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.

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