Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ring for the Nurse

By Renée Shann, ©1959

Sue Woodford seemed to have everything a girl could desire. She was unofficially engaged to handsome Dr. Don Langton—unofficially only because romances between the doctors and the nurses were not encouraged at Rosemead Hospital. When rumors began to circulate that Dr. Langton was paying considerable attention to lovely Vanda Corrin, Sue could do nothing about it. But then Don, in an unguarded moment, called Vanda “Meg,” and Sue slowly began to be aware that there was a closeness in Don and Vanda’s relationship that she could not penetrate. It took an emergency operation aboard a ship to make Sue realize whom she really loved.


“He’s just my type. Rugged and rather boorish and often so rude that one almost hates him.”

“ ‘I think,’ he said, ‘I’ll emigrate to the colonies.’ ”

The cover of this book certainly gets your hopes up. With that title, and its fantastic type, you expect this is going to be some sort of horror story. It’s not, and doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the cover. But it’s a nice enough little book, and besides, it’s British!

Sue Woodford is 20 or 21 (both ages are given to her), a nurse working in a small village hospital. She’s engaged to Don Langton, a moody doctor more than 10 years her senior who tells her, interestingly, that he has a “black monkey” on his back that he’s had all his life. “It made him moody and difficult, and sometimes it would perch there for days at a time.” She’s young and insecure, and always waiting around for him to show up on dates and hoping for a little reassurance from him that he cares for her. It’s a May-December romance that doesn’t seem to make either party happy.

There’s a new secretary at the hospital, Vanda Corrin, who displays unexpected medical knowledge at bus crashes. She and Don go way back, as it turns out; they were in med school together, and she is repeatedly described as one of the best medical minds of her generation—more brilliant even than Don—though a poor outcome with a pediatric patients has prompted her to give up her license, even though she was exonerated by the medical board. Don spends a lot of time with her, begging her to return to medicine, which naturally disconcerts his fiancée. Though he reassures nervous Sue that there is nothing between him and Vanda, when the two attend a medical conference in Paris, they have too many brandies, and before you know it they are smooching in a taxi.

However, young Sue has other options, as well. The young doctor Bill Stevens tells her repeatedly that he’s in love with her, is always asking her what’s wrong when she’s looking glum, makes himself available to her, and doesn’t pressure her very often to marry him instead of Don. So naturally she doesn’t think of him as anything more than a good friend. He’s concerned she’ll never respect him because, during a crisis when a significant portion of the medical staff has sampled the cafeteria’s canned meat for lunch and is carried off with food poisoning, Bill is called to perform a tracheotomy on a patient who neglected to put on her glasses and so swallowed a wasp, which has caused her throat to swell up like a balloon. He loses his nerve, and Vanda, who happens to be passing by at just the right moment, seizes the scalpel and saves the day and the patient.

Sue is unique among the VNRN heroines I’ve met to date in that she’s not a very good nurse. On one of his dates with her, Bill decides to himself that Sue is “competent and reliable, but she lacked that little extra ‘something’ that a girl needed to be really outstanding in her handling of patients. No, she’d be far better off to marry and have a family.” At the end of the book, when Sue finally does quit to get married (I won’t tell you to whom), her supervisor says, “Usually when I hear one of my younger nurses proposes to leave to be married, I’m extremely sorry. … But, in the case of Nurse Woodford, I must confess I don’t mind very much. I never thought nursing was for her a vocation and no girl makes a good nurse unless it is.”

That one of the main characters is a woman doctor is also something of a novelty. And while virtually every other VNRN insists on examining its male doctor’s hands, here it’s Vanda who is described as having hands that are “long and slender, with an odd strength about them. Capable hands. Perhaps a surgeon’s hands.”

Ring for the Nurse is a pleasant little book. Sue Woodford is, as far as heroines go, a bit of an annoying dishrag, but she does pull herself together for the final crisis, which involves dropping onto a ship from a helicopter and assisting with an emergency appendectomy. And we do have the brilliant Vanda as a counterpoint—even if she, too, is a bit spineless, chucking medicine at the first sign of trouble. (In fairness, our male heroes aren’t without fault, either, between Don’s undiagnosed depression and Bill’s losing his nerve over a fairly simple procedure.) The book on the whole is an enjoyable read, even if there isn’t a whole lot there to make it truly great. It’s not as good as its cover, but it’s worth the hour or two it will take you to buzz through it.

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