(pseud. Erolie Pearl (Dern) Gaddis), ©1959
Also published as Settlement Nurse
Nurse Andrea Drake had grown up without parents. An orphan, she felt a special sympathy for the lonely, the sick, the needy. Her work at a settlement house in the city’s worst slum brought Andrea a fulfillment she’d dreamt of. But when a new surgeon was appointed, Andrea found herself embroiled in an old tangle, for he was the doctor who had once fired her from an important nursing assignment. The stage was set for, yes, another clash between the successful, experienced surgeon and the dedicated young nurse—and only brilliant Dr. Steve Jordan stood between them …
“ ‘Well, saints preserve us, and such-like expressions of wonder and gratitude!’ murmured Brad, awed. ‘The Ice Maiden is at last succumbing to my charms!’ ”
“I have to see you kick your whole nursing career into a cocked hat by daring to ‘sass’ one of these lordly beings, a doctor!”
“It’s blasphemy for a nurse even to think, let alone hint, that doctors, all of them, aren’t the smartest, wisest and most impregnable creatures in existence!”
“When a pretty girl speaks of another as a raving beauty, that means one of two things: either she doesn’t like the other gal, or else she’s jealous of her.”
I seem to be on a roll lately with feisty nurses who get themselves into trouble by spouting off (see Nurse on the Beach). Andrea Drake’s downfall came when she refused to carry out the orders of the famed and renowned Dr. Jason McCullers, diagnosing the “heart attack” that the patient was supposed to be suffering from as shingles. It turned out she was right, and the medication she was ordered to give the patient would have killed the patient (though from a medical standpoint this seems a bit sketchy), but Dr. McCullers isn’t in the least grateful; apparently he would rather have a dead patient and a thriving reputation than the opposite. So he’s drummed her out of nursing at his hospital and blacklisted her with every doctor in town for insubordination. But she’s not really broken up about it, for she lands a job at the Judson Settlement House, caring for the poor, the unwashed, the toothless. She’s an orphan herself, see, so she sympathizes with the down and out folks who really need her and call her Miss Andy.
As fate would have it, one of her last patients at Dr. McCullers’ hospital was an elderly woman who died without family and left Andrea a tenement building in the slums not far from where she works and a few thousand dollars to fix it up. Everyone tells Andrea she’s insane to consider keeping it, but you just can’t tell this gal what to do, so she spends all the cash inheritance to fix up and furnish the apartment that the old lady had lived in. She’s thrilled to have a home of her own for the first time in her life, and she plans to eventually redo all the other apartments, so her building will be a shining example of the middle class in a sea of poverty, inspiring the poor slobs around her to better themselves.
She’s home one day when there’s a knock on the door. It’s Dr. Steve Jordan, who wants to set up an office in the neighborhood. He interned with Dr. McCullers, who feels Steve ought to go into a lucrative practice and marry his daughter, Merry McCullers, but Steve wants to work in the slums for a year or two to gain valuable experience before he moves uptown. He rents the apartment across the hall from Andrea’s and sets up his office there. Andrea, forthright gal that she is, tells him at the outset that she has been blacklisted from the hospital and why, and he explodes in righteous anger and tells her that she will never work on a case of his!!! Whatever, she says, and moves on.
There’s a lot of fighting between the two, not improved when Dr. Steve diagnoses the upstairs neighbor as having a heart attack and Andrea suggests that he might want to consider shingles on his list of differential diagnoses. He runs a few more tests, and guess what? She’s right! Again! It takes several chapters before Dr. Steve forgives her for this, and he screams at her for telling the entire neighborhood about his blunder and ruining his practice, which she has not done, but he doesn’t apologize for that mistake, either. Curiously, Andrea has some fondness for Steve anyway. When spoiled brat Merry McCullers comes around to see Steve and screams in horror at the mossy patients in his waiting room, Steve comforts her in a way that makes Andrea see green.
Then Andrea catches an overweight 16-year-old trying to break into the medicine cabinet at the Settlement House for drugs to kill herself because she’s fat and unattractive and a certain boy won’t even look at her. After Andrea calms down the secretary, who wants to murder the girl herself for thinking of killing herself—“I’ll turn her across my knee and wallop her for the silly little fool she is,” the secretary says in a fairly common VNRN attitude about suicide—Andrea puts the girl on a diet. “You’ll get that boy, or one even better, just as soon as we can get you slimmed down and prettied up!” she says, and gets the idea to start a charm school for all the other fat, unattractive gals in the slum, another one of her neighborhood beautification.
Mrs. Judson, the wealthy old dowager who endowed the Judson Settlement House, has to go into the hospital for cancer, and insists that Andrea go with her as her special nurse. After a big row with Dr. McCullers, money has its way and Andrea packs her bags and takes a temporary leave of absence from the Settlement House. A couple of months later, she returns home to find Merry McCullers now frothing over the Settlement House gym teacher. “It’s got to be love, I’m sure,” says the secretary. “If you could see them together! He bosses her shamefully, and she loves it. I don’t suppose anybody ever dared try it before. But it seems to be just what the doctor ordered!”
Steve comes over for dinner and tells her he loves his disheveled patients so much that he’s never going to leave the slum. Then he proposes, saying that she’s “a pretty sassy piece when you disagree with a diagnosis … but for the wife of a doctor, it could be a very valuable trait.” It’s not clear if this means he has decided to allow her to work with him, or if she’s just supposed to be an armchair consultant, but no matter, she’s all for it. Cue Dr. McCullers, who shows up on her doorstep, declares her to be an excellent nurse and offers her a job at the hospital, followed shortly by the fat suicidal girl, now slimmer and with a clear complexion, and all is right in the world.
I did enjoy that the heroine had more than a little bit of spine to her. The ideas about how to beautify the slum—they’re not going to give everyone a fish, but a fishing pole—are mostly sound, and certainly not patronizing. Beautifying the girls is a different matter, but this is a book written in 1959 by an author from Georgia, so I’ll cut it some slack there. I do wonder how Steve and Andrea can be so vicious to each other on one page and then be friends the next, but Andrea is never tamed into submission as with some of Peggy Gaddis’ other books (see A Nurse for Apple Valley, Nora was a Nurse, Big City Nurse), which I appreciated. It’s mostly a straightforward story without any real twists, and even if it’s not as campy as Peggy can be when she’s in her full glory, it’s not a bad read.