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.

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