Monday, September 6, 2010

Night Nurse

By Rosamund Hunt (pseud. of Miriam Lynch), ©1962
Cover illustration by Edrien King

Young and lovely Sheila Hayden had been planning to marry Kenny Jamison for as long as she could remember. But when Sheila became a night nurse at Mercer City Hospital, Kenny showed signs of growing resentment, and asked that she resign. Sheila, however, had fallen in love with her work. Moreover, a political campaign to smear the hospital made her presence vital to the pressured staff. Vehemently Sheila insisted that Kenny had no cause to be jealous of her job, or of the brilliant young Dr. Joel Alexander, who was so often at her side. It took a mysterious kidnapping and a new and vicious attack on the hospital’s good name to force the lovely nurse to face some painful truths—about Kenny, about Dr. Alexander, and about her own buffeted heart.


Sheila Hayden, recent nursing school graduate, has decided to work on the pediatric ward—you guessed it—on the night shift. Although her friends and family are a bit baffled by her decision, she likes working nights, and she needs the extra money to help support her family. Until now, Sheila’s uncle Dan, who took Sheila’s family in when her father died, has been their sole support. He’s good-hearted, but he’s also a bit of a sap, with “wild enthusiasms for new money-making schemes.” Now Dan has decided to cast his lot with Herbie McVey, who is running for mayor, and so is looking for dirt on the hospital to further McVey’s claim that the current mayor is doing a bad job. Dan tries to pump Sheila for gossip about the hospital, but Sheila refuses to get involved.

Sheila is engaged, of course, to longtime boyfriend Kenny Jamison. This relationship does not bode well, however; on page 11, we are told, “It had always been a one-sided romance, with Sheila doing all the favors and making all the concessions.” Not exactly a marriage of true minds. So who else is there on the horizon? Well, there’s that resident at the hospital, Dr. Joel Alexander, who is “unmarried, unencumbered, and to boot, is the best looking, has the most divine smile,” or so says a nursing buddy of Sheila’s. She and Joel get off on the wrong foot when he snaps that she is not capable on her first night at work of caring for 30 patients, including one motherless boy who is recovering from diabetic shock. “Why, she didn’t even like Dr. Joel Alexander! She would never like him!” Somehow I’m betting she’s going to eat those words.

The book offers several questions to unravel. First, there’s a possible affair between the hospital’s married senior physican and the director of nurses. Then someone breaks into the narcotics cabinet but does not take anything; the newspaper carries a big story about the scandal, which furthers McVey’s campaign. Could dear Uncle Dan be involved? Finally, someone kidnaps the diabetic kid while Sheila is on duty, and the resolution of that situation is the peak of the book, after which everything wraps itself into a tidy little bow.

I once worked as a nurse’s aide at a hospital, one year on the night shift, and the book’s description of the job did have some semblance to reality. “When six o’clock came, Sheila and Mrs. Osborne, the aide, began to make preparations for A.M. care. This was something which those outside the hospital could not understand, that patients had to be awakened at the crack of dawn to have their faces washed and then were left with dragging time until the breakfast trays were served.” In my day it was vital signs, EKGs, blood sugar checks, and rounds by the surgical team that my 30 patients were awakened for. But I did get a little thrill of recognition from the story at this point.

Unfortunately, that was the only excitement Night Nurse brought me. It’s not badly written, and I got through it without the least bit of annoyance. But I didn’t laugh, either. It takes itself too seriously, and the author did not spend much time dreaming up the plot. There’s just no fun to it, so even though I wouldn’t say the book is bad, I still have to call it a failure.

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