Saturday, August 28, 2010

Society Nurse

By Georgia Craig
(pseud. of Erolie Pearl Gaddis Dern), ©1962

Love betrayed Susan Merrill, socialite. Jilted by a fortune hunter, she turned to nursing in hope that hard work would fill the void in her heart and replace her broken dreams. But love was something she still had a lot to learn about. True love means dedication as well as romance. A new world, new experiences, and a new and deeper kind of love awaited Susan as she crossed the threshold from her luxurious but shallow life to one of noble purpose in serving others.


“She stood by, handing him the required instruments while he stitched up an ice-pick stabbing that had by some miracle barely missed a woman’s heart. She heard the woman’s thick voice as she went under the anesthetic: ‘My man didn’t really mean to hurt me, Doc. He was just mad account of I didn’t have him a meat supper when he got home from work.’ ”

This is actually the first vintage nurse romance novel I ever got, a present from my brother when I was thinking about going to nursing school, about 15 years ago. (Hence the disfigured cover.) So I had previously met 17-year-old heiress Susan Merrill, who in the opening chapter is sneaking out of her dorm to elope with Paul Raymond. They’re driving to the next state to wake up a JP when Paul finds out that she doesn’t actually have any money yet: She inherits the estate gradually over a period of 15 years, beginning when she’s 21, more than three years from now.

You’ll be stunned to hear that Paul screeches to a halt. “You look like a homely, unattractive, gawky kid afraid of her own shadow; creeping around, shying away from people. And I don’t blame you, because looking at you is certainly a very unpleasant experience,” he tells her before hopping out at the nearest train station and slamming the car door behind him. Nice guy! She rushes home to her guardian (her parents were gratuitously killed in a plane crash when she was seven), Doc Freeman, where she gets a cup of coffee and a sleeping tablet (what is he thinking?) and is put to bed. The next day Doc drags her off to be a volunteer nurse’s aide at City Hospital. “ ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he soothed her. ‘They won’t expect you to do brain surgery, at least not before the end of your first week there.’ ”

She loves it, natch, and decides to be a nurse. The pages begin to fly like years: Turn three, and, “Capped, pinned, and with her diploma in her hand, Susan felt she could walk out and face the world and, if necessary, kick it in the teeth!” She sets up an apartment in the seedy side of town with her college roommate, Nancy, where they furnish their pad with second-hand castoffs and cheap dishes. Susan wants to make it on her own terms and paycheck, and hasn’t told anyone at nursing school, or at her new job at the hospital, that she’s that Susan Merrill; hence the down-scale digs.

A few pages after that, she’s lunching with handsome doctor Scott Westbrook, who she’s now known for a long time. He tells her he’s in love with her, but he wants to wait until he finishes his residency in surgery (two years) and then sets up his own practice (one more year) to be able to support a wife. You’d think they’d be happily married by chapter six, but then Susan’s ex-fianc√© Paul shows up and attempts to blackmail her. She does what she has to do: She tells Scott who she really is. He takes the odd position that she’s in nursing as a “cockeyed masquerade” and tells her, “I will not be a bought husband,” and storms off in a huff. Nancy gets even madder—“Still slumming, Princess?” she snarls—and kicks Susan out of the apartment.

From here on out—and we’ve still got 56 pages to go—the book loses its spark. Susan goes off to a poor isolated town in the mountains and works with the only doctor there, and she decides to use her money to build a hospital. A lot of time is spent discussing who is going to pay for the new roads and there are meetings with architects and bankers, which doesn’t exactly make for exciting reading. At the end of the book, it’s more than two years later, and Scott turns up again—every 20-bed hospital needs a chief surgeon, and who are they going to hire?

After the first half of the book, there’s little fun to it. There’s not much to laugh at, and the writing doesn’t take you anywhere new. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. So it may not be surprising that I gave up the idea of nursing and became a physician assistant.

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