Sunday, January 23, 2022

Camp Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1966

“I love you, Nora Fleming,” he said, not once but over and over again until Nora’s head rang with the words. But this was not what she had come to the island for. She felt she was no longer free to love another. In fact, that was why she had fled the hospital and her tragic loss, hoping to find peace in this summer camp. But now her heart was troubled by two ardent suitors. Was it merely the loneliness of the place that set her emotions afire?

GRADE: C

BEST QUOTES:
“I hate eating breakfast alone. I may get married, just so I don’t have to eat alone.” 

“Give me a chance to show you I’m not really as obnoxious as you think.”

“You’re a lousy nurse. You stick to too much procedure. Don’t you know that a kiss or two would do me more good than anything?”

REVIEW:
This book is a little like having franks and beans for dinner: It’s straightforward without anything fancy on the side, neither terrible nor great, and doesn’t leave you clamoring for more. Which, honestly, is a good day for author Arlene Hale. 

Nurse Nora Fleming had fallen in love with a patient named Gary—which you will remember because she is constantly moaning to herself, “Oh, Gary, Gary, Gary!”—who promptly died, hopefully not due to poor nursing care, and “there were still tears for Gary in her heart.” Even the mere site of Grandview General is too much for her broken heart, so she has come to Camp West Wind, located on an extremely large island in some unspecified lake in the Midwest, for an eight-week stint. Before she even gets to the island, however, she has two men nipping at her heels. The first one, Willie Wilson, is essentially an enthusiastic Labrador constantly frolicking for her attention and begging for dates. The other is staid Mark Baxter, a long-time camp employee highly dedicated to the boys in his care, who puffs a lot on a pipe. As fate would have it, he lost his wife and son in a car crash four years ago, so he is not overly eager for romance, either. Nevertheless, she finds her way into his arms, and the pair even go out on a few dates.

She is not completely taken by him, though, and eventually agrees to a date with Willie, but her outing with him is as lively as he is himself: Returning to the island in the camp skiff after dinner, during their five-minute ride the weather goes from gloomy to full-bore tornado, and they crash into the dock. He carries her to the shore, and as rain buckets down and the lightning cracks above their heads, they make out, and he tells her about fifty times, “I love you, Nora. I love you.” In more ways than one, “it was a stormy, heart-soaring moment,” but even their passion is no match for Mother Nature, as the shelter they are sitting under is blown away and they bolt for the camp buildings.

One of them has collapsed, unfortunately onto little Jim Taylor, but the counselors are able to lift the heavy beams and Nora pulls him to safety. In the next few days, as he recuperates in the infirmary, his mother, who is a hard-working widow, arrives for the weekend and spends a lot of time chatting with Mark. It’s not hard to see how that’s going to pan out.

Interestingly, measles strikes the island, and Willie catches them. Initially he is just annoyed at being kept in confinement, but he makes most of the opportunity by constantly pestering Nora: “If you’re immune, why can’t you kiss me good night?” But as the rest of the kids get better, the big boy becomes acutely ill. Now we have one of the more irritating VNRN tropes: That first guy she was involved with, she never really loved him. “She knew now that what she felt for Gary had not been love. It had been a combination of sympathy, pity and compassion.” But nothing seems to appeal to Nora more than a man on his deathbed, so confronted with a delirious, sweating, restless man who does not recognize her—her heart swoons! “What she felt for this man, who lay ill on the hospital bed, was deep, abiding love.” So it’s either the red spots that attracts her, or Willie’s secret, which he has just spilled to her: He is actually the extremely wealthy owner of a huge sporting goods chain in Chicago, and he comes to teach swimming lessons at this summer camp every summer as a sort of vacation.

So predictable, so largely dull. If it weren’t for the campy lines that Willie drops in his fervent if perplexing pursuit of Nora, I would have nothing amusing share with you. Author Arlene Hale was a very dedicated writer; pity that she had so little talent. It’s not atrocious, like my favorite terrible writer, Arlene Fitzgerald, but in a way, this is worse: There is just no reason at all, good or bad, to read this book. You didn’t want any more beans, either.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Nurse at Spanish Cay

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1962
Also published as Future Nurse 

Ann Galt had come to Blalock Hospital to receive her nurse’s training. Then it was back to home on the Caribbean island of Spanish Key to care for the natives who had been working for her family for years. But Ann wanted more than to be a nurse; she set out on a desperate admission to marry a doctor and bring him back to her beloved ancestral island, and Dr. David Lochran, handsome, dedicated, and unmarried, seemed the ideal choice. But was there an understanding between David and beautiful Julia Anderson, the senior nurse who had taken Ann under her wing? Anne’s decision was taken out of her hands when a tropical hurricane roared across her island and opened her eyes to the meaning of love.

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“Greater friendship hath no man than that he should lend his cherished car to a woman driver!” 

“I wasn’t permitted to read Oscar Wilde when I was growing up.”

“Well, of course I’m right. I’m the doctor, Nurse—remember?”

“Well, R.N.’s are taught they must maintain composure and move swiftly without running and a lot of other things.”

REVIEW:
Author Peggy Gaddis has many annoying habits. Her heroines frequently lie about their feelings towards men, and they tend to be syrupy to the point of inducing nausea: They are regularly wide-eyed and/or near tears; they don’t speak, they trill; their laughter is always gay; and their interjections usually include “Forevermore!” “Zounds!” and “Phooey!” But here on Spanish Cay, unfortunately, Gaddis must have put a pound of sugar in her sweet tea, as she’s off the charts with the sentiment—and to make matters worse, she’s added a nauseating dose of racism to boot. 

The Galt family seems to own most of this small island located between Honduras and Haiti, on which their plantation grows coffee and—fittingly—sugar cane. Ann Galt, who is 18 when we open the book, is about to be sent to the United States to nursing school by her 80-year-old great-grandmother (the Galt women all appear to have been teen brides), who is called Clarita by everyone except Ann, who leans heavily on “darling.” Ann’s wishes to remain forever on the island must be sacrificed for nursing school because old Dr. John, who has either no first name or no last name, is on the brink of expiring with no one in line to step into his shoes. This tragedy the family would accept with equanimity if they did not feel responsible for the healthcare of the island’s native population. “They have been faithful and devoted and we are responsible for them,” Clarita tells Ann, and plantation business manager Tad agrees, saying that when she is a nurse Ann will be able to “look after the people who adore you and who have made a living for the Galts for 200 years.” (When a visitor to the Island asks if they have racial trouble, “Ann turned to stare at him, wide-eyed and shocked. ‘Racial trouble?’ she repeated incredulously. ‘Why, these are people, our people!’” demonstrating exactly why there might be a problem.)

Ann’s older brother Jerry had initially been teed up to serve as the sacrificial lamb, and had even been just a couple of months short of finishing his residency before returning to the island to pick up the stethoscope, “and then he had that beastly hunting accident!” Ann stomps her foot in frustration over the death of her apparently unloved older brother. “Oh, Clarita, it’s all so unfair. There were others on that hunting trip who could have been spared much easier than Jerry.” Total bummer!

So off to nursing school she goes, and there Ann meets Julia Anderson, who is appointed Ann’s “Big Sister,” to look after her during the brutal probie year. In addition to studying, from the first chapter Ann has been pretty frank about her plan to “snag some fine, upstanding young medic who’ll fall head over heels in love with me and be willing to marry me and come down here to practice.” Julia, who graduates when the year is up, has been dating Dr. David Lochran, who ends his residency at the same time. Of his relationship with Julia Ann is well aware, but that doesn’t stop her from fastening her wide eyes on the man and inviting him to Spanish Cay when the year is up. He mentions this invitation to Julia in Ann’s presence, so the little vixen is forced to invite Julia as well. Darn!

The year passes in pages, and soon the trio has landed in the Caribbean. Julia, who is no moron, is on to Ann, and David notices “just possibly the faintest tinge of acid in their tone” when they speak to one another. Ann even suggests to Tad that he start flirting with Julia so that she can work her wiles upon David without interruption. (Tad responds, “Why, you shameless, outrageous little somebody! I ought to spank the daylights out of you, the way I used to enjoy doing when we were kids and you’d got out of line”—spanking being one of Gaddis’s kinkier staples.)

But two weeks into the trip, when Ann and Julia are nourishing incipient skin cancers on the beach, Julia mentions that doesn’t know what she is going to do now that she is graduated, as “I can’t decide, of course, unless he does,” because “whatever David wants is what I want.” Ann’s eyes—wait for it—widen, and she is shocked! to learn of their relationship, and immediately chucks her evil scheme.

Four pages later, a hurricane of a strength never before seen on the island is upon them, which they didn’t notice until the winds were so ferocious they nearly knock a Jeep off the road, so it’s too late to evacuate. David and Julia hustle down to the clinic to help Dr. John, while Ann and Tad comb the island for the resident witch doctor, an elderly woman who has gone into hiding. Somehow, Ann manages to swim a tempest-tossed inlet to reach the woman, who is clinging to a cliff face, and haul her back across to safety. Once they’ve driven the old woman back to the clinic, Ann and Tad collapse into each other’s arms. “Then she drew a little away from him and stared up at him, her eyes wide with a sudden realization, her tear-wet face flushed. ‘Why, Tad!’ she breathed, her voice touched with wonder. ‘Are we in love with each other?’” Guess what the answer is? Tad declares, “You’re staying right here, and you’re going to marry me,” continuing the family teen-bride tradition.

After the storm blows out, the kids head for the hacienda, which is built on high ground, where “there were not too many signs of the hurricane,” the lights are still on, and everyone has a hot shower and plenty of breakfast. “Everything’s just fine and dandy,” Ann sighs. She’s sorry to tell Clarita that the village is gone, but the matriarch responds “as though it were of no importance.” Indifference is catching; Julia declares, “It’s been a terrific experience. Oh, of course I’m terribly sorry about the village being washed away and all that.” Will Clarita be disappointed that Ann isn’t going to finish her training? Naw! “I sent you away with the very kindly intent of giving you and Tad a chance to find out that you really loved each other,” she says. “I hoped it would happen, but I couldn’t be sure. And if it didn’t, and you came back with her R.N. degree then there would no harm have been done.” Which left me unconvinced that there was only one witch on the island.

Now we have time to catch up with the other pair of love birds: David suggests to Julia that he take over Dr. John’s post and that Julia join him. And it’s Julia’s turn to be disingenuous: “Of course. You would need a nurse,” she says, and when David answers that what he needs is a wife, she pretends that he must be talking about Ann. When that phony little misunderstanding is cleared up, it’s their turn to act all surprised and starry-eyed when they realize they’re in love with each other, complete news even after years of dating. “Well, I’ll be darned!” David says dazedly.

The worse part of it is that this insipid, dripping washout doesn’t even qualify as a nurse novel, since the central character quits after just one year of training; I don’t think Julia and David’s peripheral storyline moves it over the mark. The racism is of course hugely problematic, and I’m mailing off another check as per the White Doctor protocol. Every single female character is cloying, and even the aged characters, usually beloved Gaddis staples, are horrid: Dr. John is a constantly shouting ass, and the matriarch is alarmingly Machiavellian. Gaddis should have been given a strict limit on adjectives and altogether barred from using adverbs; in just one page selected at random, we get “said Tad carefully,” “said Ann hastily,” “he repeated slowly, carefully” “Ann cut in swiftly,” “he said gently,” “Ann said quickly,” “She added quietly.” Ugh! This book is not even of the so-bad-it’s-good variety (looking at you, Nurse at the Fair and Harbor Nurse); really it’s those C-range novels you have to be most cautious of. The only thing remarkable about this novel is that in it we have a particularly excellent example of a book that should never be read.

This book was also published
under the title Future Nurse
which is a complete lie, since 
the heroine drops out of 
nursing school.


Monday, January 10, 2022

First Year Nurse

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1964
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett

“You’re leaving us, Dr. Troy?” Taffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You let me know if there is an opening in your hospital, Doctor.”
Dr. Troy stared at her. It was the stare of a boy seeing all the toys he had wanted under the Christmas tree. There was a silence that seemed to last forever. “No need to check,” he said hoarsely. “I know there’s an opening.”
“Is there?” she said, and looked directly into his brown eyes. What happened next was completely her doing. It wasn’t possible that she had put her arms up to his shoulders and put her mouth on his. It wasn’t possible. But there she was in his arms, which had promptly wrapped themselves around her, as if he been waiting for her to do exactly that. And maybe he had been waiting, waiting a long time. 

GRADE: B

BEST QUOTES:
“The doctors, as usual, were running off at the mouth, spouting their learned phrases. Doctors never lowered their voices. They seemed to try to outdo each other in pedantry.” 

“She knew that to find someone who would ask you to give up your career, you must first have a career.”

“No, I had no special plans. Nothing that couldn’t be arranged, anyway. Eddie Fisher wanted to take me to the New York Hilton for dinner, but I put him off. Some other time, I told him. He was terribly disappointed, but never let it be said I let a colleague down.”

“If I blush now I’ll kill myself, Taffy thought. I’ll go out and buy a gun.”

REVIEW:
Perhaps the best thing about First Year Nurse is that it features a cameo by Lily Sorenson Carlton, the starring RN in Nurse Lily and Mister X, a sparkling, witty nurse novel that Frazer/Fletcher wrote in 1961. Unfortunately, while this novel has some admirable qualities, it is not of the same caliber as Nurse Lily.

Here Lily is on the OB ward to deliver her first child, cared for by Nurse Elizabeth Powell, unfortunately nicknamed “Taffy,” apparently because of her hair, but I hope not. She is crushing on obstetrician Dr. Ben Troy, who is as shy as he is handsome; in an early elevator scene we peer into the thoughts of each to realize that they like each other, but each completely misreads the other’s sentences in the worst possible light so as to remain oblivious to the other’s interest. So for most of the book, they pass in the halls and exchange clipped words that continue the hurt feelings.

The book follows various patients and their obstetrical courses, some for better and some for worse. It trails Taffy on her dates with Ernie Browder, a PhD pharmacist who chafes for opportunity and the riches he feels that will bring; they have many bizarre conversations in which he urges her to chase after more lucrative opportunities with the suggestion that her successes will somehow benefit him, though it’s not clear why that might be the case, even if they were to marry. Unfortunately, his influence leads Taffy into the 20th floor office of a wealthy father-to-be one late evening, lured by the promise of a high-paying job in his firm. Well, that’s not actually what the man wants, and in a creepy scene in which he’s locked the office door, he tells Taffy, “I’m not in the habit of attacking young girls, but I’m also not in the habit of wasting my time. This office is virtually a prison and only I have the key. There’s nobody around at all.” Only the mention of Taffy’s relationship with his wife opens the door. It also opens her eyes to what she really wants in life, which had been eluding her up to that point. “Everyone wanted to be rich. Of course. But it shouldn’t eat you up inside,” she decides, realizing that her nursing career, which had previously seemed a bit dull, is “my natural element. This is where I belong. Why, it’s my life.”

Then, in a February blizzard during which only those staff members living within walking distance of the hospital are able to staff the place for three days, Taffy and Ben become friendly. Taffy offers to accompany a stressed mother into the OR during her C-section, and when it’s over, she passes out in the scrub room, and Ben staggers off with her in his arms to find her an empty hospital bed. “How much do you weigh, anyhow? It seemed like about two hundred pounds,” he gripes. The scene’s conclusion should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read a nurse novel before, or the back cover of this novel.

The book itself is somewhat modern in that I think it’s the first time in more than 400 VNRNs that I’ve encountered the word “rape”; when one of Taffy’s roommates staggers in completely distraught, and Taffy asks her, “Nothing really bad happened to you, did it?” the roommate replies, “You mean nobody raped me, did they? Isn’t that what you mean?” (Nobody did.) In addition, to demonstrate how shallow the pool of eligible men in New York is, Taffy recalls a former beau: “It took three dates to find out that he was a homosexual,” possibly another first mention for a VNRN. Working on the maternity ward, Taffy is a first-hand observer of the results of passion; labor, and babies, are “the price to be paid for pleasure, for love.” She thinks of one 19-year-old patient who hemorrhaged during the delivery of her baby: She “had danced at the St. Regis Hotel and fallen in love, made love, and then died from it.” It’s not all grim, though; the book has some of the razor-sharp humor we expect from Dorothy Fletcher, just not as much as we would like. In addition there’s not much plot to this book—certainly not enough interaction between the leads to warrant their apparent engagement in the final pages. You could certainly do worse than this book, but it’s sad to know that author Dorothy Fletcher could easily have done better.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Night Duty at Duke’s

By Bess Norton
(pseud. Olive Norton), ©1960

Nurse Jane Ross had any irresistible charm that few men couldn’t ignore. But in James mind there was only one who really mattered—Geraint Owen the fascinating new doctor who had set all the nurses talking. But there was another manner life: The tall, quiet Dr. Barney Madders, who secretly loved her, with no hope of that love ever being returned. The unpredictable events which fill a hospital taken suddenly, finally turned the course of love, baring some hearts and breaking others … as Jane found out when the truth about Geraint and Barney finally came into the open …

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“I get sick and tired of saying ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir,’ and ‘really, sir?’ There are times on days when I yearn to wreck a consultant’s round by saying something quite different. Such as ‘what a load of tripe’ or ‘I couldn’t care less’.”

“And I suppose you don’t even know whether it was a long big boy’s coat or a short, scum-of-the-earth variety?”

REVIEW:
I hope everyone has, at least once in their lives, experienced the electricity sparking when that certain someone’s hand brushes your arm. Nurse Jane Ross is lucky enough to have known it twice—with the same man. Dr. Geraint Owen was Jane’s first love, when she was 19, four long years ago. “I had tied his gown for him, and the first touch of his skin against my knuckles as I did it had shaken me as much as if I had touched an electric wire,” she recalls. The pair had been an item—and a very public one, subject to a lot of talk—and, apparently stung by the gossip, “he had walked out on me, halfway through my final year” in her schooling she explains, and since then “he had made no attempt to get in touch with me.” Until the day she runs smack into him on the ward of Duke’s, the hospital where she now works, and instantly he’s pulling her into the linen closet or onto park benches conveniently shrouded in rhododendrons, and her knees are in a near constant state of jelly.

The problem is that the man is a cad, and is messing around with another nurse, who is only known to us by her last name, Fetterby—as are more than half a dozen other nurses in this book, unfortunately. Jane’s best friend Theo Jacques, a black woman from Jamaica—something of an anomaly in VNRNs—is a hard-working, honest and true friend, but as Jane repeatedly rebuffs Theo’s efforts to put Jane wise to the rumors running around the hospital, the old chums become increasingly strained. “I know what you’re trying to tell me,” Jane huffs, thinking Theo wants to talk about Fetterby. “All right. It isn’t important. It was just one of those things.” It’s clear that Theo has more to tell than that Geraint’s been parking with another woman in his off hours, but Theo just gives Jane a cold stare and turns away.

Jane has another friend, Dr. Barney Madders. “We’d carried on a comfortable brother and sister relationship for three years,” she says, so she’s the only person who is surprised when Barney finally tumbles out, “I love you. I’ve always loved you. I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. I don’t think I can go on very much longer.”

Most of the book involves Jane’s patients, and a nurse who falls into a mine and has to be rescued, and of course there’s the Rugger dance to attend in our finest ball gowns. Throughout we have author Olive Norton, here writing as Bess Norton, penning her usual fine prose, if perhaps not as laugh-out-loud funny as she has been in other books. It’s not the most interesting or captivating book she’s written; as much as I sympathize with Jane’s passion for Geraint, she’s hopelessly blind about him, which becomes a bit frustrating, especially as she becomes increasingly mean to her devoted friends Theo and Barney. But even an “average” book for Olive Norton is better than many authors’ efforts, so you have my blessing to go on night duty at Duke’s.

Monday, January 3, 2022

2021 VNRN Awards

It could be argued that in the past two years we have needed our nurse novels more than ever—the sassy roommates, the handsome yet aloof docs, the shimmering ball gowns, all a welcome respite from quarantines and politics and illness. In the VNRN world, a mask is not divisive, but can actually bring people together: “I looked across at Theo, asking her with my eyes who was being pulled to pieces this time. That is one thing about having worked in the OR a good bit: by the time you have accustomed yourself to signalling over the top of a mask, when the slightest sound might be off-putting to the surgeons, there is very little that you can’t convey with eye-language,” wrote Bess Norton in Night Duty at Duke’s. I’ll agree there’s some truth to that; I feel like my smile has changed in the past year, to involve my eyes more and my mouth less.

So today we celebrate the escape vehicles we’ve climbed into this past year. Fasten your seat belt! You’re about to meet the winners, who were picked from the 48 VNRNs I read this past year, which were written by 36 different writers. The Best and Worst Authors categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (469 to date), but only authors with more than one review are included. This year’s all-stars are Olive Norton and William Neubauer (please stop by the biographical sketch I wrote about him; it took six months to put together, and I’m very proud of it!), who both had two novels in the Best Books category.  We also met two childrens’ book authors, Adèle De Leeuw and Vera Cleaver, who each delivered a top-notch nurse novel and then hung up their starched caps. Lastly, Adele Maritano, who writes as Jane Converse, has the dubious distinction of appearing on both the Best and Worst Books lists. Start your engines!


Best Books
1. The Nurse’s Dilemma, by Vera Cleaver
2. Junior Pro, by Kate Norway (pseud. Olive Norton)
3. Nurse with a Dream, by Norrey Ford (pseud. Noreen Ford)
4. The White Jacket, Kate Norway (pseud. Olive Norton)
5. Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse, by Patti Carr (pseud. William Neubauer)
6. Office Nurse, by Rebecca Marsh (pseud. William Neubauer)
7. Doctor Ellen, by Adele De Leeuw
8. The Strange Quest of Nurse Anne, by Mary Burchell (pseud. Ida Cook)
9. Emergency Nurse, by Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
10. Nurse Julie of Ward Three, by Joan Callender 


Worst Books
1. Jolie Benoit, R.N., by Ruth McCarthy Sears
2. Wanted—One Nurse, by Joanna Grey
3. Crystal Manning, Maternity Nurse, by Nan Lowry (pseud. Ruth MacLeod)
4. Hostage Nurse, by Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
5. The Taming of Nurse Conway, by Nora Sanderson
6. A Prize for Nurse Darci, By Suzanne Roberts
7. Hospital on Wheels, by Anne Lorraine
8. Obstetrical Nurse, by Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
9. Part-Time Nurse, by Elizabeth Houghton (pseud. Elizabeth Gilzean)
10. Everglades Nurse, by Peggy Gaddis (pseud. Erolie Pearl Gaddis Dern) 


Best Authors*
1. Olive Norton (3.2, based on 7 reviews)
2. Faith Baldwin (3.0, based on 4 reviews)
2. Marguerite Mooers Marshall (3.0, based on 4 reviews)
4. Florence Stonebraker (2.8, based on 16 reviews)
4. Jean Francis Webb III (2.8, based on 5 reviews)
6. Irene Mossop Swatridge (2.7, based on 3 reviews)
7. William Neubauer (2.6, based on 8 reviews)
7. Jeanne Judson (2.6, based on 7 reviews)
7. Elizabeth Seifert (2.6, based on 3 reviews)
7. Noreen Ford (2.6, based on 2 reviews)
7. Marjorie Lewty (2.6, based on 2 reviews)


Worst Authors
1. Ruth McCarthy Sears (1.6 average, based on 6 reviews)
1. Arlene Fitzgerald (1.6 average, based on 4 reviews)
3. Peggy Blocklinger (1.7 average, based on 11 reviews)
3. Anne Lorraine (1.7 average, based on 3 reviews)
3. Zillah Macdonald (1.7 average, based on 3 reviews) 


Best Quotes

“If you’re ever going to have your own apartment, the first thing you absolutely have to have is a good recipe for meatloaf.”
Nurse Morgan Sees It Through, by Rubie Saunders 

“I could eat you, darling, only I haven’t time.”
Junior Pro, by Kate Norway (pseud. Olive Norton) 

“All during the thick blackness that preceded the dawn she prayed fervently that a tracheotomy would not be necessary.” 
Jolie Benoit, R.N., by Ruth McCarthy Sears 

“There is nothing coy or coquettish about you. Sometimes it’s discouraging.”
Crystal Manning, Maternity Nurse, by Nan Lowry (pseud. Ruth MacLeod) 

“Pam found her arm being taken companionably, and the hand gripping that arm piloted her quite expertly through a nonexistent lobby crowd, through a quite negotiable doorway, and into a Marine Room that was neither dark nor boobytrapped with obstacles.”
Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse, by Patti Carr (pseud. William Neubauer)

“If you keep on flying into rages like this you’ll have a frightfully interesting stroke when you’re older.”
The Taming of Nurse Conway, by Nora Sanderson 

“I don’t think that is quite the way for a respectable doctor to behave in a telephone booth.”
The Odds Against Nurse Pat, by Ray Dorien 

“You look different. Not tired, exactly, but subdued. Has anyone been subduing you?”
Nurse Julie of Ward Three, by Joan Callender 

“Tears do have a way of invading the nasopharynx instead of rolling like pearls down a rosy cheek.” 
Nurse Ann in Surgery, by Ruth MacLeod 

“I’m going to do a few tests, find a fancy name for what you’ve got and then send you a bill.”
Hotel Nurse, by Tracy Adams (pseud. Sofi O’Bryan) 




B
est Covers

Hostage Nurse, cover illustration by Allan Kass

Doctor Chris

The Doctor of Blue Valley

Emergency Nurse

Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse, cover illustration by Bob Abbett



* The scores for Best Authors are the result of some sort of weighted ranking that takes into account the number of reviews each author has. This score was generated by my son, who is a computer science major, and who went back to college before I remembered to ask him to explain it to me.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Doctor Mary

By Jeanne Judson, ©1964

Her fiancé, Henry Clifford, a rising young lawyer, couldn’t understand why Dr. Mary Spencer chose to live in Chinatown. Her best friend, Dr. Edith Silliman, wanted Mary to join her in an expensive practice in an exclusive neighborhood. Both Henry and Edith thought Dr. Mary was a fool. And perhaps, thought Mary, they were right. Who but a fool would alienate her best friend and her sweetheart and the prospect of the successful career, to follow a dream — a dream of helping the poor. But, wise or foolish, Dr. Mary was going to continue in the past she had marked out for herself.

GRADE: C+

BEST QUOTES:
“People who are always right are unbearable.” 

“It’s surprising how many people in New York will go anywhere if there is a prospect of lots of free champagne.”

“In cases of high blood pressure there is almost always some frustration or worry that increases the trouble.”

REVIEW:
Sometimes it’s hard to pick up a book because its cover is so appalling. Eventually, though, you become so sick of looking at this cover that you are forced to read the book just so that you can put it away in the back bedroom with all the other books you’ve already read, saving your delicate sensibilities from further encounters. Such was the case with me and Doctor Mary. The fact that it was written by Jeanne Judson, who has been known to put out some excellent books—though I haven’t met one recently, unfortunately—was not much of a lure. But now the job is done, and I can report that the book is in fact better than its cover, but maybe not so much that you should run out and buy a copy. 

Dr. Mary Spencer is a lonely orphan who, upon graduating from medical school a year earlier, moved to Mott Street in New York City’s Chinatown to practice medicine. She had picked this spot as a launching pad for her medical career because during her internship she had encountered many Chinese patients and found them “so patient and polite.” “I haven’t any family to impress with my brilliance, and I don’t know any Joneses to keep up with, so when I finished at St. Vincent’s that’s where I went,” she explained her decision. She likes the interesting neighborhood and her patient population, even if she’s not getting rich like her med school classmate Dr. Edith Silliman, who at book’s open is pressing her to join a practice with her on E. 71st St. “If only you’ll be sensible, Mary,” chides Edith. “If you’ll get an office uptown and stop all this do-gooding,” she says, Mary might be able to keep her fiancé, up-and-coming attorney Henry Clifford.

Edith has a point: Henry has already told her, “You can see for yourself that it wouldn’t do for a member of one of the leading law firms to have a wife working in the slums. If you stay here, it will be no marriage at all.” But Mary wants to “work with an uplifted heart,” and has found her calling: “For her, it was a vocation; for Edith, it was a profession.” It takes Mary no time at all to refuse Edith, and not much longer to come to her senses after Henry tells her, “You must choose, Mary. I love you, but I have no intention of ruining both our lives by letting you continue in this absurd obsession about helping people who aren’t willing to help themselves.” So when the afternoon mail brings an engraved wedding invitation to Edith and Henry’s upcoming nuptials, “when her head stopped whirling, she thought that nothing could be more suitable.”

Mary spends about ten minutes feeling sorry for herself, but then she starts thinking about this guy she met while taking care of a patient with pneumonia. Jim Tracy is unemployed and living in a seedy residence hotel: “Despite the need of a shave and a haircut, he was well dressed. Also, and more surprising, he looked clean. He had spoken like an educated man. He was young and, though underweight, apparently healthy. But what was he doing in Joe Grimes’s hotel when he was perfectly competent to hold down a good job, routine, perhaps, but respectable?” Between cases she goes out with the man, who is alternatively kind and grouchy, but he is always able to pay for dinner despite his low living conditions. Even more curious, he is able to engage Dr. Grenning, the city’s top cardiologist, to see an impoverished pediatric patient of Mary’s for free. Unfortunately, after a mere three encounters with the man, “the awful truth came to her. She loved him. She loved him. Thief, murderer, whenever he was, she loved him. She wouldn’t marry him because he wouldn’t have her. Still, it was good to love even if the love were never returned.” Ugh.

When the cardiologist shows up, it turns out he’s an old friend of Jim’s, who is—surprise!—Dr. Jim Tracy, “one of the best bacteriologists in the country—a man who could have a big future.” But Jim is done with his career, he says: “I got this way by killing my wife.” It’s only another dozen pages before we find out that his wife was a pretty but shallow debutante whom Jim had married too quickly, only to find out they weren’t compatible. She had wanted to party, and he had wanted to work, which meant they lived essentially separate lives, she with her socializing friends, and even a few gentlemen escorts as well — until one day, coming down the stairs in a beautiful, trailing gown to open the door for another party, she “tripped on some chiffon and fell halfway down the stairs.” She lived “long enough to tell Jim that it was all his fault, that it was his indifference, his coldness, that was killing her.” That or the broken neck, it’s hard to tell for sure. After this revelation, though, all the guilt that has caused Jim to abandon his former life for years is quickly boxed up and put away into storage, never to peek out at us again.

As the closet door is swinging shut, Mary is enlisted by Dr. Grenning to help persuade Jim to sign up for a two-year stint at a brand-new hospital in the wilds of Brazil, though at the dinner party where Jim is won over to the project, she doesn’t do much more than pass the gravy. One thing I do like about Dr. Mary, however, is that she goes after what she wants. Before the dinner with Dr. Grenning, where she had learned the truth of his past, she had written to Jim to say, “Whatever they have to tell me, I’d rather hear it from you. I don’t want to know anything about you that you don’t want to tell me yourself. I love you.” And on the way home from dinner, Jim talks about how the new hospital’s staff (being all male, of course) is not likely to be married because “for the wives it will be insects and heat and snakes and noise.” Undaunted, Mary retorts, “It might be different for a woman if she were a doctor, too.” You go, girl.

Overall this is a fairly straightforward story without exceptional interest, outside of the ad for Newport cigarettes bound into the book, which was printed in the era before cigarette advertising was outlawed. If one or two characters demonstrate bigotry toward the Chinese, Mary does not, seeing only hard-working immigrants pursuing the American dream; her most prominent Chinese patient eventually brings his two grandsons to the country to study at Columbia, aided by Jim Tracy, who had grown up alongside Chinese workers on his family’s pineapple plantation in Hawaii and is completely fluent in multiple dialects of Chinese. Actually, in this book it’s the white family that is stuck with a drunken, abusive, jobless patriarch, and no one is sorry to see him drop of pneumonia in the end; the black and Asian families Mary cares for may be poor, but they won’t be for long, especially when the kids graduate from an Ivy League college. It’s pleasant enough, but a little disappointing for author Judson, who has given us the delightful Small Town Nurse, Visiting Nurse, and City Nurse, three A-grade gems. Those books came out in the 1950s, however, giving more evidence to my belief that the more recently a book was written, the worse it is likely to be. Given the fact that the four reviews of her books published in the ’60s earned a C+ average with no grade higher than a B, it seems that this dread curse is so powerful that not even the talented Jeanne Judson was immune to it.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Doctor Chris

by Elizabeth Seifert, © 1946

When the new doctor arrived at Lakeside Hospital, the reaction was lively. Nobody had expected Dr. Chris Metcalf to be a girl. The nurses were not pleased, for another young woman meant keener competition for the attention of the handsome Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff himself was not pleased, for he believed that medicine was for men alone. So Chris had something to fight against, as well as a lot to learn during her year of hospital life. It was anything but a dull year, however, what with this vigorous opposition, with sabotage in an Army Ordnance plant nearby, and with the personable young lawyer in town who appreciated Chris as a woman rather than as a doctor. In her latest novel Elizabeth Seifert shows the development of Chris Metcalf is a person and as a doctor, and adds a vivid new story to her popular group of novels about doctors and the drama of their work. 

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“Just so I’m the biggest something in your life, sweetheart.”

REVIEW:
Poor Dr. Chris Metcalf is a 24-year-old intern, having just graduated from medical school, and is arriving at Lakeside Hospital somewhere in Missouri. Of course, the initial joke is that with the nickname of Chris, everyone thinks from her resume that she is a man. What fun when she arrives wearing a skirt! Well, maybe not fun, as she gets the fisheye from multiple mossbacked and/or jealous nurses and doctors, including her new chief, 40-year-old Dr. Key Edmons. (I know, “Key” is about the worst name ever, but it’s not the first time we have met one, and probably won’t be the last, unfortunately.) But Chris is not intimidated: “I’m not frightened of you, and you don’t shock me,” she tells him. “Another thing you can count on, I won’t bother you by falling in love with you.” That shows him! Except maybe not, as he has an exceptional amount of prejudice to overcome, and she is perennially smacking into that wall. Frankly it gets more than a little tiresome to continually encounter remarks such as, “There is something you’re going to have to learn, Dr. Metcalf, though I’m damned if I think you can learn it. Because you’re a girl!” Or, “You didn’t handle the father, and the reason you didn’t is the same reason we have against your trying to be a doctor. You’re a girl.” Honestly, Chris is never going to experience any gender confusion, she is reminded so frequently of hers, though it seems likely that she has progressed through puberty and actually qualifies as a woman.

She does not have much spare time, being an intern and all, but soon Chris has hooked up with a local playboy, 35-year-old attorney Allan Gifford, who is apparently about to be engaged to one wealthy socialite while also having an affair with the chief OR nurse. If that doesn’t make him enough of a catch, he, too, is ridiculously prejudiced against women doctors. “Why should a pretty little girl like you go into anything so gruesome as the practice of medicine?” he asks her when they first meet. He repeatedly pressures her to marry him, but is very open about his insistence that she quit medicine if she does, so she doesn’t really take him seriously.

The book rolls along and we watch Chris tackle with varying degrees of success various medical situations, always carrying the weight of her entire gender on her back. I will say she is a bit on the wimpy side and does have a tendency to break into tears, but the pressure of one’s intern year combined with the accompanying lack of sleep might do that to anyone. She is fierce in her regular and ongoing battles with Dr. Edmons about her capabilities, I will give her that: “Don’t you dare say that’s why I have no business doctoring,” she snaps at him when he tells her that women can’t be doctors because they have “a tender heart.” “Men have tender hearts, too. Don’t they? Don’t they?” (Dr. Edmons, who is obviously falling in love with Chris, begrudgingly admits she may be right.)

Two of the more interesting cases that Dr. Metcalf encounters involve reproductive rights: a young woman, pregnant by a bounder, who asks for an abortion—Chris refuses because it’s illegal and she is only an intern without the requisite skills; it’s not clear which is the bigger obstacle—and in another case a woman who is having her appendix out asks to have her ovaries removed as well. Dr. Edmons refuses to do it because the ovaries are not diseased, but Chris replies that they would take out healthy ovaries during a hysterectomy. The argument is dropped before it progresses, but it is curious that author Elizabeth Seifert introduces these weighty topics in such an offhanded manner.

Eventually, as you knew there would be, there is a case of serious sabotage at the nearby Army ordnance plant in which a plane crashes into it, and Chris and Dr. Edmons work all night to save the burned men. Chris than deduces who the scurrilous foreign agent is—the only character with a German accent (*eyeroll*)—and plays a large role in bringing the criminal to justice, with the help of Allan Gifford, who turns out to be FBI! Unfortunately, “all the glamour Cooper and Hoover have given to the G-men, the aura of Sherlock Holmes—all glimmered about Allen’s big, homely person” and now she thinks she is in love with him and accepts his ring, “the badge of submission, of subordination.” Well, that sounds lovely! Then he is injured in a shooting accident and she saves his life, proving to everyone that she is a “real” doctor—but also to herself that she is not in love with Allan: “Have I got so hard, so unfeeling that I could have done what I did for Allan, if I really loved him—the way I should love him?”

Overall, this is a low-key, satisfying book by an excellent author. It’s not especially exciting or unique, but it is well-written and has a quiet humor in several instances that unfortunately doesn’t translate to the Best Quotes section. It certainly is a slice of life of a young woman trying to forge her way through a career that is difficult today, much less 75 (!!) years ago, and if the incessant prejudice is trying for us to endure, I imagine it was a great deal more so for the brave women who actually lived through it. If this gentle book isn’t the most memorable, it has a pleasant competence that makes it worth reading about Dr. Chris.