Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arctic Nurse

By Dorothy Dowdell, ©1966
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

When beautiful, dark-haired Lori Waters came home to Alaska, she was escaping the memory of heartbreak. She had fallen in love with young Dr. Cliff Randolph, handsome, brilliant, and devil-may-care. But she had lost him, and now she desperately plunged into the excitement and challenge of her work as head nurse on difficult, peril-filled medical missions to distant Alaskan villages. Then, one day, the new doctor arrived. As he descended from the airplane, Lori felt her heart skip a beat, then start throbbing violently. It was Cliff—who now said he loved her. But could she believe him, with his mocking smile and ironic gaze? Could she trust this man who had once so cruelly betrayed her?


“As they drove back to the Littner home, she half-wished that Bob would carry her off like a cave man and end the matter once and for all.”

Lori Waters is a bit unusual in VNRNs in that she is biracial, half Indian and half white. She was “raised white” by her mother, but her Indian heritage manifests itself in an ivory amulet around her neck that she spends a lot of time fondling throughout the book. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with her grandfather, Chief Whitewaters, who is college-educated and holds an important position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (Her parents are, as is common amongst VNRN heroines, dead; her mother died of cancer when Lori was in nursing school and her father was killed in the Korean War.) She works as the nurse on a series of clinics run in the remote areas around Fairbanks, which she reaches by plane with doctor and pilot Bob Littner. She is crucial to these missions because her grandfather taught her many Indian languages, so she can converse with the natives.

Bob is a childhood friend of Lori’s who is increasingly putting the pressure on her to marry him. She feels very torn about this: She thinks he would make a great husband, but her heart’s not in it. You see, when she was in training in Seattle, she fell madly in love with upper-crust Dr. Clifford Randolph. He dated her for a year—but after one hot and heavy date, she returned to the nurse’s dorm to find a newspaper left anonymously on her pillow with an announcement of Cliff’s engagement to a society princess. Now, a year later, she’s still not over him.

So when one of the usual Alaskan MDs is away for the summer and a new doc from Seattle arrives to take his place, you should not be at all surprised to find that it is Dr. Randolph who steps off the plane. He tells Lori that his engagement ended last week by mutual consent—“it was one of those deals where we had always known each other,” Cliff tells her, describing, curiously, the same situation as Lori and Bob’s. Upon finding himself single, he has made tracks to Alaska to see her. Indeed, he soon proposes to Lori, and though she is a bit wary of him, she accepts. This means that she is going to have to leave Alaska for Seattle, perhaps never to see her grandfather again. Chief Whitewaters is vehemently against the marriage because, as he tells Lori, “Only you can carry out my dream to better the lot of our people.” Although, since Lori is planning to quit working “for good” when she marries, I’m not really sure how much of a difference Lori is going to make.

It’s the usual formula, with Bob begging Lori to reconsider and moping around a lot, even coming to blows with Cliff, until Lori is finally persuaded that Cliff is—duh—the wrong man. This occurs when there is a major earthquake in the north, coincidentally occurring the day before Lori and Cliff are to fly to Hawaii to meet up with his family and get married. Lori, Cliff, and Bob fly off to the hinterlands, where they spend 24 hours patching people up. But then Cliff, increasingly anxious about the fact that further delay will make him and Lori late for the party his mother has arranged for them in Honolulu, arranges for them to fly with a batch of wounded patients on a Red Cross plane to Fairbanks, where they can catch their jet to Hawaii. Lori, aghast that Cliff would rank his own personal interests first during a major disaster, puts him on the Red Cross plane, alone. “I guess I’m far more Indian than I realize,” she tells him. “I can’t go off and leave them.”

When the disaster is laid to rest and they’re back in Fairbanks, Lori and Bob are having coffee in the hospital—the VNRN romantic equivalent of a candlelight bistro in Paris—when she tells him, “I guess I’m not in love with Cliff after all,” and suddenly Bob is making her eyes light up in a new way. It’s a bit perplexing and way too pat, given the earlier descriptions of how she cried her eyes out for a year after Cliff dumped her and her hand-wringing about how, though Bob is otherwise so perfect for her, she does not love him. But I shouldn’t have been surprised; this entire book is perfunctory and automatic, with little of interest to keep the pages turning.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

No Tears Tomorrow

By Helaine Ross
(pseud. Dorothy Daniels), ©1962
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

When beautiful Colette LeClair, M.D., decided to come to the tiny island of Northport to fight a dread children’s disease, she left behind an exciting career in a big city hospital, and a man who promised to wait for her love. But now, it seemed that the town did not want an “outsider’s” help … and even their ruggedly handsome young doctor suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from Colette’s laboratory. Colette LeClair was a lovely woman and a dedicated doctor, but she could not cure the ache in her own heart.


“The efficiency drained out of her and she was just a very attractive, very exhausted young woman of twenty-eight who should have been gracing the ballroom floor of a fine New Orleans hotel.”

“You’re not a young girl any more. You’re throwing aside such fine chances to make up for all those dreary years you spent in school.”

“You’re a strange female. You keep getting more and more attractive.”

“They tell me you’re a real doctor. Hard to believe. Pretty girls are to be looked at and courted and made much of, not treat somebody’s bellyache.”

“It’s rather wonderful to have two strong men fighting over me.”

“You were so pretty you had to be a good doctor.”

Colette LeClair is a southern belle through and through—except for the minor detail that she’s been through medical school—and this is a main reason why we are supposed to admire her. On the first page we find out that she is 5'5" and 116 pounds, which means that if she loses six pounds she will be medically underweight. She wears two-inch pumps to benefit her “slim, well-shaped legs” even if they’re hard on her feet, and “she was possessed of the soft complexion of someone brought up in a gentle climate by parents sufficiently well-to-do so that Colette never had to worry.” Her fiancé, Dr. Martin Ames, by contrast, is a former football player (this fact is so important that we are told this in the fourth sentence of our acquaintance with him) who is a “tall, ruggedly built man.” Let the stereotypes go forth and prosper!

As the book opens, she is working on the pediatric leukemia ward, where she encounters little dying waif Mary Larkin. From Mary’s mother, Addie, she learns that their home, a small island off the coast of Maine, has had eight cases of leukemia this year, despite the fact that the disease is rare and the island holds only 365 residents. Colette is instantly bitten with the idea that she must go to Northport Island and find the cure to leukemia, which she feels must be there, because this concentration of cases is “perhaps the most important break we’ve had” in the fight against leukemia. Marty, who is planning to open a his-and-hers practice in New Orleans when they finish their residencies in a few months, is a bit steamed about this decision, but eventually agrees: “You go and get this out of your system, dear, and then come back and settle down.”

So off she goes, and within a few days she’s arrived at Addie’s empty house. The house is wicked cold because it’s fall, and she’s about to freeze to death when Mike Cameron walks through her door and turns up the thermostat. (She being from the south, she had no idea what that contraption on the wall was for.) Mike is a former doctor who quit practicing when he became an alcoholic, and now he lives on the island full-time so as to avoid temptation. Colette cooks him dinner and then hustles him out the door, because she has to be up early to get to work: “In her assigned rôle of leukemia research, minutes were precious.” That extra hour the next morning is going to make all the difference! So at dawn she is up and fiddling with the thermostat and the coffee pot, and then running into town to chat up the locals at the general store. Everyone is pretty forthcoming about the answers to her questions, and helpfully offers directions to the house of one of the leukemia victims, but she leaves the store thinking, “The people were too much like the climate—cold. She could almost imagine she could see the chilly frost on them.” I don’t know what more she is anticipating, but with this sentiment I began to think Colette LeClair, medical degree notwithstanding, is a bit shallow.

Her encounter with the local doc didn’t change my mind on that score. He’s with a patient when she comes into the waiting room, but “Colette had an idea she was being deliberately kept waiting, for half an hour went by.” Believe me, it’s not tough to spend 30 minutes with a patient, which she should surely know, but she seems to be under the impression that it’s all about her. When she finally gets in to see him, Dr. Tierney initially refuses to cooperate, but then Mike shows up and bullies the man into releasing his charts on the leukemia victims and their families to Colette, a clear violation of at least today’s medical ethics.

Mike goes back to her house with her, offers to help her with her research, but then comes across a photo of Marty and storms out of the house. Self-centered Colette thinks that “Mike must have been disappointed and that an alcoholic needs only an excuse to start drinking.” So she chases him back to his house and, in what may be the second hour she’s spent with him, tells him that she’s really in love with him. “She needed him,” she thinks as he’s kissing her. “He would be indispensable in her work, and if he gave way to his problem of drinking, he would be useless. Therefore, perhaps she loved him to keep him from that and for selfish reasons concerned more with research than love.” Well, I don’t know about you, but that didn’t improve my opinion of Dr. LeClair. And when Mike proposes the very next day, she agrees without even stopping to consider her other fiancé.

The next day, though, “she had to admit she missed Marty Ames.” But on the following page, when Mike insists that she hasn’t yet forgotten Marty, she answers, “I think of him, but that doesn’t mean I want to be with him, or that I’m sorry I broke off with him.” Even to herself, during a solitary walk on the beach, she cannot be honest: “She refused to ponder the idea of whether she was in love with Mike. She wasn’t actually certain whom she loved, if anyone.” Then Mike disappears from the island without leaving a note, and Marty turns up. He asks her to leave the island and marry him right away. Her answer—“I … think so”—strikes even him as insincere, but when he asks her, “Has anything happened on this island to make you doubt that being married to me is the best thing?” The little minx, “she shook her head and smiled warmly. ‘No, Marty.’ ” There are words for women (and men) who act like this, but they’re seldom encountered in a VNRN.

Mike soon returns, and it turns out he’s gone to get little Mary Larkin, whose miraculous recovery convinces the islanders to fully cooperate with Colette’s research. But Colette tells Mike she’s leaving the island with Marty in a few days, now that Mike’s back—“Back and cold sober,” he answers. “Colette said sharply, ‘No one even considered …’ ” But this is a lie, for the minute she finds that he’s left the island on his boat, she thinks, “The reason for Mike Cameron’s disappearance was obvious. He had taken his cruiser and gone to the mainland where he could indulge in his crippling habit.” Indeed, she even tells Marty that Mike “went off to find some comfort in the only way he seems to know.”

Marty has to get back to New Orleans right away, but Colette needs a few days to wrap up her research with Mike. After Marty has gone, Addie tells Colette that Marty had received two reports about Mary’s progress that he had deliberately not forwarded to her, even knowing that as Mary’s doctor and alleged leukemia researcher, Colette would have wanted those reports very badly. Colette decides that Marty had been deliberately trying to torpedo her enthusiasm for research on the island, and this is apparently supposed to be enough of a reason for Colette to exhibit even more of her fickle behavior. She takes Mike to New York and the pair makes lots of speeches to leukemia researchers and convinces them to open a major leukemia research lab on the island, a development that occurs in a swift two pages. And best of all, Mike has just one Manhattan!! “I could have refused the first, but it’s no longer necessary for me to try to govern myself,” he explains to Colette. “I’ve licked it. I’ve come to realize that I have some vitally important work to do. Tricky work, at which a hang-over would be a serious impediment. So—that’s it.” All that’s left is for Colette to telephone Marty and dump him, and she and Mike can ride off into a snowstorm.

It’s not just Colette’s character that is a bit uneven; her ideas about leukemia and its cure are many and contradictory. At one point she talks about how “leukemia may be transmitted. Not like smallpox but from sort of contact or some previous illness.” Later she says that leukemia is “certainly not” infectious; “it has been proved that leukemia can’t be caught.” On the other hand, she also is convinced that it may be a virus—though any disease transmitted by virus is, by definition, infectious. “I’m trying to find the proof that other children on this island, along with adults, have become immune to leukemia,” she tells Mike, and that this may be due to “an immunizing virus.” She’s under the impression that “if no other person on this island gets leukemia, then it’s a good indication that everybody is somehow immune,” an idea utterly bereft of logic. But that’s not her only theory: “Perhaps there’s some other disease, which all of the children had—knowingly or unknowingly—and this left its mark so that later they were susceptible to leukemia.” So in total I count at least three different theories she’s going to be chasing down—and even before she abruptly decided to leave the island with Marty she had been planning on being back in New Orleans in “a few months.” Has she stopped to consider the long decades that thousands of researchers had already been working on this disease? Dr. LeClair is either very naïve or very conceited. I’m betting on the latter.

This book did have more camp than I've seen in the VNRNs I’ve read lately, and it starts right with the opening sentence: “Colette LeClair wore her white coat as glamorously as a society debutante wears her mink.” But our heroine has more than a few major character flaws: She lies, and she’s ridiculously fickle. I have to ask myself, when I meet these lame heroines, if the author ever stops to consider that her leading lady has the depth and sophistication of a mud puddle, and that some might therefore find it difficult to respect her. Indeed, I could not bring myself to care for her at all, and rather worried how long it would be before the dopey man who ended up with her would soon regret his choice.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Clinic Nurse

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1958
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

After three years at an exclusive girls’ school, Susan Randall decided to finish her education by taking a course in physical therapy at the University. Upon graduation, Susan threw herself wholeheartedly into her work as a physical therapist in a New York clinic. It was incidental to Susan that handsome Jon Crawford, whose small daughter was a patient at her clinic, was a very rich man. In Susan’s scheme of things, Jon was no more important than her young neighbor, Ray Farrell, disabled and embittered by a serious accident. Through her skill, perhaps she could bring Ray back to health …


“How could anyone want to be a nurse? Why would anyone want to be around sick people all the time? Listening to them moan and groan …”

“Some people claimed the present generation was wild, with rock ’n’ roll and all.”

“Forgive me for saying so, Susan, but I certainly wouldn’t want you to practice on me if I were a patient!”

“When you grow up, you stop having birthdays; especially if you’re a girl. Girls don’t want people to know they are getting older. After they reach twenty-one, they stay there—for a while, anyway.”

Susan Randall has been attending a women’s college when she decides that a liberal arts degree is not really what she wants. She’s decided to leave Meredith College and transfer to another school where she can study to become a nurse specializing in physical therapy. This decision comes as a devastating blow to her fashionable mother, Mrs. Randall: “ ‘Columbia!’ she exclaimed in a horrified voice. ‘But that’s a coeducational school, Susan. Why would a girl like you want a diploma from Columbia when she could get it from one of the most exclusive women’s colleges in the country? And what on earth is Physical Therapy?’ ”

Mrs. Randall is constantly pushing Susan to dress better, wear her hair more stylishly, and date the right men—because winning the right husband for her daughter is her raison d’être. As such, she scores the lion’s share of the best lines, such as when she describes a friend of Susan’s: “She looked positively frumpy, like the sort of girl who had always been a wall-flower and would never catch a husband no matter how hard she—or her mother—tried.” Because Susan lives at home, we’re treated regularly to these sorts of harangues, and toward the end of the book I started to marvel that they still retained their humor and freshness, a tip of the hat to author Adelaide Humphries.

Susan has been friends with this boy down the street, Ray Farrell. Ray had an unfortunate accident when he fell from a telephone pole—he was working as a lineman—and broke both his legs. He’s been unable to walk since then, but Susan is convinced that with a little PT, Ray can rule the world. Indeed, once she has graduated and gotten a job, she persuades the spinster nurse who runs the physical therapy clinic to take on Ray as a pro bono patient, and soon he’s up and hobbling around, his limp becoming increasingly less noticeable. To show his gratitude, Ray stops calling Susan for dates.

But not to worry, there’s this little girl at the clinic, Bitsy, who’s been paralyzed by polio. Her father, Jon Crawford, is a single man in possession of a good fortune, who certainly must be in want of a wife. Indeed, he soon proposes to Susan, but she is only shocked: “This was absurd! Asking her to marry him when they had only met three times! The whole idea was ridiculous.” He is completely up-front about the fact that he does not love her, but nonetheless tries to persuade her by parroting Mrs. Randall’s sentiment that “every girl wants to be married,” and by saying he would permit her to continue working—with Bitsy, but Susan could also “give a few hours a week to the clinic. Most women seem to want some outside interest, say a pet charity, or something of the sort, after they marry.” Though Susan isn’t terribly impressed—“every woman wanted to be loved for herself”—she still thinks that “any proposal of marriage was an honor,” and continues to date him, even if she is partly creeped out by him.

That’s really about all there is to the plot of this book—Susan dating Jon, occasionally seeing Ray, working with Bitsy. You will not be surprised to learn that Susan’s affections increasingly turn toward Ray, just as her feeling of obligation to Jon—and even more to Bitsy—deepens. So how will we get Susan off the hook? Why, bring back Bitsy’s “dead” mother, of course—it turns out she was an opera singer who took a part in an opera on the West Coast, and was promptly served with divorce papers accusing her of desertion. Now, thankfully, Mom has come to her senses: “I no longer care about singing; I don’t believe I will ever sing again.” So she’s now eligible to resume her role as wife and mother. Phew!

With Jon and Bitsy off her back, Susan is now free to worry about the fish that got away: “Lately there were times when Susan, in looking ahead, wondered if her work would always be enough. It could be for someone like Miss Armstrong, but Susan wasn’t certain she had that much fortitude.” Because even strong women have their breaking points, and Mrs. Randall’s truism is ringing in our ears: “I never heard of a young girl who didn’t want to get married! It’s unnatural!” Re-enter Ray, who just got a promotion in the personnel department at work. “I’ll be able to take care of a wife now,” he tells Susan. He thinks that in a year or so he should be able to swing one—is Susan interested in the job? To her credit, she says, “If you’ll hurry up and ask me, Ray, we could get married right away. I can go on working at the clinic—lots of wives do, you know. Together we can manage until you become, if not the president of the company, at least one of the bigwigs. You will, you know, with a wife to help you.” He’s so pleased by this that he responds, “Of course I wouldn’t ask you to give up your work when it means so much to you, Susan. Not for a while, anyway.”

We can give partial credit to Adelaide Humphries for pursuing the idea that a woman working is acceptable, even after marrying—up to a point. It seems that once the children are born you really have to abandon that sort of foolishness. The book is not badly written and is entertaining enough, but there’s just not all that much there. What it has is pleasant, but don’t plan on making a meal of it; it’s more of a light snack, like a dish of salted peanuts to accompany your cocktail.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Nurse Comes Home

By Ethel Hamill
(pseud. Jean Francis Webb III), ©1954
Cover illustration by Edrien King
When lovely, blonde Elizabeth Lane returned home to San Francisco, she thought she could take up her life just as it had been before. But in the three years the young nurse had been away—years spent as a prisoner of the enemy in Asia—grave changes had taken place. Handsome Doctor Marsh Carson, who had sworn to marry her, now was engaged to the ravishing, yet strangely sinister Karen Russell. Barney Jordan, who had helped Elizabeth survive her harsh captivity, now claimed a debt she felt she could never honestly repay. Then there was the rugged young newspaperman, Scott Alexander, with his probing questions and disturbing attractiveness. And Elizabeth quickly discovered that she herself was no longer the same girl who had gone away, as she struggled to find out what this new person who bore her name should do.
“So you’re a good nurse. I need you as a woman. The woman I love!”
“I meant to get down to Dr. Carson’s shindig yesterday, but we had an unexpected polio case brought in, and I was all day on the telephone locating another iron lung.”
“It was Aunt Wilma’s firm conviction that none of this world’s ills struck too deep to be at least mitigated by hot tea and cinnamon toast.”
As some VNRN authors induce fear and loathing (I’m looking at you, Jeanne Bowman), others land in your lap like a light blue box from Tiffany wrapped in a white satin ribbon. Jean Webb, writing as Ethel Hamill, is most definitely one of the latter; he can write circles around almost everyone else out there. The very first page serves up little prose gems to admire, such as when Nurse Elizabeth Lane is cruising into San Francisco Bay: “San Francisco … She said the name over to herself for perhaps the thousandth time that morning, taking comfort from the syllables as old ladies were supposed to take comfort from a cup of hot tea.”
She’s coming home after two years in a prison camp in Korea to be reunited with Dr. Marsh Carson (one of my ongoing quibbles with VNRNs is the ridiculous names they give to the love interests). Like most fickle fiancés, though, in her absence he’s become engaged to the svelte minx Karen Russell. But the man whom she leaned on during her internment, Barney Jordan, is standing by her side—maybe a little too close for comfort, as he soon professes his deep love for her, leaving her with two fellas to contend with. Actually, make that three—as she steps off the boat, famous photographer Scott Alexander snaps her picture, which is broadcast on front pages across the country. He’s now hounding her for an expanded profile piece with lots of pictures to go with it, so he’s hanging around too. For a malnourished, emotionally scarred wreck, she sure is irresistible to the boys.
Of course, every one of them has obstacles. Marsh is, of course, engaged to someone else, but he does seem to get awfully jealous of the other boys in Elizabeth’s life. “I’m hanged if I’ll let Barney get away with stealing my girl!” he fumes to Elizabeth, totally oblivious the fact that he abandoned any claim he ever may have had on her when he proposed to Karen. Speaking of whom, his fiancée is quite a cat, and she uses her armory of claws to full effect to keep a grip on her man. Part of her efforts in this direction involve uncovering the fact that Barney, before he went to Korea, was a bank robber who skipped out on his parole and has a little prison sentence waiting for him back in Chicago. She is on the verge of spilling this little tidbit—where else?—at Elizabeth’s welcome home party, but Elizabeth cuts her off and announces that she and Barney are engaged, thus saving Barney from jail: As long as Karen’s competition for Marsh’s affections are engaged elsewhere, she’ll keep her lipsticked moue closed. In the meantime, the old judge, who is a longtime friend of Elizabeth’s family, is working to get Barney pardoned in light of his heroics at the Korean prison camp, but it will go a lot easier with a standup nurse like Elizabeth willing, by marrying him, to vouch for his character and to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Scott, meanwhile, is playing the part of the wounded suitor, and though Elizabeth is torn by her feelings for him, she just can’t seem to bring herself to explain the truth of the situation to him and insists that she must go through with the sham marriage to Barney. Everything gets wrapped up tidily in the end, of course, with a crashing finale in the pool cabana that leaves Marsh in a coma. It’s pretty good stuff, but not quite as fabulous as it could have been, I have to say.
Part of the fun for me is the fact that this book is set in San Francisco, the greatest city on the planet. There are references to the usual landmarks, of course, but some surprised me, to wit: “They cut along the edge of Union Square, past a yawning mouth to that amazing underground parking garage for which the whole Square had been torn up and set down again just before the second World War.” All the times I passed by, it never occurred to me to consider that garage with anything akin to wonder.
I also appreciate the fact that after returning home from years of deprivation and torture in the prison camp, Elizabeth and Barney are not laughing and dancing and partying it up. They are haunted by their experiences—and though this is brought up regularly, it is not rubbed in our faces, sensationalized, or irritating. It’s just a fact of their lives. If the complicated web of Elizabeth’s love life is a bit overwrought—and I’m not a big fan of the I-have-to-marry-this-man-even-though-I-love-someone-else plot—the writing is excellent and the characters are well-drawn (with the exception of Elizabeth, who is the weakest of the lot). The most depressing thing about reading this book is that it means I only have four more books by Ethel Hamill left to read.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

City Hospital Nurse

By Jeanne Bowman
(pseud. Peggy O’More Blocklinger), ©1967
Because of her love for the grandparents who had given her a home after her parents had died, Geraldine Greene had always wanted to specialize in geriatrics. But she soon learned that elderly patients were reluctant to put their trust in a too young and too pretty nurse. So Geri decided to be what her patients wanted her to be—plain, old-looking and, therefore, confidence-inspiring. She didn’t stop to think that while such a masquerade might further her nursing career, it could hamper her personal life—not until Jilson Watts III was wheeled into the emergency operating room at City Center Hospital. Jil, who looked at the real Geri and was “an angel … beautiful … worth dying for.” But the next time he saw her—curly hair sleeked back, laughing eyes veiled, dimpled smile sobered—he did not recognize her …
“Even as she, Geri, had given her all to geriatrics, so was Natalie preparing for that great day when she would be a wife and hostess to top brass executives of companies patronizing her husband’s agency.”
“Carefully she recalled a psychiatrist’s findings. It took a housewife four weeks, after a move, to handle kitchen cupboards without conscious thought.”
“Geri had had an injury which left a definite dent in her heart.”
“She had quite a choice to make. The career she had chosen, with its change of personality, or the gay life she had led, with constant dates with delightful men?”
“Oh, for the day when phones came equipped with tiny TV panels so one could peep and identify the caller before submitting to unnecessary disturbers.”
I may have said this before, but it takes a certain amount of steely nerve for me to pick up a Jeanne Bowman novel. This is, after all, the author who gave us the dreadful Door to Door Nurse and the spectacularly loony Conflict for Nurse Elsa, which I think must have been written under the influence of powerful psychotropics. But I have to say that I did stop several times through the first half of City Hospital Nurse and declare with some surprise, “This isn’t so terrible!” So take that for what it’s worth, which admittedly isn’t much.
Geri is a brand-new nurse on her first assignment in geriatrics, her chosen field. She’s been assigned to special a recovering elderly lady—but right on the first page, her career comes crashing down. The patient takes one look at young, pretty Geri, with her curling short hair, and snorts, “Had I wanted an escapee from kindergarten, I would not have asked for a nurse!” So she’s sent back to the hospital to work in the emergency department when a wealthy young lad, Jilson Watts III, is wheeled in after a car accident. The pair take one look at each other and fall deeply in love, and then he passes out and is trucked off to surgery. She convinces herself that he’s a wealthy gadabout, and although she realizes that “Geri Greene had had a concussion of the heart,” she does her best to put it behind her.
At home, she decides to try to disguise herself as an older, uglier woman so as to impress her elderly patients. She sleeks her hair back and practices frowning in the mirror, and now she’s ready for duty. Her disguise is so complete that “when a traffic officer snarled at her instead of giving her a gay salute and a ‘watch it, kitten,’ she knew she had achieved geriatric status.” And so, when she passes Jilson Watts in the halls the next day—he’s touring the hospital in search of the “angel” he saw in the ED last night—he takes one look at her and shudders. She runs off, furious—but not to worry, faithful VNRN readers, she soon drops her disguise with him by fluffing up her hair and dimpling at him, and now they’re dating, and nauseatingly so; Geri “reached a deeper truth. For her now, no material dwelling, no matter what size, shape or location, could be home. Not without Jilson Watts being a part of it.” And on his end, he tells her that when he opend his eyes in the ED, “it was as though I’d awakened into a world where I was complete. You might say I felt, when I looked at you, that I’d come home.” Bleah.
This is just halfway through—the point at which I stopped telling myself that the book wasn’t so bad—and the rest of it consists of Geri’s attempt to be nominated for sainthood in record time by healing everyone in sight. Because, of course, Geri possesses that witch-like ability of Bowman's heroines, an ability to heal everyone with a three-minute chat, as it turns out that the diseases that everyone in the hospital is suffering from really stem from emotional troubles. “I’d known a patient who was worried over cold cash and broke out in hot spots. We had a little chat,” she says, summing up her awesone healing powers very modestly.
And Geri is just getting warmed up: She cures a woman’s insomnia by getting the patient to recall that she’d been spanked as a child for sleeping in church. She divines that the man who repeatedly breaks bones from falling out of bed is having nightmares about the time he fell into a well as a child. And another patient is freaking out, convinced he is going to die because he has been confined to room 931. Geri instantly divines the man’s concerns—nine plus three plus one is thirteen!!! It turns out that Geri’s nursing class made a study of numerology, and she’s going to bring in some “proof” tomorrow, although the clincher is the fact that the patient himself is healing from surgery “better than a young whippersnapper.” Then she reminds the man that 13 is a baker’s dozen, which means a free cookie or bun, and now the man is all smiles. And the list goes on and on from there, I’m sorry to say.
This book has, curiously, taken up the Medicare banner with the intense fervor of Shakespeare’s Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. Most of her elderly patients’ anxieties she can smooth away with a brochure from the SSI explaining that their stays are paid for by the program, which debuted in July 1966, the year before this novel was published. “On one case I found a woman suffering acutely because she didn’t know how she could meet surgery, doctor and hospital bills without going back to a physical drudgery which would pop her back into the hospital,” Geri relates. “I checked on her Medicare benefits, was able to relieve her misery, which manifested itself in physical tension; and her recovery, like her bill, was short-ended.” Someone ought to slip this book to Mitt Romney.
City Hospital Nurse is not without intentional humor and occasional bursts of interesting writing, such as when Geri tells a patient, “I just lost my temper, and while I’ve found it again, it hasn’t shaken down to where it fits.” But it also has the power to incite PTSD, with its use of a single word—atmosphere, for example, brought me screaming in terror back to Nurse Elsa’s Conflict, and even the admittedly minor infatuation with Geri’s hair forced me to recall Bowman’s Nurse Betrayed. I must admit, though, that the first half of this book is actually enjoyable, until Geri and her beau start mooning at each other and Ms. Bowman has nothing else to do but shovel heavily from her bag of usual tricks. Even so, there’s just not enough here, apart from the guilty pleasure we can derive from reading a stupid book, to make picking up City Hospital Nurse worthwhile.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Date with Danger?

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1966
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett

Nurse Barbara Bradley was returning from a holiday in Spain, but just before the plane landed a woman passenger was taken sick and Barbara was pressed into service by the airline stewardess. She cared for the woman as best she could, and helped her off the plane into the wheel chair that would transport her to the ambulance. Barbara herself had assured the stewardess it would be a wise precaution to radio ahead for it. But just as the ambulance pulled away Barbara realized she was still holding the woman’s bulky handbag. She called after the ambulance, then broke into a run. But Barbara never reached the ambulance. Suddenly the bag was wrenched from her hand, and the next thing she knew she was in the office of Lieutenant McIver of the New York police force. The carryall, it seemed, contained narcotics. Whatever had Barbara gotten herself into: And how was she ever going to get out of it?


“ ‘Tell me, Miss Bradley. Would you recognize this perfect Spanish gentleman if you saw him again?’
“ ‘Of course.’ Then she looked thoughtfully at him. ‘Oh, yes, I think that I would. And yet they … they all look very much alike, though, don’t they?’ ”

Once again, a fantastic cover stiffs us with a mundane story. Barbara Bradley is on the plane back from a week-long vacation in Spain when she is called upon by a flight attendant to help a sick woman in first class. Upon arrival in New York, the woman is bundled onto an ambulance and carted off, leaving Barbara holding the woman’s carry-on bag. Running down the tarmac to try to catch up, she runs smack into Malcolm McIver, the friendly but stern police lieutenant. He drags her off to question her about the narcotics that are most likely in the carry-on bag, and she is shocked!!! that she is being considered as a suspect in such underhanded schemes!!! After 25 pages of questioning, he figures out that she’s innocent, because “part of our training includes a pretty good course in human psychology.”

Then the lieutenant gets the idea to have Barbara return the case to the “ill” woman and scope out the crooks’ lair at the same time. Now they have to meet for coffee and doughnuts, and dinner at an Italian bistro, to go over it all again and again. And to exchange meaningful glances, of course. Finally she thinks she’s prepared, and off she goes, to discover that the gang is looking to hire a nurse to perpetrate a similar plot, apparently, for their next outing. When she calls Malcolm at home to give him the update, a woman answers the phone, and the children in the background are making a lot of noise. Barbara is devastated, convinced that Malcolm is a married man looking for a little action on the side: “He had acted like a man, not like a police officer,” she sighs. After book after book of the woman vs. nurse debate, it was a rare treat to see men’s lives classified in the same way.

When she finally gets to fill Malcolm in, he seems detached and disinterested. Fine, she thinks, she’ll get to the bottom of this on her own. She makes a few calls to nursing agencies and finds one that has just hired a nurse for an overseas tour—this must be the gang! But before she can learn anything else, she’s abducted by a cab driver who picks her up after her evening shift at the hospital. She’s carted off to a house on Long Island, where she meets the Spanish ringleader of the gang! He convinces her that her only way to avoid being killed by the thugs in the kitchen downstairs is if he tells them that “this lady is very near and very dear to me and I do not wish her harmed.” The only way he’s going to tell them that is if she is very friendly to him—nudge, nudge, wink, wink—and then he’s pushing her onto the bed…

And cue the police, guns a-blazing. Not that this is a spoiler or anything, because it’s painfully obvious that this was coming. As is the truth about Lt. McIver’s home life. In fact, almost everything about this book is perfunctory, right down to Barbara’s doctor fiancé, who is “a little bit too stuffy,” one of those medicine men destined for a posh yet meaningless practice on Park Avenue. If the question is, Date with Danger? the answer should be an emphatic, No, thanks, I have another engagement.