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.

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