Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sea Nurse

By Diana Douglas
(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1970
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

A secret sorrow haunted Nurse Melinda Madison. She had signed on as cruise nurse to run away from a love affair that had ended in tragedy. And now she was assigned to work with Dr. Peter Raymond. She remembered him from her student nurse days. She’d had a crush on him when he was a promising young surgeon. Why was he the ship’s doctor? Was he running away, too?


“The girl’s appearance was certainly consistent with what the shipping line sought in female staff ashore and at sea.”

“Sue was also on the prowl, but not for any casual affair with a ship’s doctor. Sue’s objective was to marry wealth.”

“His body seemed lighter, younger than when fully dressed.”

“Very briefly their eyes met and he smiled at her, pleased with the way the swab had come firmly and without hesitation into his hand.”

“Enjoy your first sight of Hawaii, Lindy. It’s something you’ll never forget. Aloha-land as they call it, where Polynesia holds out her charms for your enjoyment. At a price.”

“People desperately ill sense trouble in others. Their condition sharpens their perception.”

Melinda Madison has run away to sea. She’s left her job in Los Angeles to escape the heartbreak of losing her fiance Roy to myelogenous leukemia and taken a position as a ship’s nurse aboard the cruise ship Nirvana. At her first meeting with the ship’s doctor, Peter Raymond, he’s sporting a smear of lipstick on his mouth and stale liquor on his breath. She recognizes him: She used to work as a scrub nurse when he was the house surgeon at her L.A. hospital, but two years ago he left for New York to practice open-heart surgery. After a little prodding, he remembers her, too, hazily. But he doesn’t think well of her backstory. “Sometimes we mistake pity for love,” he says. “You fell in love with a man knowing he had a terminal disease. I used to think you were a smart girl.”

Dr. Raymond is a changed man, because in L.A. he was very serious about his work and would date each nurse only once, so as not to get attached. “Peter Raymond had certainly changed from the sincere young man she had known, yet why should the change in him worry her so?” Lindy asks herself. Gosh, I wonder. He flirts with her shamelessly during an open appendectomy on a crew member: “Reaching for the suture table his face was close to hers, and she saw that his eyes were smiling above his mask.” But he’s still playing the cad with every other woman on the ship, so she shrugs him off.

Soon she meets Shane Reinhart, a newspaper tycoon on the cruise, who teaches her to surf in Hawaii and takes her snorkeling in Tahiti. Before long he’s proposed marriage. But she’s still not over Roy, so she just hangs out with him every possible minute, leading the poor man on while keeping him at arm’s length. Shane eventually spills Peter’s secret, after the good doctor punches him in the mouth for putting the moves on Lindy: Peter is escaping a scandal in which he attempted to save a girl’s life by giving her open-heart massage, but she died anyway. Though he was never convicted of wrongdoing, Peter was driven from New York by the girl’s father, who was on the medical board that reviewed the case.

As Lindy dumps Shane once and for all in Sydney, Shane proves he is a far better man than Lindy deserves and informs her that she never really loved Roy because “it has to be physical too. You can’t love a man with your mind.” He also lets her in on the fact that she really loves Peter, and has for a long time. Back on ship that night, Peter runs into her out on deck under the moonlight and tells her that in L.A. he’d been in love with her and wanted to ask her to marry him—never mind that he didn’t remember her when he saw her again on the ship. As he’s paged to the captain’s office, bringing their brief conversation to an abrupt end, the stars light up in Lindy’s eyes …

The best thing about this book is the cover. The story, at more than 200 pages, is a whole lot of nothing. Nothing really happens, none of the characters are very appealing, and apart from an occasional hint of camp, there’s no reason to read this book. It didn’t make me as seasick as Cruise Ship Nurse, the only other shipboard VNRN I’ve read, but that’s not saying much. I know of at least two more cruise nurse novels out there (a second Cruise Ship Nurse and Nurse Laurie’s Cruise), but if these don’t prove any better, I’m going to stay ashore.

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