Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nurse Betrayed

By Jeanne J. Bowman
(pseud. Peggy O’More Blocklinger), ©1966

Nurse Trudy Holmes left Dane Memorial Hospital to care for the post-operative wife of wealthy Dr. Malcolm Morse. Dr. Morse painted a glowing picture of Medicine Mountain as a quiet retreat which would be more of a “paid vacation” than a nursing assignment for Trudy. Although she hesitated leaving the hospital the two doctors she loved, Trudy accepted the assignment eagerly, for she had worked so hard for several years putting herself through nursing school and training at the hospital. But Trudy didn’t count on a pampered young debutante and an old country witch doctor complicating her life. Could Trudy come down from Medicine Mountain with her reputation and her love unscarred? Trudy didn’t know …


“When she smiled Trudy knew she had never sat in a dentist’s chair.”

“Neither knew she was more than a pair of hands protruding from a uniform.”

“Doctors are human. That is why they need wives of intelligence.”

Picking up another Jeanne Bowman is a sign of my depression over my long string of disappointing VNRNs: With Bowman, there is no expectation that the book will be any good, so your hopes are never dashed. The question is only how bad the book will be. Nurse Betrayed is bad, no question about that, but it’s not completely horrible. I’m just not sure this assuages my depression at all.

Right out of the first paragraph, Bowman hits the ground running with a hailstorm of her patented staccato diction in a discussion between two doctors about improving nurses’ shoes with balloon soles: “ ‘Wouldn’t work. Consider the patients. Nurse steps on pin. Blowout. Patient jerks; rips stitches.’ ‘Or a slow puncture. Hiss. Patient unable to identify source, and an anxiety neurosis is triggered.’ ” Then they pass our heroine. “ ‘One of you, who is she?’ ‘Holmes, special. Gertrude, called Trudy. Not bad-looking, but neither this nor that. Hair.’ ” Had enough? Well, I certainly had, but since it is my self-appointed mission to read these things, I seized my courage with a firm hand and turned to page two.

I found a bizarre but fortunately short-lived obsession with the mousy color of Trudy’s hair, which dies away after Trudy accepts a job taking care of Dr. Morse’s wife, Malda, who is recovering from surgery for a benign tumor. Upon her arrival in the mountain chalet designated for Mrs. Morse’s recovery, the back-country housekeeper, Mrs. Alpin, sets Trudy up with a steeped tea rinse the minute she takes off her hat. Mrs. Alpin lives and dies by an 1856 book called Inquire Within for Anything You Want to Know, a real-life book of wisdom that informs her that Dr. Whalen is in love with Trudy because he handed her something with his left hand, that rubbing onion juice into your head will cause hair to grow, that you can stave off hysterics by avoiding excitement and tight lacing of the corsets. All this, of course, makes Mrs. Alpin ineffably charming, as does her folksy way of speechifyin’.

Taking care of Mrs. Morse isn’t all that tough, since the patient is barely allowed to move. Weeks after her surgery, it’s still taking her several minutes to climb the stairs. This is quite a comedown for Mrs. Morse; previously she had been very busy with charity work, to such an extent that her husband feels she “should have been a man with a dozen companies under her supervision.” But she isn’t a man, so she should spend more time at home. Dr. Morse tells Trudy that “what his wife really needed was major surgery on philanthropic projects, time to recover from excess activity, to build up reserve strength and possibly have ‘some sense drummed into her.’ ”

Not to worry, Bowman’s heroines have a habit of curing everyone with the lightest touch (see Shoreline Nurse for a particularly egregious example), and Trudy is no exception. “Lightly then Trudy tossed her dart, with laughter. ‘I am thinking of a patient who wondered if she would ever be asked to do anything worth-while. She had been a business girl, married into the upper echelons and was unable to explain to her husband why she was never invited to head anything and served only in the lowliest groups—she with her executive experience.’ ” How this anecdote manages to rouse Mrs. Morse I’ll never understand, but just two pages later, Mrs. Morse comes to her senses: “I want to thank you for awakening me to how selfish I was about duty,” she tells Trudy. “I have taken on projects, chairmanships, committee work that I loathed, through a mistaken sense of duty. I have neglected my own life and family, and have deprived younger women of work they need.”

Trudy’s endeavors here are all the more perplexing because she has previously decided that for a woman of Mrs. Morse’s active disposition, “isolation with nothing to occupy an active mind could pop her right back into Memorial Hospital with the nervous breakdown the enforced rest had delayed.” But it doesn’t really pay to get too hung up on the unexplained peculiarities in a Bowman book; there are far too many of them, and you’ll just make yourself sick. Like when Trudy goes to town for the afternoon to run some errands and then becomes convinced the sheriff is coming for her for abandoning her patient. Oh, wait, there I go again.

The “romance” of the book is fulfilled by a passel of doctors who also have homes nearby, and they drop in a lot. Trudy thinks they’re cute, but displays no especial affection toward any one of them. This being a VNRN, however, when her assignment is over she accepts a ride to town with one of them—who has never heretofore given her a second glance—and he pulls the car over. A helicopter is passing overhead just then, and the pilot notices “a man and a nurse, judging from her cap and cape, though the cap did get knocked off.” It’s a little creepy for her to be pairing off with a virtual stranger, all the more so because we are witnessing the ending in this voyeuristic manner, but there it is.

In Nurse Betrayed, Bowman actually has a few occasional enjoyable turns of phrase. But her usual bag of tricks is on full display, such as the careful laying out of a particular character’s psychological weaknesses: “She sought desperately for a goal, such as a man and marriage, then headed for that goal, destroying anything that impeded her journey, only to find goals could fall before an onslaught.” And why is this book called Nurse Betrayed? So while this may not be as bad as some of her novels, it’s not worth picking up.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nurses Marry Doctors

By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1956
Cover illustration by Edrien King

Besides being young and attractive, Julian Paige was a brilliant surgeon. He also believed that no doctor should ever marry. To Nurse Linda Stephens, already in love with him, this was not only an exasperating obstacle. It was a challenge. Though Phil Manley, also on the staff at Bennett Memorial, was ready to slip a ring on Linda’s finger, the pretty nurse could see herself saying “I do” only standing next to the handsome Julian. What made Julian change his mind was a triangle—a most unusual kind of triangle.


“You know, it’s really ridiculous the way I like looking at you.”

“She’d baked some pies that morning before going on duty. Apple, the kind most men prefer.”

“If Madelon King had four or five children, she’d have something to occupy that empty mind of hers. … Lots of women with money try to fill their lives with bridge and canasta and cocktail parties; then they’re always running to analysts or hypnotists to find out why they’re nervous. A little responsibility would work wonders with them.”

“You use so many big words, how do you expect me to follow you? Remember I’m just a little country girl.”

“Sometimes Linda wondered if between the three of them, they weren’t lavishing too much love on Betsy. This could be overdone, she supposed. But how could a child ever have too much love? Statistics gathered by the Recreation Program for Hospitalized and Orphaned children easily proved that the child who was much loved in infancy was normal in every way and grew both in strength and beauty.”

“A doctor doesn’t have much time for love. Even sometimes when he seems to have an obsession about a girl, he tries to write it off as a mere chemical reaction.”

I have not had great luck recently with VNRNs. The last time I read a book that earned an A was just before Thanksgiving. Nurses Marry Doctors isn’t that great, either. Part of its problem is that from the opening page, you know who the heroine, Linda Stephens, is supposed to end up with—Dr. Julian Page. It’s just a question of how long it takes him to come around. But we know the answer to that, too—126 pages.

Of course, as I explain to everyone when I tell them I read VNRNs, it’s not about the romance, it’s entirely what happens between the beginning and the end that makes or breaks a VNRN. Here we have some of that sort of charming life of the 1950s-era novel: The heroine has a good friend or roommate—the latter, in this case, Karen Winslow—with boy troubles of her own. They hang out in their apartment, do stuff together, and go on dates with men they’re not really interested in, for the most part untroubled by a linear plot. But in this book, Linda and Karen’s lives just aren’t that riveting to make for a great book.

Playing the role of the possible rivals are Evelyn Bryson, a 17-year-old jailbait socialite, and Dr. Phil Manley, who relentlessly pursued Linda and drives too fast. Under Julian’s guiding hand, Evelyn has rounded up her socialite pals to start a program that sends the young debutantes to an orphanage to play with the cuter babies. Though Julian has asked Linda and Karen to get involved in the program, Evelyn continually rebuffs them, even as time passes and Evie’s pals decide they have more important things to do at the country club. But Linda and Karen show up anyway, and Linda bonds with an infant whose widowed mother had been run over by a bus the day before. The baby has been crying non-stop for the last 24 hours, but she smiles and reaches out her thin little arms to Linda—it turns out that Linda is the spitting image of the baby’s dead mother! This story just rips Linda’s heart to shreds, because she herself lost her parents when she was very young. So she and Karen agree to take Baby Betsy home with them.

Between them and a retired nurse who still lives on the hospital grounds, they improve the baby’s health and spirits enormously, not to mention their own: Karen, who had been left at the altar two years ago and is still moping about it, acquires a new zest for life while stitching up tiny rompers and bonnets. But then three women “with severe hairdos, grim expressions and outlandish hats” show up on the doorstep. They’re from the Prairie County Children’s Welfare Board, and they’ve come to take Betsy to her only known relative, a toothless yokel named Sam Davis with six children of his own, who can barely manage to keep his family acquainted with dinner and soap. Karen and Linda go out to Sam’s tumble-down house and find Betsy unkempt and feverish and starving—Sam can’t afford the formula Betsy needs—and the Davis family about to climb into their flivver to head for Californy. Sam would be relieved if Linda took Betsy—and do any of the other young-uns look appealing to her?—but, he tells them, “We ain’t goin’ agin the law,” which feels that blood relatives are more important than love, food, and shelter.

When Linda and Karen get home again, Julian is there. Linda can barely tell him what happened through her sobs, and he asks her why she didn’t tell Sam that the law would allow her to keep Betsy, since she will soon be marrying Dr. Phil Manley, which is what Phil told Julian just this morning. But Linda replies that even if it meant she could keep Betsy, she can’t marry Phil because she doesn’t love him. Julian’s head lifts up, a new gleam comes to his eye, and he tears off like a shot for some reason that he won’t tell Linda.

I couldn’t possibly ruin the ending by telling you what happens next. Suffice to say, everything is wrapped up in a few more pages. The problem is, you don’t really care much about these characters or what happens to them, so the ending falls flat. The book has a light sweetness about it, like a spoonful of whipped cream, but it’s no more substantial—or satisfying—than that. Leave this book on the shelf and treat yourself instead to a slice of apple pie.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ski Lodge Nurse

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

For raven-haired, sports-loving Ria Madden, being a nurse at Hurricane Valley Ski Lodge had been, for the past three seasons, the perfect job—glamorous, exciting, fun. But this year was different. This year was trouble, and Ria knew it. It began with the strangely persistent romantic attentions of Thor Carlsen, the handsome Nordic skiing champion. It increased in intensity with Dr. Leon Marshall’s inordinate concern with Ria’s every after-hours activity. And then, without warning, it exploded into an avalanche of danger which forced her to face the ultimate challenge of her nursing career—and to make the most crucial decision of her life…


“Some of the women who come to Hurricane Valley would melt a glacier.”

“Thor appreciated her not only as a woman and a nurse, but as a skier.”

“The hunter on the mountain was insane.”

More than any other author I’ve encountered, Richard Wilkes-Hunter’s novels—Casino Nurse, Surfing Nurse, Beauty Contest Nurse, Sea Nurse—read like justifications for writing off that expensive vacation. Ski Lodge Nurse may be one of his better books, but in the end it’s really just more of the same. It has a lot more action than some of his other books, but action doesn’t make up for stupidity.

Ria Madden has worked at the Hurricane Valley (curious name for a ski resort—wouldn’t Blizzard Valley have been more appropriate?) in Colorado for the last three winters with Dr. Leon Marshall. She likes him, and “it was something more than admiration of his six feet of sturdy male strength and his gray eyes that could so easily mask his feelings.” But while they got along great for the first two years, last season she found him possessive, jealous, and “like a bear with a sore head. […] She had almost grown to hate him.” And so far, as this season opens, he’s not much better, snapping at the nurses and stomping off in a huff.

Competing for Ria’s affections is the lead ski instructor, Thor Carlsen, a Norwegian who won some skiing competition long ago. He invites Ria out for the first run of the season, and there’s a blow-by-blow description of every trail and move made by the pair that recalls the surfing passages from Surfing Nurse: too much jargon and an assumption that you care about every bump and turn they make on the way down. The layout of the mountain is also poorly described, so though a lot of action occurs up on the mountain, it’s largely confusing when you can’t picture what is happening.

There’s a lodge up on the mountain for people who get stuck, and while he is out with Ria, Thor notices smoke is coming from the chimney, so he sends up his number two, Niki Casello, to check it out. Niki is engaged to the other nurse, Brigid. Niki is competing in an international ski comptetition, which this year will be held in Hurricane Valley. He is deathly afraid of the ski jump but enters the event anyway because he thinks that if he does well the ensuing fame will earn him a top post at another ski resort and a salary large enough to support him and his bride, who of course he cannot allow to work.

Curiously, Niki loses the first aid pack he takes up the mountain and is as snappish as Dr. Marshall about it when he gets back, saying he did not find anyone in the cabin. The next day, he’s up at 6 a.m., climbing the mountain on foot. No one thinks twice about this until Ria and Dr. Marshall, out skiing that afternoon, hear gunshots. Then Niki falls off a cliff that a ski jumper could have taken easily—he tries to abort the jump at the last minute but his momentum carries him over—and is saved from death by a mysterious skier in white carrying a rifle who digs him out of the snow before Thor, who has seen the accident through his binoculars from a neighboring mountain peak, can get there.

That night, someone breaks into Ria’s room in the hospital. Before she has even clapped eyes on the fellow, Ria has a diagnosis: “The man out there was sick, her training reminded her. Dangerous, but sick. People like that were frightened of light, because their sickness was a thing of darkness and secrecy.” She turns on the light and runs to the window, intending to beat the intruder with her shoe, and discovers it’s the white-garbed hunter. He is muttering in Italian, but guess what! Ria’s mother was Italian, so she’s able to chat the guy up. He’s just looking for food, and he tells her he’s afraid of the men who have been chasing him. She explains they just want to ask him to stop popping off his rifle, because the skiing season has opened and they don’t want any tourists to get shot, which would be bad for business. He doesn’t believe her, though. “They plan to kill me. I have often heard them speak of it. They are clever, often they come upon me at night, unseen, whispering of cruel things …” She rushes off to fill a pack full of food for him, musing that this guy looks a lot like Niki.

The next day, when the men hear about this, they decide to posse up. They chase the poor guy for two days until he jumps off a cliff and is injured, but he gets away. The men are camping on the mountain that night, and at 5 a.m. Ria hears noises outside her window again. The crazy skier is back, passed out in the snow. Ria gets some ski instructors to carry him in, calls a doctor in town for a recipe for a chemical straitjacket, sets his fractured humerus, and arranges for his transport to the nearest hospital. One of the ski instructors heads into the mountains to bring in the posse, and when Dr. Marshall gets back, is he impressed? Heck, no! He snaps at her for giving the man sedatives and because she gave the man food earlier, telling her that her “thoughtless generosity probably contributed to the accident he had.” That pack of guys relentlessly chasing him had nothing to do with it; it most certainly was the pack of food on his back destabilizing his landing, the stupid girl!

Only after the skier—revealed as Lorenzo, Niki’s long-lost older brother—has been safely packed into an ambulance does Thor tells the stupid doctor that he is going back to Norway—alone—and that Ria is in love with the doctor. “All men are jealous of their sweethearts before they marry. But afterward never, for it is an insult to be jealous of your wife,” says deluded Thor. So Dr. Marshall goes back to the hospital and kisses away Ria’s tears, and then it’s all over but for the skiing competition, which Lorenzo attends. He’s now living with his parents in Denver, and “if Lorenzo heard voices now, they had become subdued, part of a familiar pattern that now he understood better and no longer heeded.” Dr. Leon is cured as well—“He wasn’t jealous of [Ria] anymore,” we are told—so that’s two miracle cures in one chapter! All we need now is a top-three finish for Niki in an event that doesn’t give him the willies, the slalom, and we can close the book with a sigh of relief. Check and check.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Special Nurse

By Margaret Howe, ©1955

Nan Warner was proud of her first job at modern Donovan Memorial Hospital. Her devotion to her calling and her radiant youth soon attracted the attention of the doctors. The handsome, arrogant Chief of Staff tried to win Nan for himself alone, while Dr. Matt Ferguson watched jealously. And then one day Nan was assigned as special nurse to old Hannah Donovan, whose millions ruled the destinies of Donovan Hospital and its staff. Established at the Donovan mansion, the slim, red-haired nurse found that the autocratic old woman was using her as a pawn in an evil plan which not only involved the two young doctors but also threatened Nan’s happiness as a woman.


BEST QUOTES:“A girl’s heart was unpredictable at best.”

“I like you better when you smile, Nan.”

“Every silly nurse falls in love with a doctor.”

“There was a wonderful future for which to plan with a man who held her heart in his big firm hands.”

I noticed with my 2011 VNRN Awards that eight of the ten best authors won based on reviews of three or fewer reviews (the top four awards were based on just two reviews each). So this year I’m reading more of these authors—and so far, I have to say, the first few I read did not live up to their reputation. Now, with Special Nurse, Margaret Howe has done no better. This book is not so special: The writing is a perfunctory, there are almost no great quotes, and Nan Warner is a shallow, uninteresting heroine whose opinions about other people swing wildly, leaving you think she is either very fickle or slightly demented.

Nan is a nurse at the Donovan Memorial Hospital in Illinois, which is funded by aging dowager Hannah Donovan. Her protégé, the handsome Dr. Richard Harden, has been dating Nan, who goes weak in the knees whenever Dick is around. Then there’s this other doctor, Matthew Ferguson, who is a “diagnostician” in the hospital. Dr. Ferguson is a dedicated physician, one who goes to bat for poor patients, so naturally he butts heads with Dick, who cares only for wealthy patients like Hannah Donovan.

At the book’s opening, Nan does not think much of Matthew. When Matthew discharges Hannah, admitted for a minor cold, so that a “blue baby” can have her room, Nan agrees to go home with Hannah for a week to be her private nurse even though the hospital is “shockingly short of nurses,” as VNRN hospitals usually are. Matthew is angry about that, and tells Nan to get her patient discharged by 4 p.m., in a tone that suggests that “Nan might have been the most stupid and unattractive nurse at Memorial,” because it’s perfectly acceptable to be rude to unattractive nurses.

But during her week with Hannah (which merits only a few pages of the book, despite the impression given by the back cover blurb), she goes for a swim in Lake Michigan and nearly drowns, rescued just as she is going down for the last time by Matthew. So now she can’t exactly hate him. And when she returns to the hospital as the special nurse for the blue baby, she witnesses first-hand both his devoted fight for the best medical care for the boy and Dick’s obvious disregard for the same. Also, she finds that Dick is no longer calling her for dates and that he’s been going out with his secretary. Then Matthew tells her that he loves her. He proves the point by ignoring her in the halls or, when he is forced to talk to her, by being brusque. Nan still yearns for Dick, who was so complimentary of her red curls and bestowed fond glances but never said those three little words. So she decides that Dick only wants a beautiful wife to ornament his career, while Matthew has picked her out because he wants “a helpful mate. A flat-footed, capable woman, thought Nan scornfully,” though I’m not sure why she should be scornful of the idea of marrying a helpful, capable woman, unless the implication is that such women can’t possibly be attractive.

It’s not too tough to see where this is going. Nan slowly turns her affections toward Matthew, and Dick slowly turns his affections back to Nan. In the end, Hannah is admitted to the hospital—really sick this time, with gallbladder disease—and Dick, afraid for his reputation lest Hannah not make it, refuses to operate. Eventually Matthew is forced to do the surgery, Hannah survives, Matthew is lionized (and offered a key job at the hospital by Hannah), and Dick’s reputation drops into the bedpan.

In the final chapters, we are treated to even more of the standard VNRN conventions. Dick becomes increasingly desperate and forces himself on Nan just as Matthew walks into the room. Nan, natch, can’t possibly “humble herself” and tell Matthew what really happened: “How could she make it clear to Matthew that she loved him without sacrificing her pride?” (I’m not quite clear what pride has to do with it, unless it’s that women should never appear to be chasing a man.) Then Dick meets Nan, who is wandering around in the rain in an attempt to find Matthew’s house, forces her into his car, and proposes marriage, insisting that she tell him yes or no. Curiously, Nan’s reaction is that “it was so like Harden to take advantage of a situation like this to force an answer.” Why does she resent the fact that he wants a reply? How is he taking advantage of her? Is the handle on the car door not working? Nan’s somewhat bizarre reactions make me feel like I am observing a foreign culture.

The clinching cliché is that Dick and Nan are involved in a car accident, and the previously distant Matthew rushes to her bedside. She is able to rouse herself from her delirium to fling her arms around him and kiss him, so everything is going to be all right in the end. Maybe. In the most ambiguous final page I’ve ever encountered, she tells Matthew that “if I can…” she will always try to love him and understand that “his work came first. And she must not annoy him by foolish fears.” He answers, “If you can, my darling, we’ll have a good marriage.” Mighty big if, I say.