Saturday, March 26, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
(pseud. Jean Francis Webb III), ©1961
The nurse is a captivating blonde whose profession means everything to her. Now it is all she has—her fiancé has just married another girl. The doctor is young, handsome, and eager—for money. He is a talented surgeon, a skilled practitioner. But he is willing to throw up his medical career to become a singer. They meet in an explosive romance played against the background of Hawaii’s superscientific Aloha Hospital and the plush, glamorous night clubs of Waikiki Beach.
“Jewel was so ladylike she wasn’t possible.”
“Why, I haven’t been managed by a woman since one fed me strained vegetables and changed my three-cornered pants!”
“I’m not really a bad guy. I earn my own living—one way or the other. I’m kind to animals. I help old ladies through the traffic in downtown Honolulu.”
“You, the nurse, there’s more starch in your face than in your uniform.”
“If he had been a woman, love might have been enough to make up the difference. But for men, it simply wasn’t. It never had been; it never would be. Men needed more than love.”
Cosima Arnold is a nurse at the “ultra-scientific” Aloha Hospital in Honolulu. This hospital is so cutting edge that, fifty years later, most of its technologies have yet to be put into practice in the real world. But in addition to her nursing job, she has been assigned by the millionaire benefactor of the hospital to serve as the assistant to a New York public relations wiz, Timothy Nairn, moved into the hospital temporarily at the behest of the same millionaire, to promote the career of Dr. Perry Hilton. Dr. Hilton is chucking medicine to become a lounge singer, and the millionaire wants to promote his career because he thinks this will soften the locals to his presence on the island and get his wife invited to parties. I guess that’s a little convoluted, as is Cosima’s service to Timothy—why couldn’t they just hire him a secretary?
But ours is not to question the whims of millionaires. As part of her duty to Timothy, she is sucked into his scheme to have Perry managed by a group of beautiful blonde women—it will get them more publicity—which is fine with Dr. Hilton, who has a bit of a crush on Cosima. But Coz’s heart is turned to stone, because Dale Banning, a textile executive whom she met “a few months ago” and who left “a few short weeks ago” on a business trip to London, married Pegeen O’Hara in London and let her find out by reading a squib in the London newspapers. She is never going to fall in love again! Well, we’ll just see about that, missy.
One of the other bimbos on Perry’s “Board of Blondes,” Margot Ambrose, is jonesing for a Hollywood career, and bad. She thinks she can hook herself to Perry’s wagon and turn herself into a movie star. Cosima, quickly catching on to Margot’s plan, does her best to rescue Perry from Margot’s clutches by kissing him smack on the lips in front of all the photographers after his triumphant debut at the Hibiscus Room. It apparently curls her toes something fierce, but this does not mean that she is in love with Perry! “Couldn’t they believe the simple truth?” she asks herself, the self-deluded little fool.
Meanwhile, Margot is scheming like mad. She calls Tim and tells him that if Cosima doesn’t stay away from Perry, she will tell the press that the Board of Blondes is a cheap trick to win over the locals, causing them to turn against Dr. Hilton. Then Dale turns up on Cosima’s doorstep, telling her that he only married Pegeen to put his textiles deal across and plans to take up with her where he left off. Cosima gives him the heave-ho—but he turns up later, drunk, and assaults Cosima. Not to worry, Perry arrives in the nick of time to knock out Dale, but he’s got Margot in tow, who has manipulated her way into a date with him. After Cosima, in an attempt to comply with Margot’s demand, insists that Perry leave so she can revive Dale, Margot drops a dime to both Pegeen and a photographer from a local gossip rag, who catches the tender reunion of wronged wife, straying husband, and framed nurse on film and drops it into the next edition. This only gives Margot more ammunition to use against Cosima, which she plays to further advantage. When Cosima learns that Margot is going to blackmail Perry into taking her to Hollywood with him—he’s just landed a movie contract of his own—she realizes—gosh!—“I’m in love with Perry!”—how in the world will she save him from the evil Margot?
The futuristic medicine of the is pretty far out: meals are prepared electronically and pop out of a slot in the wall, surgery happens in the patient’s own room under a hermetically sealed tent, and one nurse manages an entire ward of 24 patients by television and electronically recorded vital signs. Sure, most of that is totally off base and displays a bit of ignorance on Ethel Hamill’s part on the details of how medicine is actually practiced. But it shows that the author put some thought and care into this book—and besides, it does predict the linking of computers by telephone.
It’s not just its utopian tinges that make this book a cut well above the usual VNRN. The writing is more sophisticated, which becomes apparent with the first two sentences: “Awakening to a sudden, vivacious life of its own, the tiny light above the reception desk at dead center of Unit Three, Aloha Hospital, began to wink at her. It winked with the vigor of an eye attempting to rid itself of grit.” We are regularly hit with vocabulary words like pulchritude and sequent, and the book assumes a level of sophistication in the reader, as when we are told that the millionaire sold, among other properties, “his town house on Russian Hill”—we are supposed to know that Russian Hill is in San Francisco. (Which I did, so I was flattered.) The plot twists are almost Machiavellian, and it’s sometimes a bit of an effort to keep up. But this I can forgive, because at least the author has put some thought into this story, and besides, there’s a little surprise at the end that finally squelches Margot. This book is a little gem, and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Hamill’s work.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
The road to becoming a good nurse, Nina Grant discovered, was strewn with many pitfalls. A nurse could not afford even one mistake—because it could prove fatal. Yet she had made one error in judgment, had confessed to a moment of carelessness. One more error would mean dismissal, the end of the work she loved, the end to her strange bitter-sweet relationship with Dr. Halpern. Then an epidemic struck, testing every facet of her skill and courage. Nina Grant and Dr. Halpern found the strength to fight it … and something more …
“I have none of the social graces, she thought wryly. They didn’t teach me those in the orphanage.”
“I want to wear my new bathing suit. The saleslady said it would do things for me, and it certainly did. It emptied my pocketbook.”
“Now the trouble with me is that no man gives me a second look except Bill, and I suspect he needs glasses bad.”
“Did Miss Susan think she actually—well, chased men? Oh, how awful!”
Nina Grant has just finished her training as a regular old RN, and has signed on for another year at White Shepherd Hospital in Dallas, where she will learn to be a pediatric RN. You just have no idea how hard it is to take care of kids. It’s a wonder they let just any woman at all become a mother. If she makes one teensy, weensy mistake, she’s out on her ear. Well, she starts off with a doozy, stopping before the hospital door to retouch her makeup, when out barges this guy and bumps into her, knocking her bag out of her hands and spilling her beauty secrets all over the steps. She despises him on sight—and then when she sees him a few days later in the caf and tells him to stay away from her. So guess who he turns out to be? It won’t take you long, because in true VNRN fashion, he’s the chief of staff, Dr. Enoc Halpern. (Enoc? Really? Just who thinks up these names?) She’s horrified, of course, as much as with him as at her own blunder. He’s jaunty, joking, and casual. Of course, he’s a fantastic doctor—“If only he could act more dignified, as a great doctor should!”
But soon there’s another blotch on her record: on the night shift, when she is alone on the ward, a child falls out of bed when the side rail is not locked in place. It’s the sort of error that could have killed little Mellie! She can’t believe she didn’t lock the rail, but she’s the only one on the ward—she must have left it down. The fact that she’d just found seven-year-old Andy wandering out of another child’s room never enters her mind—so she confesses to the crime and takes the pink sheet of shame and a week’s suspension.
This is especially hard on her because she fears everyone will think less of her—“I’m no longer the perfect nurse in their eyes, she thought wryly. They know I’m human too.” And what will Dr. Enoc think? Nina still doesn’t really get the good doctor, but he has shown interest in her progress as a trainee. And then, we are told, “there was something—a strange something—that had been sparkling between them from the day they had chased a cheap lipstick down the stairs.” Now, I just absolutely despise having to learn about a burgeoning romance in this way—it’s lazy and insulting. If we haven’t seen it for ourselves in the interactions between the characters, then it isn’t really there, and this is just a backhanded, cheating way of accomplishing the heavy lifting the author should have been doing all along.
So how can we bring our protagonists together? Here’s a novel idea—how about an epidemic? This time it’s diphtheria, which allows the book to go on a little rant about parents who don’t vaccinate their children: “They feel safe, for what they don’t hear about, or know about firsthand, they tend to ignore sometimes.” If the book gets to rant, so do I: Today parents are not ignoring the issue but willfully choosing not to vaccinate, sure their children will have a bad reaction (though the odds of this are 12.1 per 1 million doses, or 0.00121%, in a recent study of the flu vaccine) while paradoxically convinced at the same time they will not contract a vaccine-preventable disease that could possibly kill them (300 children and 42,000 adults die every year of these illnesses).
Anyhoo, there they are, locked on the infectious diseases ward, where the regulations require the nurses get eight hours of sleep nightly, eat nutritious meals, and shampoo their hair every other day. It’s no wonder that after six weeks of eight-hours-on, eight-hours-off shifts, they fall into each others’ arms in the kitchen when she slips in a puddle of water and he catches her. There’s still 25 more pages of book to get through, so we have to wade through Nina’s manufactured insecurities about whether Dr. Halpern’s wealthy family will accept her, and, in a first among the VNRNs I’ve read to date, we actually get to attend the wedding, but not the reception, and certainly not the honeymoon—for that you’ll have to read something a lot more current.
This is another one of those books that debates the nurse vs. human being question, and comes down squarely on the side of caring for the patients: “The best nurses are the human ones,” we are told in the very first chapter. Nina is told by Dr. Halpern after one of her favorite patients dies, that children need “tender loving care … as much as the medicines I prescribe.” Nurses who “love them with all their hearts and souls, as you do,” he says, are the very best. After he leaves, Nina thinks, “You make me feel so human, Dr. Enoc.” Later, after she’s spent a week socializing at her roommate’s wedding, the bookworm realizes she enjoys hanging out with the boys: “I guess I’m human after all, not just a nurse,” she thinks.
For its flaws, this is actually a pretty good book. It hums briskly along, and is a more laid-back cousin of Emergency Ward Nurse. I liked the main characters, though I wish there were a lot fewer peripheral ones: I counted 15 patients with names and stories, not to mention the scores of others we just zip past. In addition to the kids, you also have to manage the more than 40 named characters that inhabit the hospital. There are also countless pediatric illnesses to learn about: pyloric stenosis, leukemia, burns, diabetes, nasopharyngitis, swallowed nickels, tonsillitis, traffic accidents—they’re all there, and much, much more. It’s a nurse novel that also wants to be a medical textbook and a telephone directory. But it’s an entertaining read, even if it’s not very campy, and easily worth your time.
 Liang XF, Li L, Liu DW et al, “Safety of Influenza A (H1N1) Vaccine in Postmarketing Surveillance in China,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2011 Feb 17;364(7):638-647.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Achievements in public health, 1900–1999: Control of infectious diseases. MMWR. 1999 Jul 30;48(29):621-9.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
(pseud. William Daniel Ross), ©1967
It’s winter in New York, and one of Nurse Beth Kane’s patients is successful actor and playwright Neil Callum, hospitalized for a broken leg after he fell down the icy steps of a friend’s house on East 64th Street. He is always saying charmingly cantankerous things like, “You should be an actress. You’re pretty enough and apparently without any common sense as well. An infallible combination.”
He’s supposed to be wintering in the Bahamas, at the hotel he owns in Nassau, but of course this darned leg is keeping him penned up in frosty Manhattan. He’ll be discharged in a week, however, and he wants Beth, the prettiest nurse on the staff, to go with him to manage his recuperation. Conveniently, Beth’s boyfriend, Dr. Jim, drops the bombshell over a dinner date that he’s engaged to a secretary back home, which he just forgot to mention up till now, and that he just got a letter from her for the first time in a year. Turns out she’s been locked away in a tuberculosis sanatorium, and he feels compelled to rush back to her side. So Beth is a free woman. Now if only she could afford a trip to Nassau … enter the registered letter from an attorney’s office on 38th Street. One of her patients, who died a year ago, has left her $10,000. It’s not at all clear why she needs this inheritance to make the trip, since Neil is paying her way and a salary, and has offered to allow her to stay on at his hotel at a reduced rate when he’s well. But we have to find some way to fill the pages, and now she can discuss investments with her friends and date the attorney who gave her the check.
Despite the back cover blurb, in Nassau Beth really has little to do with Neil, who insists right away that he can manage everything on his own, and he is never a serious contender for her affections. So she’s left to party with Dr. Steve Craig, who works too much at the local hospital for her to consider him a serious romantic possibility though he is a divine dancer, and Karl Main, a talented pianist with a serious personality disorder. The second time she meets Karl, he tells her that she had “better let any interested parties know that you’re in love with me.” If he’s not telling her how charming he is, he’s running down his job, the “dump” where he works, and even himself—he warns her he is a rogue “without principle.” He drives way too fast and is frequently in “one of his bitter moods.” Beth worries about him, thinking, “he had an inner desire to destroy his life.” And she goes out with him whenever he calls, although “she couldn’t exactly explain why.”
Beth eventually becomes friends with Karl’s ex-fiancée Diana Wilson when the two women, Dr. Steve, and Karl hustle off to Iguana Island to help stem an epidemic of St. Louis encephalitis there. Diana is broken-hearted over her breakup with Karl, and has quit drinking in an effort to win him back. Minutes after advising Diana that if she talks to Karl they may be able to patch things up, Beth ponders whether she should marry Karl herself, the two-faced bitch. Though she has never expressed any sort of love for Karl, just “fondness and pity,” she “still wasn’t certain whether it was Karl or Steve who held the key to her heart.” She thinks that perhaps she could give Karl “a calm guiding hand” to help him make the most of his talents, which will surely make for a lasting and successful marriage. In the remaining 15 pages, she saves Diana from a coma by digging deep into her years of training as a nurse and screaming until help comes, returns to her job at the hospital in New York, and out of the clear blue “realized now how much she loved” the young fella who turns up on her doorstep, vowing to change his ways. Bleah.
The writing is strangely bipolar. We frequently receive humorous quips from Neil with virtually every utterance that drops from his lips, yet the prose outside the quotation marks is fairly leaden; it’s almost as if author Dan Ross, here writing as Rose Dana, got a little help with his lines. (And I couldn’t help but notice that one of Beth’s patients is referred to as “the dark girl” exactly 13 times in the 14 pages on which she appears, making me wonder just what was up with that.) The author loves Manhattan and is constantly giving us locations for the action, such as “Beth Kane came up the steps from the subway station at Seventh Avenue and Fiftieth Street,” “her tiny third floor apartment only a couple of blocks from Washington Square,” “Andy’s was a small restaurant on 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.” We certainly spend a lot of time there for a book ostensibly about a nurse in Nassau, and it’s enjoyable enough to follow Beth around the city. But once she gets to the Bahamas, her fretting over Karl is just perplexing, considering what an unstable ass he is, and the story falls off a cliff. If you love New York yourself, that might give you reason to read this book, but otherwise, either avoid it completely or just put it down once the big white cruise ship leaves the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline passes over horizon.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Being studio nurse meant for golden-haired Lori Todd sharing all the excitement of Hollywood picture-making, as well as taking care of Producer Mike Lancaster’s ulcer. Mike’s worry was the picture that would never be finished… Lori had two worries. Handsome Mace Hunter, test pilot for Pacific Aircraft, who persisted in risking his life daily for the sheer adventure of it… and naval Lieutenant Dirk Patou. The future Dirk offered Lori was both stable and secure, and in his white uniform Dirk was every bit as handsome as the test pilot who simply would not listen to reason…
“ ‘Bill Cox has an iron hand,’ she reminded him. ‘He’ll spank her if she doesn’t follow orders.’ ”
“Sleeping keeps me from drinking coffee.”
“ ‘What he needs,’ Lori theorized, ‘is a good wife to take care of him and boss him around.’ ”
“I didn’t know you’d look so fragile and blonde in your uniform.”
“Hildegarde, maybe if you’d have gone to charm school, like I suggested, you’d have a job somewhere else by now.”
Lori Todd lives in a rooming house off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with four other people, plus the landlord and the “colored” cook. She’s a nurse at Richlieu Pictures in Culver City, where she ministers to extras and tries to encourage the spoiled leading lady, Wendy Wilks, to show up on time and put a little effort into her acting. It’s not working. Wendy is the daughter of the millionaire who is bankrolling the film, and if she feels like taking three days off to go party in Las Vegas, well, that’s what she’s going to do.
But truthfully, Lori is about as detrimental to the film as the apathetic starlet. Right off the bat, in Chapter 2, she brings her landlady’s dog to work with her because, “being a city dog, he doesn’t get the exercise he needs.” In the middle of shooting a scene involving a large number of extras and a horse, the dog, which Lori has not even put on a leash, runs onto the set and spooks the horse, which plunges through the crowd, injuring five people. A woman loses a front tooth, another sustains a concussion, and one man has two broken vertebrae and has to remain in the hospital for “an indefinite number of weeks.” Lori gives not one moment’s thought to her role in this tragedy, instead concentrating on the superstition that “accidents always came in threes.”
And she doesn’t waste much time bringing on the next catastrophe. She’s concerned that director Mike Lancaster is developing an ulcer, and insists that he take a few weeks off. This means that Mike, who has been gently coaxing Wendy through her role, is replaced by an assistant director who is a bit less patient. In his very first day on the set with Wendy, he is filming a scene in which she has to ride a burro. It turns out that Wendy has a pathological fear of burros. “It was one of those things requiring psychoanalysis to be understood,” deduces Lori, the medical marvel, and frankly, I think Wendy would find the time and money involved in getting to the bottom of this phobia well worth the effort. But at the traumatic moment, when Wendy, quaking with fear, insists on getting off the burro, the assistant director calls her “some little dumb, spoiled doll,” and Wendy up and quits.
This could spell ruin for Richlieu Pictures. Mike is on the hook for $750,000 to Wendy’s father—“the figure seemed tremendously big, like the national debt,” Lori thinks—so without a finished film to release, the studio will go bankrupt. Lori is deputized to break the news to Mike, on holiday in Hawaii. His reaction—and sensitive readers may wish to avert their eyes here—is, “Oh—rats!” Lori helpfully reminds him, “You said yourself that the picture was jinxed—that it would never be released. If it hadn’t been this, it would probably have been something else.” What a thoughtful thing to say.
When Lori’s not building up the spirits of her director, she’s worrying about her boyfriend, Mace, a test pilot, because, you know, those planes could crash! Mace even proposes, but she tells him, “I’ll never marry you as long as you’re a test pilot.” Which essentially puts that relationship on ice. Not to worry, though—the nephew of her landlady is a hot Navy lieutenant who went to Annapolis. Dirk is putting the moves on Lori on their first date, and is speaking of marriage on their second—right before he sails off for three weeks. When the landlady starts planning the reception, Lori nods and smiles.
Back at work, director Mike has dug an old script that his father wrote out of the closet, phoned Central Casting, and now he has a hot property on his hands. Everything is going very well, “But then she remembered—trouble comes in threes.” So Lori is not at all surprised when one of the lighting guys topples off a scaffold. He’s a hemophiliac, and Lori turns to her ex-boyfriend Mace to fly the man to see a cardiologist. This is of no use whatsoever, because it turns out the patient has an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Because of his hemophilia, the doctors can’t operate, and the patient has only six months to live. Lori bravely visits the patient, who tells her he can’t wait to get out of the hospital so he can find a new home for his little dog. “Sure good thing I’m a widower and not leaving a wife behind. Only my sister.” Another job well done for Lori.
But with disaster number three over with, we can have a really great party celebrating the premiere of Mike’s fabulous new Oscar contender!!! And pick out a husband, too!!
Studio Nurse is not impossible to get through, but it’s nothing really special. Despite the fact that you’re supposed to be inside this movie studio, you really don’t get much of an idea of what it’s like to make a movie, beyond the stereotypical nursing of the petulant star. With over 30 characters to keep track of, it’s a little confusing trying to remember what’s going on. And it’s never a good sign when you pick up a book again, having laid it aside the night before, and have to flip through it to remember what the plot is and the main character’s name. And our protagonist is not the most endearing heroine I’ve ever met, even if she is perky and blonde. The book isn’t badly written, but it’s just not very much fun. Which doesn’t give you very much reason to read it.
Monday, March 7, 2011
(pseud. Alan Jackson), ©1960