Friday, October 8, 2010

Doctor Diane's Decision

By Ruby L. Radford, ©1961
Cover illustration by Len Goldberg

Since her teens, Diane Maxwell’s devouring ambition had been to become a physisicn. Midway in her studies, however, Diane decided to be a surgeon and now, in her third year of residency at Edmunds Hospital, she looked forward to the day when she would work with the famed Dr. Roger Fulton. It was a fine spring day when Hal Fulton, Dr. Roger’s son, came back to town—to upset the well-ordered course Diane had plotted for herself. For Hal, eager to make Diane his bride, was also toying with the idea of forsaking medicine and following a career in the theatre. This pervasive interest of Hal’s was to bring Diane to the attention of a brilliant young playwright—and lead her to two important decisions.



“Annette had IT with capital letters.”


Some vintage nurse romance novels (VNRNs) seem to have just been dashed off, without much care or thought, and Doctor Diane’s Decision is just such a book. Dr. Diane Maxwell is in her third year of residency as an OB/GYN surgeon at a hospital in Georgia. She was seeing Dr. Hal Fulton before he went off to the Army, but now that his two-year stint is over, he’s back in town, and pressing Diane to marry him. He’s not practicing medicine, however, as his father, chief of staff Dr. Roger Fulton, would have it; he’s starring in a play for the local theater group. He has never loved medicine, but only went into it because his father bribed him with a trust fund if he went to medical school. So he is not the only one in this book who has a decision to make.

Diane’s choice is between Hal and the hot young playwright, Larry Ashley, who wrote the vehicle that Hal is starring in. Diane, given a copy to read, ends up staying up past midnight to finish it, even though she had performed a very demanding surgery that morning, removing 15 pounds of tumor from a woman’s abdomen. “Oh, what a thrill I get out of removing a nice big tumor!” she says.

Diane’s aunt, Dr. Sally, is a general practitioner in the country. She was the one who inspired Diane to become a doctor, and when Sally gets into a car accident, Diane takes two weeks off from her residency and subs for Dr. Sally. While she’s there, she diagnoses a severe headache in a 17-year-old girl as a brain tumor, thereby saving the girl’s life. And guess what—this girl turns out to be Larry Ashley’s half-sister! Diane goes on a cruise down the Georgia coast with Hal and some friends to decide whether she should accept Hal’s renewed proposal of marriage, and beyond that, there’s really not much more to say about the plot.

The most interesting part of the book is its take on women in medicine. Aunt Sally tells Diane she never married because “In my younger days I was wedded to my work. I felt a woman doctor couldn’t do justice to her profession and a family.” Diane responds that she is planning to wait to marry until after she has finished her training. “The pressures won’t be any less then, Diane, but really greater,” Sally answers. “I never felt that a husband would be satisfied with the attention I could give him after doing my duty by my patients. But conditions have changed. Homes are run on a different basis. With so many modern gadgets a home can be run with a minimum of help. With a good housekeeper and someone to look after the children, it can be done—is being done—by many women doctors.”

I find it interesting that a book written in 1961 seems to think that a woman doctor is a fairly everyday and accepted creature (there are other, insignificant characters in the book who are also women doctors). This is not the impression I have gotten from other VNRNs, which at times barely even accept women in the role of nurses; certainly most give the idea that a nurse who marries must quit her job. I also find the idea at odds with my idea of what the times were actually like for women professionals at that time. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I’ve had the belief that women have not been accepted in medicine until fairly recently, and this book is almost 50 years old.

Of course, the book does have to suggest that a woman isn’t complete unless she is married: “I’m convinced any woman misses something very great in life when she doesn’t marry,” Aunt Sally tells Diane. “I’ve often wondered if I wouldn’t be a better doctor if I’d been a wife and mother too.” Interestingly, however, the book also takes the point of view that a male doctor who devotes his entire life to his career is also missing out. Speaking of Dr. Roger Fulton, “one of the South’s finest surgeons,” one character says, “His wife’s settled into the dutiful position of being available when he has a few moments to see her. His preoccupation with work has never left him time to be a pal to his son. … He would be a happier and greater man if he’d taken a little more time out for his family.”

For its actual story line, the book is perfunctory and nothing special. It’s certainly not a chore to get through this book, as the writing does not make one cringe. And it does spark some interesting lines of thought, which might make it worth reading. So if that’s enough for you, then by all means, have at it.

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