Sunday, April 13, 2014

Doctor Dee

By Elizabeth Wesley
(pseud. Adeline McElfresh), ©1960

When Dr. Dee Bailey joined the surgical staff of big, modern Still River General Hospital to serve as anesthesiologist under Surgeon Arn Thurston she made an implacable enemy of Nurse Cele Maynard. For the young nurse was madly in love with the handsome surgeon and believed Dr. Dee wanted him, too. Then fate played into the hands of Nurse Maynard. A powerful underworld czar was brought for an emergency operation and Nurse Maynard listened on an extension phone as a sinister voice offered Dr. Dee “real money, a hundred grand—if he don’t come through that operation.” When Phil Roscoe died on the table, the young nurse, almost insane with triumphant malice, made her accusation—Dr. Dee Bailey had taken a man’s life for a hundred thousand dollars!


“Let a doctor be personable and good-looking, and they don’t trust him.”

I didn’t realize until I started in on this book that it is actually the prequel to Dr. Dorothy’s Choice, which is not a book I cared for very much, since the Dr. Dorothy “Dee” Bailey was a spineless wimp buffeted about by the men in her life. Here, though, she shows a bit more starch, and with good writing to bolster the storyline, we’ve got a better yarn with Dee’s introduction, and one worth reading.
Dee has returned to Still River, Indiana, her home town, after medical school and residency and a job in New York, to work for Dr. Paul Courtney. She’s walked into a bit of a mess, however, taking control of the anesthesiology department from Celia Maynard, nurse anesthetist, who is not happy about her demotion. Cele is also ridiculously jealous because about a week after Dee’s arrival, Cele’s boyfriend, surgeon Arn Thurston, makes a major pass at Dee at a dinner party that he has attended with Cele on his arm. Dee does not show enough sense to tell Dr. Thurston to get lost, unfortunately, and the gossip about Arn and Dee’s moonlit peccadillo doesn’t make things any better between the two ladies.

Then, when a golf buddy of Arn’s collapses with a gallbladder attack, it is revealed that he has a bad heart due to an unspecified stab wound to the pericardium that makes surgery risky. Scrubbing up for surgery, Dee gets a phone call during which she is advised of a unique financial opportunity: Should former Sing Sing resident and wise guy Phil Roscoe not survive the surgery, her bank account could be $100,000 heavier. Then, when Phil does arrest on the table, Cele, present in the room as a curious onlooker, starts shrieking that she was eavesdropping on the extension and overheard the whole exchange, and that Dee is a murderer.

The rest of the book is a somewhat strange muddle in which a pack of fairly stupid gangsters threaten Arn to speak out against Dee or they will reveal an incident from his past in which he ordered a barbiturate for a young patient who subsequently died; he had denied having written the order and was never proven to be guilty of wrongdoing, though everyone suspected him of it. A bundle of cash is hurled onto Dee’s doorstep, and when she turns it over to the police, she is kidnapped. Instead of whimpering in a corner, though, she plots her escape, and thank goodness she decided to forego the heels for Keds this morning!

In the end, delivered back to Still River by a passing truck driver, Dee lands in the arms of a man she has dated but professed little interest in, so though we should see it coming, it still feels a bit odd. The fate of Dr. Thurston, the gangsters, Cele, and even Dee’s career is left unanswered, and unless there’s another book between this and Dr. Dorothy’s Choice, we can only guess how all that turns out. But there’s some nice writing and some fun characters in this book, and the plot is livelier than many. Even if you decide not to follow Dee’s career path going forward—and I can’t strongly recommend that you do—you could do a lot worse than to watch her debut.

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