Friday, September 10, 2010

Cover Girl Nurse

By Patricia Libby, ©1963 

Merridy Martin had learned the truth about her glamor as a cover girl the hard way. She had lost her one chance at happiness in an automobile accident that had killed her interne fiance, and left her lying injured and despairing in a hospital bed. It was then that Merridy realized how selfish and heartless her glamor world was, and made her decision to become a nurse. So she buried Merridy martin, cover girl, and Merridy martin, R.N. was born. But could such a glamorous past remain buried or would its ghost rob Merridy of a second chance at happiness? 


“She’s a real Hawaiian and has a heart as big as the muumuus she wears.”
“Someone should set Sheila straight. She’s playing for keeps, but Clint is playing for kicks.” 

“The surgeon’s deft fingers that could incise her heart even as they did a patient.” 

This book is, hands down, the campiest vintage nurse romance novel I have read yet. It gets off to a bang on the very first page as Merridy Martin, former cover girl, is about to land in Hawaii for her first job as a nurse: Her seatmate “was frankly curious about the beautiful, copper-haired girl who had sobbed in her sleep.” And the tone is carried all the way through to the final page: “A sedative for a broken heart, I suppose. But it was the wrong prescription.” I mean, really, it’s pretty great stuff. Merridy’s fiancé, a former intern, was killed in a car accident, which prompted her to bury her heart and put her shallow career behind her: “The truth was clear. Bob’s world gave. Her world took. His had depth and meaning. Hers was glittering surface and the pursuit of self. … She would dedicate her life to helping the sick and frightened by becoming a nurse. And in a small way she might make Bob’s death seem less futile.” After graduation, she is invited to work at Moana Kai, a hospital on Oahu, by her nursing school friend Sheila. 

About ten minutes after her arrival there she meets Jay Flemming, obstetrical intern (why are they always interns?), at a luau. Jay puts the moves on, but Merridy puts the brakes on: “ ‘So you think that kissing is the kind of therapy I need to—to loosen up a crippled heart?’ she demanded. ‘Your eyes are shooting sparks, Merridy. Yes, that’s my prescription. And Dr. Flemming will be glad to fill it personally.’ ” Not long after this, a knife-wielding schizophrenic patient crashes the maternity ward and attempts to kidnap his wife and newborn son; Merridy beans the man with a vase of flowers and knocks him unconscious. And that’s just a few pages into Chapter 3! Snappy dialogue aside, this book does have a few faults. 

One is that there are too many characters in it. We are introduced to no fewer than 14 of Merridy’s patients, many of whom appear multiple times, and keeping track of them can be a bit confusing. Not to mention all the doctors and other nurses, each with romantic dramas of their own to work out. In addition, the author seems to believe that every good plot turn should be telegraphed from the mountaintops: “A feeling that exploded into bone-chilling horror moments later.” “She was totally unprepared for the news that Sheila brought with her.” “She might have succeeded if it hadn’t been for the inquest.” Then there’s the contradictory racism. One doctor is torn about marrying his nurse girlfriend because her mother is Hawaiian, and the book emphatically supports this relationship. Yet another girl, caught out with a beach boy who is Filipino and Hawaiian, causes a scandal. “Why? Why would she do it? An Oriental—oh, my God, they’ll crucify us in the papers,” sobs the girl’s mother. Merridy herself “drew a sigh of relief” when she finds out that the girl was not in love with the boy. And there’s the offhand remark about a patient’s work with the “suspicious, ignorant Chinese.” 

Medicine has an actual presence in the book, though it’s confusing by today’s standards. There’s an in-depth description of a corneal transplant, and how Merridy nurses the patient through the difficult recovery (he is not allowed to move even the tiniest muscle for ten days following the surgery: “Even a smile would endanger the corneal graft”). The schizophrenic is given an injection of morphine to keep him unconscious; today’s standby, haloperidol, wasn’t in use yet. These flaws, however, are vastly outweighed by the laugh-out-loud writing, the kind of dialogue you will repeat to your friends and anyone else sitting near you. This book had me at the title, and the font on the cover is an added delight, even if the gal in the illustration should sue the doctor who gave her that nose.

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