraged and cuts off their budding romance with little explanation, only later explaining, “I want to get to the top. But I aim to get there under my own steam.” It’s a ridiculous attitude, of course, because what is the grant that he is hoping to win but a gift? And isn’t every person’s success dependent on others—teachers, advisors, investors—who helped along the way? He compounds his hypocrisy by adding, “If you’d been anyone else, I might have accepted.” Elizabeth’s best friend points out that “he’s think himself doing the right thing, I suppose, if something horrible had happened and you’d asked him to share that!” These men can be so stupid, you wonder why you bother.

But it turns out that it doesn’t take long to convince Frank to accept the plan, though it still means they can’t be together, even though he loves her, but because he does not have “even a remote hope of being able to give you things, wealth, position equal to those you now have in your own right.” What a sexist snob!

The second half of the book is Elizabeth’s persistent efforts to win Frank over, which you know are preordained to succeed, though it takes the quintessential car crash combined with the old jealousy ploy to bring him around. The book is a pleasant read, even if it hinges on this ludicrous plot device. The characters are enjoyable, if not anyone I’d care to spend any extra time with. You could do worse, and it won’t be a complete waste of time, but it is likely to pass out of your head about as quickly as the money would have slipped out of your bank account if you had been the recipient of Nurse Lister’s fortune.