Sunday, September 25, 2011

Doctor’s Nurse

By Dorothy Worley, ©1961
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Attractive Patricia Lloyd, R.N., had two problems—both of them doctors. Dr. Jeffrey Wayne was handsome, mature and mysteriously drawn to Patricia, beyond the call of duty. Dr. Bill Gregory was young, very much in love and intensely jealous. Caught between the two, Patricia found her personal emotions—and professional duty—in sudden and grave danger.


“I wish you’d worn something besides pedal pushers today. I have guests coming for dinner.”

“There are other things in life besides marriage.”
“Not for a woman there isn’t.”

“You’re spoiled. You should have been spanked every day of your life.”

Rich girls have all the luck. They’re beautiful, everyone is in love with them, and they get to do whatever they want with your life. Even be a nurse. Of course, their beautiful society mothers are always going to be nagging them to give it up and get married, but they just move out into their own apartments. Some handsome doctor is always trailing around after them, begging them to get married, but they tell him no, kiss him a little, and send him home. Such is the life of Patricia Lloyd. She’s not ready to settle down, but Dr. Bill Gregory, who has loved her since she was in elementary school, will hang around until she is.

And then Dr. Jeff Wayne, age 48, the new chief of staff, moves to town and picks Patricia above all the other nurses – though she never even applied for the job – as his nurse. Pat’s longtime friend Donna, who has had nothing her entire life – her father left her mother for another woman, she had to hold a job all through high school to support her family, her mother committed suicide, and every man she’s ever loved has loved Pat instead – finally snaps and begins spreading vicious gossip about Pat and Dr. Wayne all over town. Dr. Wayne does show a lot of interest in Pat, inviting her to stay at his house to befriend his five-year-old daughter, Barbara, who has an undiagnosed medical problem that leaves her listless, exhausted, and unable to walk some days, and perfectly healthy on others.

The fiercely overprotective governess, Mrs. MacDugal, gives Barbara medicine that makes her sleep all afternoon, which everyone in the house is aware of except her father. Pat smells paregoric, a narcotic medication, on Barbara’s breath, and Pat’s dog, which Pat frequently brings to visit Barbara, is poisoned. Has Mrs. MacDugal mentioned that she despises dogs? Oh, yes, numerous times. The truth of what is going on here is no surprise, certainly not to the astute reader, who can figure this out by page 40. The real mystery is why no one, most of all the trained nurse, ever speaks to Barbara’s father about their concerns.

Another “mystery” of the book is why Pat does not at all resemble her father, Tom. A letter to Pat’s mother, Ilone, found by Pat’s father and shown to Pat, is mentioned early but never explained. Ilone says her first marriage was for love, but Pat knows that Ilone never really loved Tom Lloyd. Then we have the unexplained attentions of Dr. Wayne, a man old enough to be Pat’s father ...

The book concludes with a double crisis: number one, when Pat finally tells her suspicions of Mrs. MacDugal to Dr. Wayne, including the fact that sometimes Barbara smells of whisky (news to the reader), and he decides to fire the governess, and number two, when Donna, who has been “heading for a crackup,” finally decides to do herself in. Both these calamities has been bearing down on the reader like slow-moving dump truck for most of the book, yet they somehow manage to zoom past in mere paragraphs, offering absolutely no excitement, surprise, or satisfaction. The book is not badly written, but it has no spark and not a shred of humor or camp. You can do a lot worse than Doctor’s Nurse, but you can certainly do a bit better.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Night Call

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1961
Cover illustration by Robert Abbett

To Nurse Lyn Jennings, hurrying through Carter Memorial’s cool white corridors, emergencies were part of the life she had chosen—the challenging, exciting world of a hospital at night:
—in the operating room, a valiant struggle to stem a sudden hemorrhage—
—in 212, a lonely, crying child, afraid to go to sleep without its mother—
—in the driveway, an ambulance shrieking to a halt after a race with death, bearing the victims of a highway collision—
—in the darkened supply room, storage place for drugs and narcotics, a mysterious figure moving toward a cabinet,

no longer able to resist temptation.


“There’s nothing like having a baby to reveal a woman as she truly is.”

“As a surgeon he was a good butcher.”

“I wish you two were married. When a man is in trouble he needs a woman.”

“Her superbly brassièred bosom heaved a sympathetic sigh.”

Lyn Jennings works the night shift at Carter Memorial in Carter, Ohio, with surgeons Dr. Arthur, the assistant chief of staff, and Dr. Seymour, the chief of staff. In the opening pages, a local alcoholic attorney and bastard hits another car and “finally” kills someone. Brought to the hospital with a major hemorrhage, he dies on the table in the OR when the surgery appeared to be finished—but then a new bleeder mysteriously opens up and the surgeons, Dr. Seymour and Lyn’s boyfriend, Tim Neil, are unable to stop it.

Lab tech and hospital gossip Nat Willis thinks one of the surgeons made a slip with the scalpel. The attorney had it coming, everyone agrees, but the attorney’s wife sues the hospital over his death, and a major scandal erupts. The hospital itself, according to Lyn’s astute perception, seems “tossed in the troubled wake” of the crisis, “filled with a plaguing unease, a dysphoria that touched even the sickest patient.” The building has so many feelings this book almost counts as a gothic novel.

No one who was at the table is talking, but the gossip around the hospital—and the town—is that it was junior surgeon Tim’s fault. It seems some people in town—like the manager of the local high-end department store—have information that clearly comes from inside the hospital, like that the cause of death was a severed inferior epigastric artery. “He doesn’t know his inferior epigastric artery from his astragalus,” says another nurse in an obscure reference to the ankle. Who’s spilling the beans?

Lyn is frantic with worry about what this will do to Tim’s reputation, and then, to make it worse, Tim is removed from OR duties. Tim himself has nothing to say about this, and indeed in the two or three dates we observe between the couple in the entire book, he says little at all, mostly just lying on the grassy bank of a stream and watching the clouds while Lyn respectfully observes him and his silence. What exactly she is attracted to remains a mystery, but I guess there’s someone out there for everyone.

Then Lyn is strangled by someone walking with a staggering gait that she almost recognizes—who could it be? Narcotics are missing from the hospital, it is eventually revealed, and slowly her suspicions turn, no matter how reluctantly, to Tim—it would explain the slip in the OR!

This book gives us a lot of questions—Lyn is strangled by someone with “strong efficient hands that had strangled people before,” who is spilling the hospital’s secrets around town? Why wasn’t Dr. Seymour’s wife (his second) not home in the middle of the night?—and few of them actually get answered. It’s shades of Nurse Kathy, though perhaps not as extreme. Confusion also stems from trying to keep track of the 66 characters that populate this book; a dramatis personae would have been helpful. I did have to wonder what Adeline was thinking in creating this extensive cast. It might be more realistic, but did she really think it would be helpful to her book? At 190 pages, it’s a bit over-long, since there’s not all that much to the plot, and the extra pages seem to further only the hand-wringing, angst, and unanswered questions, which it could have done with less of. It’s not a bad book, but it really didn’t deserve this magnificent cover.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Psychiatric Nurse

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1967
Cover illustration by Armand Weston

Nurse Tracy Ross had many reasons for going home. Her mother needed her … and she needed a rest from the terrible strain she had been under. But her welcome was marred by the shocking realization that you can’t go home again. The problems she fled were neither as immediate nor as difficult as the ones she faced now. Back in her home town, she found herself working with a doctor with whom she had once been violently in love. That was hard enough in itself … but even more difficult was the terrible secret she carried within her breast. Ethically, she could not reveal it … but if she kept it hidden, many lives were doomed to tragedy!


“And why shouldn’t it rub him the wrong way to be informed in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t the six-foot bundle of perfection which he seemed to believe he was?”

Once again, we find that Florence Stonebraker has teased us again with her title. Tracy Ross is actually working in pediatrics, but she used to be a psychiatric nurse. It was then that she first met Fern Wilson, a volunteer at the hospital who appears more than a little unbalanced. She tells a seven-year-old girl dying of leukemia that she is going to burn in hell after she dies, and when a mysterious fire erupts outside of town, most people think it was started by “a bunch of juvenile delinquents,” but Tracy knows better. Unfortunately, her professional oath prevents her from alerting the town to the fact that there’s a nut job in their midst.

Fern (again, as in College Nurse, Florence has named a character after her pseudonym) is doing well since Tracy last saw her; she is now engaged to widower Dr. Bert Brooks, the hospital chief of staff. But she’s not taking well to Bert’s daughter, Cathy, who is seven. She accuses Cathy of having stolen a photograph of Bert’s deceased wife out of his study and burned it, and Bert locks Cathy in her room for an entire day because Cathy says it was actually Fern who took and burned the photo.

Tracy knew Bert when they were children, and had been hopelessly smitten with him, crying during his wedding for the wrong reasons. Now she’s not sure how she feels about him. Bert is suave, handsome, “ambitious to attract wealthy patients and cash in on his work,” and would have “done wonderfully well as a con man,” as many of his aging women patients fall under his spell and leave him a bundle after their deaths, and never mind about that little conflict of interest in someone whose profession is purportedly to keep people alive. But her long-standing relationship with him puts Tracy in a unique position to be able to try to set Bert straight. She tells him that though he may be successful professionally, he’s “a failure as a person” and “a spoiled, irresponsible mama’s boy.” Needless to say, he isn’t exactly brought around to Tracy’s way of thinking about himself or Fern.

In the meantime, Tracy has Dr. Larry Sizer on her side at the hospital. Larry agrees that Fern is a lunatic, since the leukemia patient was his, but Larry doesn’t have a lot of influence with Bert, who is trying to get Larry kicked out of the hospital because he occasionally uses hypnosis in his treatments. So even though her ethics have kept her from spilling the beans about Fern to Bert, there she is, before the book is half over, telling Larry about how Fern was brought into the psych hospital “dangerously berserk,” but after shock treatments and analysis, she underwent a miracle cure and was dismissed from the hospital as cured. Larry’s take on this is that Tracy is still in love with Bert and is jealous, even though he thinks Fern is a “vapid-faced … first-class idiot.” So she and Larry fight a lot, then literally kiss and make up, then fight some more.

Eventually Fern drives Tracy to the outskirts of town and tries to shoot her, but Tracy calls on her training and uses a “trick she had learned through practice, how to twist and hold helpless the arm of a deranged patient,” pitches the gun out the window, clubs Fern on the head and escapes on foot back to town. But Fern has beaten her there and told Bert that it was Tracy who was the attacker. She has also told Bert that she was admitted to the asylum—to research the treatment of the insane for a book she was writing, and she was just pretending to be a lunatic while she was there. In the meantime, Fern has planted stolen jewelry in Cathy’s room and helped Bert find it, so Bert has concluded that his daughter is “pre-psychotic” and needs to be committed. He tells this to Tracy when he meets her after the attack, and suggests that Tracy herself needs to check in for a little rest.

That night, Cathy runs away to Tracy’s house, having escaped out the window from her room, where Bert has locked her again. Larry scoops up Cathy and Tracy and carts them off to his cabin in the woods, which many VNRN doctors seem to own for the sole purpose of sheltering persecuted nurses until their would-be assassin tracks them down there just minutes before the hero walks in and saves her. Psychiatric Nurse runs true to the form, except that Fern unexpectedly lights herself on fire and burns to death rather than be caught: “Daddy, I’m on my way,” she screams as she sprints for her stash of kerosene outside. “You always said I’d burn in hell for being so naughty, and here I go!” This may well be the most magnificent VNRN stage exit to date.

We know this is a book about psychiatry because it is packed with technical jargon: little Cathy is “seriously deranged,” Tracy fears she is “cracking up,” Larry worries he is “going nuts,” Bert believes Fern was never a “mental case,” Bert’s housekeeper thinks Bert has “lost some of his marbles,” Tracy recalls the basic rule from psychiatric training, “never let a psycho know you are afraid.” Tracy is not the most endearing heroine, as she regularly turns peevish on Bert and Larry, and even Fern, in the role of beautiful evil vixen, isn’t what she could be. The plot holds promise, but it just wasn’t executed all that well. The writing is nowhere near Florence’s best (consider that I could only find one decent Best Quote), and just grinds through the story without inspiration or even much interest. Sometimes Florence has got it, and sometimes she doesn’t. In Psychiatric Nurse, not so much.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Settlement Nurse

By Rosie M. Banks
(pseud. Alan Jackson), ©1959

Cover illustration by Bob Abbett

Cindy anxiously watched her delirious patient. Kenneth Randall was a new experience for her. To the older nurses from the settlement house he was just another drifter—a vagrant who moved from one cheap hotel room to another, from one misery to the next. But Cindy saw only a man who needed her as no one ever had. It was her job to save him. But from what? His past was a mystery. And what of his future? Did it depend on the show girl who had left her green stockings in his room? Suddenly Cindy was shocked to realize that she was actually jealous of a woman she had never seen. It was ridiculous—but it had happened. Cindy was falling in love with a strange man she hadn’t even spoken to!


“His was a difficult age, Henry knew, but the trouble was it looked as if that difficult age was going to last a lifetime.”

“Seventeen is an age when moral lectures are not welcome—if indeed they ever are.”

“That girl is no place for a young man.”

“The young tip well from inexperience and insecurity; Americans always tip well. Kip was both, and therefore almost more priceless than rubies to any waiter who knew his way about.”

“Cindy wasn’t tired, because she was nineteen, had just had a wonderful, perfumed hot bath, and was clad in a brand-new pink silk negligee that would cost her daddy close to a hundred dollars.”

“Surgeons and actors have got to be conceited; to be any good they have to believe they’re the best.”

“What the patient now needed was, as he often explained in his lectures, not the will to live—an amoeba probably has that—but the will to be active.”

“One of the joys of a nurse’s uniform, Cindy was discovering, was that it allowed you to speak far more frankly and at ease than would ordinarily be possible.”

“Everything’s fake about her except, I am sorry to say, her hair and figure.”

Lucinda Warren leaves the Helena Apdorf Settlement House, where she works as a visiting nurse’s aide for poor patients who aren’t sick enough to go into the hospital, and changes trains three times before ending up at a seedy garage on 51st Street between Third and Second Avenues in Manhattan. There Cindy climbs into a tobacco-brown Jaguar and drives home to her family’s estate in Manhasset on Long Island. She’s hiding her wealthy background from her fellow workers at the Settlement House because she doesn’t want them to think she’s just having some weird rich-girl fun; she’s quite serious about her work, except that she’s not actually a nurse (despite the title) and does not have any plans to become one, and she only works one day a week.

On the job she meets Kip Randall, a drunken sot who is the son of two famous movie stars. His father is deceased and his mother has recently lost every dime and so cannot support him in his alcoholic binges. He is passed out, unshaven, half-dressed (he does have his pants on), and quotes poetry (Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe) to them, and Cindy leaves the disheveled slum he lives in thinking she could fall in love with him. Despite the fact that she is unofficially engaged to Brent Harwood, Harvard grad but rather a dope; she enjoys making literary allusions to him because “he seemed never to have read a book.” He just doesn’t make her swoon, and “still a girl should be allowed a swoon now and then. And why couldn’t she swoon at the sight of her husband—just a few times at first, say? A girl has a right to swoon.”

It’s an odd match-up, and I couldn’t help watch the relationship between Kip and Cindy develop with a jaundiced eye—another miracle cure attributed to Cupid?—but in truth, Kip’s recovery from alcoholism is somewhat realistic. We’re shown several times that Kip feels he has nowhere to go but up: “He’d talked an awful lot about straightening himself out, but he’d always put it off. Now there could be no more postponement. He’d just about hit rock bottom. … and so at long last, the real and true moment of decision was present, and Kit was facing it.” He’s attracted to her, and they go out to dinner, and even kiss in the cab. But when Cindy tells him that she’s in love with him, Kip does not echo the sentiment. He could not be in love with her for a while, he thinks to himself, because he has to learn to stand on his own before he can get really involved with her. He doesn’t even sail through recovery; he has a bad patch where he starts drinking again and doesn’t show up for work for a week.

Of course, Cindy’s subterfuge about being wealthy is exposed, and she gets a stern lecture, but the head nurses really like her, so it’s all right. Then it turns out that Cindy’s father has earned his money through some shady investment deals that have come to light, and now they’re broke. This—and a new job offer writing for daytime television—gets Kip to commit to sobriety, and to Cindy. “He’s marrying me for my no money,” she tells her father.

Despite this somewhat facile ending, it’s still a cute book. The writing is quite good, and it’s a smart and an enjoyable read. It’s one of the few “nurse” romance novels that is not about a real nurse, and it ends in an actual wedding, which is surprisingly uncommon—I think I’ve seen it only once or twice before. I must again say that I am totally impressed by the fact that the author chose the pseudonym Rosie M. Banks, a fictional character who writes romantic dreck such as Madcap Myrtle and A Red, Red Summer Rose, seen in the Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse. I hope to someday uncover who the real author was, apart from just his name. Until then, I have only the four books (s)he wrote to comfort me.