Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nurse in Crisis

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adela Maritano), ©1966

Cover illustration by Marilyn Conover

Sherry Allen’s roommate, Nurse Melinda Collins, spent her nights sobbing and her days drinking—pursued by a shameful secret, by the inescapable consequences of a moment of heedless passion. It was only when the unhappy girl attempted a desperate way out of her trouble that Sherry learned the cause of her friend’s anguish was a man. It was then that Sherry realized that she, too, must face up to a crisis of the heart. Before it was too late, the young nurse had to choose: settle for security … or, like Melinda, take a reckless gamble on love.


“Maybe it would be a breach of ethics if hospital food was palatable.” 

“I’m trying to become habit-forming, darling. A drug instead of a drag.”

Sherry is 23 and single, and, therefore, getting pretty desperate to find a husband. She’s been going out with Brent Driscoll, who is 39 and has everything you could ask for in a guy: gracious manners, good breeding, wealth, numerous wide-ranging interests. Naturally she has no interest in him.

Her roommate, Melinda Collins, is the perfect nurse, and very cute, too. But something is bothering her, and she won’t say what. Melinda spends a lot of time holed up in her room sobbing, and resists Sherry’s efforts to get her to say what’s wrong. Soon Sherry starts finding empty whisky bottles in the bottom of the trash and bottles of Benzedrine on the bathroom sink.

The head nurse on her floor, Lois Lawford, is the typical single older nurse. An unattractive, graceless widow with severely combed sandy-red hair, Lois looks older than her 46 years, “perhaps because her usually ice-tinged green eyes were focused only in one direction; her job, her income, her plans for her son.” That would be three directions, but who’s counting? Through sheer hard work and determination, she has gotten her son Neil through medical school, and has plotted and planned a brilliant career for him—nothing less than brain surgery for her boy. Neil, however, has other plans. He spills them to Sherry one day at the cafeteria, shortly after he starts working at Ridgeworth Hospital: He wants to be a general practitioner working in a poor, rural neighborhood. Not exactly the stuff of his mother’s dreams. Sherry is instantly smitten, however, and though Neil pretty much ignores her, she pines for the next time they’ll pass in the halls or he’ll ask her to give the lady in room 306 a pill.

Poor Brent; unaware of her pangs for Neil, he asks Sherry to marry him. One night, when Melinda doesn’t come home after Neil chews her out for making a bad mistake that could have killed her patient, Brent is supremely kind and helpful when Sherry is sick with worry. In the heat of the crisis, Sherry agrees to be his wife. Melinda comes home all right, but when she tosses back some pills with a shot of gin the next morning, Sherry forces her to call in sick. Melinda attempts suicide, but is found at the last minute by Sherry and Brent, who again comes through in a pinch. She’s admitted to the hospital—and found to be two months pregnant!!!

Jane Converse is in high form with Nurse in Crisis. The writing is better than you usually find in a VNRN, and a pregnant near-heroine is quite a surprise—the eponymous nurse applies more to Melinda than to our heroine. The response to Melinda’s suicide attempt is a little dated—Sherry crumples up the note, as “no one needed to know that she had tried to take her own life,” and though everyone suspects the overdose was not accidental, it’s not discussed. However, when Melinda is clearly beginning to spiral out of control, Sherry attempts to talk Melinda into seeking counseling (Melinda refuses, saying, “It isn’t going to change matters one iota if I sob it out on some doctor’s couch at twenty dollars an hour.” My, how times and hourly rates have changed!) Most VNRNs have the star-crossed couple hook up in the final pages without a flutter of the heart until that point, but Jane does the best job I have seen so far in describing a severe crush: “The tight sensation in her throat when Neil came into view; her breathlessness when his arm had accidentally brushed hers that afternoon in the coffee shop!” Though the ending includes one slightly creepy angle, with Brent winding up with a 19-year-old girl who is less than half his age—and I can’t believe that’s any spoiler—on the whole Nurse in Crisis is a pretty good book.

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