Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Patient in 711

By Elizabeth Wesley
(pseud. Adeline McElfresh), ©1972
Cover illustration by Enric Torres Prat

Pretty Laurie Ames was used to handling dangerous medical crises as a highly skilled nurse—but suddenly a different kind of peril haunted her young life. Behind the heavily guarded doors of hospital room 711 a great scientist lay injured. Foreign agents wanted him out of the way for good, and Laurie knew they might try to reach him through her. Desperately she wondered whom she could trust. Handsome Colonel Hank Romain, whose actions had become so secretive? Dashing playboy Carl Jennings, with his witty repartee and tempting proposal? Or Andy Rogers, the mysterious young patient who had lied about his past? Nurse Laurie Ames was caught in a treacherous web of violence and intrigue—and her only hope for safety lay in a daring gamble of love.


“That Phil Lansing is good with a capital G, in addition to looking like a Greek god. If I’m ever hauled into County General, I can tell you I want him working on me!”

“If it were a movie, one of us would fall in love with whoever all the fuss is about and save his life.”

Laurie Ames is a 24-year-old RN working at a local hospital and dating Col. Hank Romain, who works at an Air Force compound where a top-secret NASA program investigating space travel to Jupiter is underway. She’s been invited out to interview for the industrial nursing position, but she’s dubious; “She doubted that she could be happy passing out aspirin to scientists and assorted other geniuses whose heads ached from the problems and assorted frustrations of projected space exploration and interplanetary travel.” She’s touring the facility with newspaperman Jack Howard, who’s writing an article about the less-secret aspects of the program. But while the pair is there, an accident occurs and two men are injured. Sean Riordan “just about was The Jupiter Project. If anything truly serious had happened to him, it could have meant failure, or at least months’ or years’ delay.” Now he’s been bashed on the head by who-knows-who and is in a coma, as it happens on Laurie’s floor at the hospital.

On her shift the next day, she finds both accident victims. The genius Riordan is ensconced in the eponymous Room 711, but he’s being attended to by private nurses and doctors and, with several guards outside his door, no one ever gets a glimpse of him. There’s also a car accident victim, Andrew Rogers, who wrecked his car a few miles outside the base. He had an appointment with Col. Romain but never made it, poor thing. Between all these new patients and a shortage of nurses, that means Laurie is on duty an awful lot, so she’s running herself ragged. “Why couldn’t I have become a clerk-typist or a lady lion tamer or an exotic dancer?” Laurie mourns, listing about all the careers open to women in 1972 except teacher and stewardess. But it’s a good thing she’s around, because she notices strange doings, like phone calls from strangers who are trying to find Sean Riordan, shadowy figures on the lawn looking toward his room’s windows, and a sudden preponderance of new staff members. “It was strange that, all of a sudden, County General could find nurses, orderlies, and medical technologists, when for years they had been extremely scarce.” She goes straight to Hank with these concerns, and he rewards her by becoming cold and blowing off dates with her. “Something had changed between them. Almost from the day of Sean Riordan’s injury, Hank had been different.”

She’s also wondering about Andy Rogers, who has no family or friends that anyone can track down. She also wonders why he hasn’t called anyone, now that he’s awake and lucid. “No one should be so utterly alone,” she worries. “She liked him. She maybe could more than like him. The realization, and her thundering pulses, surprised her.” This despite his secret past: “For all anyone knows about him, he might have been born at age 28 in the ambulance that brought him here and he’s willing to leave it that way,” muses Dr. Lansing to Laurie. He remembers an old med-school chum who hails from the same small town that Andy is supposed to come from, and a story that doc told him about an Air Force man named Rogers who married a local gal and then went MIA in Vietnam. “ ‘What are you saying, Dr. Lansing? That Andy is—is an amnesiac?’ She couldn’t bring herself to say ‘married.’ Oh, God, don’t let him be!” But Dr. Lansing thinks he’s worse than married, that he’s a spy who stole the real Andy Rogers’ driver’s license and is “taking all of us for a ride in a troika.” Yikes!

The shenanigans continue apace: New orderlies are caught whispering in the linen closet, a faked “emergency” in the elevator meant to draw staff away from Room 711 fools our stalwart heroine not a second, Laurie tails a strange man sneaking up the stairs and is attacked by him before she fights him off and escapes. Then, five pages from the end, the final scene kicks off unceremoniously when Laurie notices that the door to Andy’s room, usually open ajar, is now closed. She walks in to find two armed men holding Andy hostage—and Andy is soon revealed to be none other than the real Sean Riordan!!! Laurie once again saves the day by managing to press the call button, and the door explodes open and Hank and five security agents subdue the bad guys. It’s an unusual method of answering a call light, but in this instance it certainly comes in handy. Then all that’s left is for Andy/Sean to kiss Laurie, even if it is against hospital regulations, and the book comes to what is actually a sweet ending.

This is a satisfying and pleasant book, even if it isn’t doesn’t have much in the way of camp or sparkling writing. We spend a lot of time with Laurie as she cares for various patients, and we participate in her life in a way that feels genuine. Her growing affection for Andy is a bit out of the blue, as she spends little time with him over the course of the book, and all the various plots and mysterious happenings play out a bit like an author’s to-do list, but these minor flaws don’t detract much from the enjoyable trip that is The Patient in 711.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Favorite Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1968
Cover illustration by Charles Gehm

“My favorite nurse” … that’s the way Roanna Evans’ patients at Rockwell General described her. But Roanna, in turn, became so involved with her patients that, if any of them failed to recover, it was like a dagger in her heart. Dr. Bill Benton, head of the department, was in love with Roanna—but he was extremely worried about her tearful concern for her patients. So he did what he thought best: He ordered her to take a leave of absence. Roanna recovered her spirits in no time. She had taken a new job which made but few demands on her time—and even less on her emotions. Besides, her new boss was very attractive, and often took her out on dates. Suddenly an emergency erupted at Rockwell General. A frantic call went out for every available nurse. Roanna knew that Dr. Bill Benton needed her. … But could she face that ordeal again?


“If you make a woman stop being a woman, it will be a dull old world.”

“It’s indecent for a woman to look so pretty so early in the morning.”

“So you’re the new nurse. I heard you were a looker.”

“She found herself being very thoroughly and expertly kissed.”

“Listen, sweetheart, there’s just one thing I want out of life: fun. A good time. A pretty woman like you.”

Roanna Evans is the best nurse at Rockwell General Hospital. But she’s on the brink of going down in flames: She cares for her patients so much that every setback is a knife to her heart. But she has this one patient, the crabby old Luther Holland, who in true VNRN is style quite rich. She’s won him over, natch, and now he is insisting that she come work for him at his department store. She’s not convinced that she’s making the right decision, as she feels she is abandoning important work, but she just can’t take it anymore. So she hands in her resignation and walks out, a free woman who apparently doesn’t believe in two weeks’ notice.

Holland’s Department Store has been a local cornerstone for decades, and the shop is looking a little rough around the edges. But Luther refuses to modernize, even when a new, ultra-modern department store decides to open in town. Ted Holland, Luther’s do-nothing son, grumbles a lot that without a little updating, Holland’s is doomed, but his father refuses to listen to him. So Ted comes up to the nurse’s office regularly to cry on Roanna’s shoulder. And ask her out. And kiss her behind closed doors. She seems to like him, but she’s also wary: Another woman on the staff, Claudia Graham, tells Roanna, “Ted Holland has a line from here to there and it’s a very charming one.” She ought to know, because she’s kissing him behind closed doors, too.

Claudia needn’t worry too much, though, because Roanna is determined not to marry until her kid brother, Kenny, finishes medical school. They are, of course, orphans, and she is paying his tuition and living expenses, so the two have sworn to live hermetically until he graduates, so as not to muddle their concentration on his studies. “I won’t waste my time or your money on girls or any other form of recreation,” he promised her when their parents died. (I did wonder why, if money was so tight, they bothered to pay for Roanna’s nursing school at all, since “once she was married, she wanted to stay home, raise a family, be a housewife.”) But oddly, Kenny has moved out of his boarding house and asked her for a loan of $100. What’s up with that?

Further complicating matters is Dr. Bill Benton, who proposes upon learning that Roanna is going dancing with Ted. In response, “she covered her ears with her hands and shook her head. ‘Please, Bill. Don’t say any more.’ ” Poor Bill. But she doesn’t have much time to think about this new development because longtime Holland customer Mrs. Tadmeier falls in the furs department and twists her ankle. Now she’s suing the store, and this could be the bad publicity that will drive all their customers over to that other department store. But detective Roanna soon deduces that Mrs. Tadmeier suffers from hypertension, which causes dizzy spells, and it was one of these that caused Mrs. Tadmeier to fall—not the scruffy carpet. Crisis averted!

Now all she has to do is persuade Ted to man up and talk to his father. “Did she dare say it? Did she dare give him that little push in the right direction? A man resented a woman trying to bend him to a mold. Was Ted weak or was he just groping?” Judging from his dates with Roanna, he seems to be both. But then Luther drops from another attack, and when she and Ted go to visit Luther in the hospital, Ted finally grows a spine and tells his father he is going to redo the store, and you just know that Holland’s will be saved. Another crisis averted!

Next, Kenny shows up and tells Roanna that he secretly got married and used that $100 for a honeymoon. She is pissed! “I’ve deliberately turned away from love, from getting involved! I’ve worked unbelievable hours! All for you, Kenny!” she shrieks. He stomps off, and she goes on a date with Ted, kissing him with new abandon. He seems to like the reckless Roanna and proposes. She’s going to think it over: “Ted could be the answer to all of her problems, even Kenny!” She runs into Bill, who is attending to Luther, long enough for him to tell her that she’s changed since she started working at Holland’s. It’s a pretty astute observation, considering that her crass attitude only erupted a dozen pages ago, but then, Bill’s a really great doctor.

For our next calamity, we learn that the town’s other hospital has caught on fire and that all the patients are being transferred to Rockwell General. Roanna, recognizing a dire emergency, goes back to work at the department store for half a day before visiting Ted’s office, where she finds him kissing Claudia. She resigns on the spot, telling him that she doesn’t really love him and that he and her job at Holland’s have just shown her that “I could never be happy being anything but a nurse at Rockwell General.” At least until she gets married, and that shouldn’t be long, either, because she’s come to realize that “it was Bill she loved!” She heads off to Rockwell, works for ten straight hours, then reports for duty on her regular night shift. She’s just writing a note to Kenny on her coffee break and enclosing her usual check by way of making up for being such a shrew when Bill stops by her table at the cafeteria. A page and a half sets them to rights, and then we can close the book.

Author Arlene Hale wants her heroine to be several things at once. Roanna is often strongly assertive and taking action, such as with the Mrs. Tadmeier situation and when she is trying to steer Ted and Luther back into each other’s arms. But the text of the book wants us to think she’s a mousy wimp, like when she’s wondering if she dares to encourage Ted to talk to his father or with her plans for abandoning nursing to become a housewife. We’re told several times that working at Holland’s has changed her, but right up until her showdown with Kenny, she’s worrying about Luther’s health and what is going on with Kenny, and telling herself that she likes Ted, “maybe more than just a little.” The never-ending plot twists in the book’s final 30 pages felt like a manic to-do list, with little enthusiasm or excitement. It’s sloppy and uninspired writing which, unfortunately, I have come to expect from Ms. Hale. Even more unfortunately, she was ridiculously prolific. Wish me luck.