Monday, May 26, 2014

Star Lansing−Arizona Doctor

By Ruth McCarthy Sears, ©1971
Cover illustration by Gordon Johnson

Young and lovely Dr. Star Lansing loved the wild Arizona country where she was born and raised. Here she dedicated herself to helping the poor but proud local Indian tribe, raising needed funds by treating wealthy patients at the exclusive Desert City spa. But Star faced an agonizing crisis of loyalty when dashing Air Force Colonel Whittaker Blake swept her off her feet. Whit was determined to install a missile site in the area, despite heated community protests, and he asked Star to be his ally. Could Star side against her own people? Could she lower her standards as a doctor in the name of patriotism? Was she truly loved, or merely being used? It took a dramatic medical emergency, and a startling revelation of character, to help Star find the answer hidden in her heart.

What a gal like you needs is a houseful of rambunctious kids.”
“Why would a beautiful gal like you want to be a doctor, of all things? Nurse, maybe, until the right man comes along. But lady doctors scare off the men.”
Star Lansing is a doctor who specializes in tropical diseases. Naturally, she’s decided to practice in Desert City, Arizona, where she caters to the well-to-do folks who come to the area for the spas and golf resorts. There’s a large population of poor Indians on the local reservation, and she moans a lot about the abysmal health care they receive, but she’s too busy cashing checks from her rich patients to help at all on that score; her excuse is that she is burdened with the large, insolvent family ranch that she has to keep afloat.
There are two men in her life. Dr. Hugh McEvers is the other local doctor, but he is “disheveled, charmingly irresponsible, and completely incompetent,” not to mention always late, lenient with nurses, and indulgent with his patients. Impossible man! But he’s fun to be with, so she goes out with him on occasion even if “Star wished that Hugh might be more sincere, more reliable, and that she might permit herself to fall in love with him.” Because Star strangely seems to view every man, no matter how unlikely, as a future husband, until circumstances demonstrate what the reader has seen at first handshake, that the guy is utterly and irrevocably wrong for her.
Meet the other man in her life: Col. Whittaker Blake, who has come to town to build the missile to end all missiles, or maybe just the world. It’s called, curiously, Baby Doll, and everyone is patriotically gung-ho about the project except Star. Her first objection to the plant is that it’s brought a lot of foreigners to town: “Poles, hillbillies, Puerto Ricans, Southerners, Mexicans, Armenians—” and these ne’er-do-wells just get drunk and beat up the locals. Not only that, but “movie theaters were deserted, except for the missile men and their bawdy women who clapped through the serious scenes and yelled with mirth at the comic ones.” To make matters worse, their jerry-built housing is causing real estate values to plummet, and “even the Indian and Mexican household help had absconded from domestic jobs, lured by the compensation” offered at the defense plant. And Col. Blake just laughs at her when she brings up these hardships! The nerve!
But he is awfully cute, so Star quickly gets over her indignation and starts flirting, offering to take him horseback riding out at her ranch, her pulse quickening: “She wanted to know this man in whose hands all the military responsibility rested, really know him.” So she dates him when she can, gets crabby when he doesn’t call, and wonders “when would Whit need and want her as a loving woman? And how long must she wait—wait—until every nerve in her body stopped quivering at the sight or nearness of him and she could utter the words forever crying in her heart: Oh, Whit—love me—love me!” Star is, in a nutshell, a shallow tramp.
Anyway, the problem with this little fantasy of Star’s is that every time she’s actually out with Whit, they invariably fight about how hard he drives his crew and how he insists on sham physicals for the workers so as to prevent delays in the schedule, as a regular exam would take everyone off the job for too long. And he thinks Indians are “lazy and incompetent.” But that’s just a minor hiccup for Star, who has visions of nosegays and white organza. She continues to defend Whit, to herself and to the townspeople, telling Hugh that Whit’s “a serious, dedicated person—one who should be an inspiration to all of us,” and never mind about his utter lack of regard for a fellow human being.
Then, out to dinner with Hugh one night, suddenly he’s the one her heart is all a-pitty-pat for—maybe because Hugh looked “better groomed.” Amazing what a comb and a tux can do for a guy, “something so tremendous, so steeped in magic that it was almost unreal.” In a twinkle she decides that if Hugh proposes tonight she’ll say yes, and I decide that I am thoroughly disgusted with Star Lansing, and the book’s just half over. But the fairy-tale ends abruptly when the Colonel crashes her date, so she tells him off—and this has nothing to do with the fact that he’s been out dancing at the country club with other women, and she’s been stewing over it for the last two chapters. Whit’s response is to ask her to marry him, but though fickle Star “would have been filled with a joy too great to deny a week ago,” now she’s not sure. “She had waited for him to call, yearned for the sound of his voice—was it only a week ago? What was she made of?” An excellent question.
As with many VNRNs, an epidemic pops up to put things to rights. Star and Hugh work relentlessly to track down the cause—good thing she spent all that time studying tropical diseases! It’s leptospirosis, passed around by a litter of puppies sired by her own dog, so it’s curtains for all the canines, including hers—not to mention a few of the missile plant workers, but it’s the dead dog that really puts the kibosh on her lust for Whit, as now she holds him responsible for both the dog’s death and the epidemic as well (though I’m not sure I follow her logic). The rest of the dominoes soon fall neatly into place: A new health clinic for the Indians, a happy ending for Whit and Star’s childhood Indian friend, and—best of all—an engagement ring for Star! So everyone is finally happy at the end: Star can die a happy and complete woman, and we can put away for good this overly long novel about a man-hungry, shallow, and annoying doctor.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Millionaire Nurse

By Katherine Foreman, ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel
$1,160,303.54 is a fortune any way you look at it. And that’s what penniless young Andrea Corbury discovered she’d inherited—just minutes after receiving the R.N. degree she’d struggled so long for. Andrea faced a hard and fateful decision. Would she practice the profession she was dedicated to? Or would she live the life of a gay society heiress—and earn the scorn of the handsome young doctor who loved her?
“He had been a country doctor of the old school, and it was his astonishing contention that the only two things essential to the performance of a successful operation were a surgeon and a patient. All else sank into comparative unimportance. A surgeon’s task was to get results by any means at hand, and how he got them was of no great concern to the patient. A good surgeon, he maintained, should be able to do a good job whether he did it in the most modern hospital or on a kitchen table in a farmhouse. Kitchen surgery had taught him invaluable facts, chief among them being the lesson that clean and swift operating did more to minimize infection than all the bothersome face masks and white gowns ever made. Yes, in his later years he had worked in some very find hospitals, but some of his best work had been done in farm kitchens, in his shirt sleeves, with a few boiled instruments in a dishpan. He hadn’t much use for assistants. They got in the way.”
“It’s against nature for a woman to take no pride in her looks!”
Through great personal hardship and dedicated perseverance, Andrea Corbury has received her nurse’s degree—and no sooner is the papyrus is placed in her hand than she is whisked to a meeting with the attorney of her recently deceased Uncle Jefferson. He had loaned her money for her studies, to be repaid, of course—but now it seems the old geezer was loaded and left it all to her if she actually made it through nursing school. So now the whopping sum of $1,160,303.54 is hers.
Naturally, she and her sister, 17-year-old Joan, go completely to pieces. They buy a huge mansion, renovate it to the latest tastes, outfit themselves in sables and satins, and spend their nights partying at the country club. Much to the disappointment of Andrea’s long-time beau, Dr. Fred Falk, who feels she has thrown away her values; this he tells her when she proposes to him shortly after the interior decorators have had their way with her new mansion. So she starts seeing other men. When she meets society playboy Gerald Maitland at the country club, where the likes of Fred Falk cannot afford to go, she finds Gerald “coldly unapproachable,” and she was “a little frightened of him.” A minor incident with a drunk in which Gerald knocks the poor sap out shows her that Gerald is “a dangerous man,” and that “the polished manners cloaked a tiger.” Naturally he becomes her main beau. What is wrong with these women?
He proposes, but eventually she wises up and turns him down, instead becoming infatuated with Lee Archer, a painter newly returned from Paris who is being pressured by his father to take up the family business. The question of his talent is at best dubious: His canvases haven’t arrived yet from France, the “atmosphere” of Texas is not conducive to painting, and he protests a bit too loudly that art is his true calling! Like all serious artists, though, he spends a lot of time drinking, but Andrea feels that Lee is so in love with her that he cannot leave Grenville, and it’s the torture of being denied his art that causes him to drink, so “to that extent, she was responsible for his drinking.” To save him, then, she decides to marry him, so they can go anywhere and he can start painting again. And believe it or not, Andrea marries Lee before the book is half over.
But at the reception Lee becomes blindingly drunk and scoffs loudly that now he has all the money he needs, and he can go back to Paris and Marie: “All I needed was t’ catch a millionaire sucker,” he sneers. So that’s the end of that marriage—fortunately, we are reminded later, never consummated. And soon he’s been killed in a communist uprising that he has joined somewhere in South America.
So now it’s back to Gerald, who has become a meeker, nicer beau. And meanwhile, Andrea is getting worried: Gosh, if Gerald won’t have her, she’ll die a lonely old maid. What would she do to fill her time without him? If only she “could discover in herself an all-absorbing interest,” she thinks. “She could think of nothing that would fulfill her own urge toward worthwhile endeavor.” Nursing never enters her mind, the dumb twit. So when Gerald finally pops the question, she is so relieved! But not three minutes later, the old bossy Gerald resurfaces with a bound; he’d just been holding his breath under the surface all this time. He plans a cocktail party at which they will announce their engagement, where he preens and struts, staring at Andrea “in cold possession. In his regard she became a chattel.” Fortunately, though, if Andrea was a dolt to fall for Lee, she is a wiser widow now, and turns Gerald down flat in front of everyone: “She would not be robbed of her will and become a slave to his.” Gerald responds by knocking out Andrea’s hired man, fleeing the state, and eventually turning himself in to the authorities, where he is found to be psychotic and committed to the state asylum. Let that be a lesson to you, boys: Be nice to your girlfriends.
After this last setback, Andrea, instead of rejoicing over her narrow escape, instead lapses into a deep depression. And the only thing that pulls her out of it is when she discovers something that she can devote her life to with selflessness and joy—that’s right, another man. Once she has him in hand, then she can turn her attention to other things—like transforming the house, yet again, this time into a cottage hospital, and maybe working on its staff. It will cost about a million dollars to get the hospital built, but apparently she and Joan only spent $160,303.54 in all their sprees, so it’s all good! Especially with Uncle Jefferson smiling down from heaven on the newly wise heiress: “Knowing that the true worth of money lay in the wise use of it, he had balanced her strength of character against the pitfalls of misusing it; and she had almost failed his trust. If he could see and hear her now, he would know that she had finally won through to glorious rewards far more precious than money.” So if you should happen to inherit a million dollars, heed Andrea Corbury’s advice, and don’t go falling for controlling, money-hungry men; just give it all away—starving nurse novel bloggers would be particularly worthy charities—and you will be so much the happier for it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Small Town Nurse

By Emily Thorne
(pseud. Jeanne Judson), ©1956
Also published as Enter Nurse Marian

Diagnosis: Loneliness
Prescription: Love
As simply as that, Nurse Marian Rutledge prescribed for the people of Bridgetown. There was Marian’s brother Clive, who frequently thought that something—or someone—was missing from his life. And Alberta Thwaits, who withdrew into one small corner of a dusty, rundown mansion. Or Olive Cressett, a timid spinster, whose domineering mother constantly “protected” her from unhappiness—and men. For these, Nurse Marian could make quick diagnoses—and find just the right cures. But for herself, she was as helpless as any other woman in love.
“Science ought to be the tool of the doctor. Instead, many modern doctors are the slaves of science. They depend too much on gadgetry and the discoveries of the research chemists. We laugh at the doctors who two hundred years ago and less used to bleed everyone, no matter what their ailment. I dare say bleeding was good for a man suffering from too much roast beef and port wine, but it killed the people with tuberculosis. Just yesterday almost every doctor was giving penicillin to everyone with anything from a head cold to double pneumonia. Anyone with average intelligence can get though medical school. It’s how you apply your knowledge afterward that counts.”
This book snuck up on me. Part of the disguise was the similarity between its cover and that of Nurse against the Town, which was pretty bad. Also I didn’t recognize the author’s name, which is actually a pen name of one of my favorite VNRN authors, Jeanne Judson (do not miss the delightful Visiting Nurse and City Nurse). So I was gently pulled into its spell, and I got possibly even as far as chapter five before I realized with a start that Small Town Nurse is a true gem.
Nurse Marian Rutledge has returned home to visit her brother Clive, 11 years older than she, who is a widower and GP in—guess—a small town, Bridgetown, Pennsylvania. He’s been a widower for five years, so he has a battle axe of a housekeeper, Mrs. Doughty, who has no first name and feels that every item of furniture should be pushed against a wall, and that every table must have a doily on it. Soon after arriving, Marian is enlisted to help with an auction that will raise funds for the town’s first hospital. And before long, she’s convinced to quit her job—she works in a tuberculosis sanitarium—and sign on as nurse for the other town doc, Thomas Labadie. He’s a no-nonsense sort, nice to children, “but that was probably just professional geniality,” Marian thinks. “As a human being, he left much to be desired—unimaginative and utterly without a saving sense of humor.” For Clive’s part, he thinks Tom “would expect the woman he married to carry her own weight. He ought to marry a girl who would stand up to him, fight for her rights and maybe make him a little ashamed of himself now and then. It would do Tom Labadie good to meet a woman like that.” Now, just who could that woman be? Hmmm.
Tom’s secretary, Alberta Thwaits, is in love with her boss, but he “was no more impressed with her than he was with the files she kept so neatly.” Marian, fearing Alberta will dislike her as a potential rival for the doctor, works hard to win Alberta over by encouraging her to come over and redecorate Clive’s house, much to Mrs. Doughty’s horror. The two quickly become fast friends, and their decorating efforts are fun to watch, as is their work on the auction. There’s a big dance at the auction’s end, when Marian becomes deliriously ill with pneumonia, and the scene is written with such subtle brilliance that it calls to my mind the time David Copperfield gets drunk (the passage is quoted here).
This is the best sort of VNRN, in which the story focuses on the heroine and her life with her friends, her battles and her victories. The characters here are delightful—I haven’t even mentioned the horsey next-door neighbor, Norma Thomas, and her invalid father, Judge Thomas, who dispense humor and wisdom with both hands—and Mrs. Doughty’s replacement, an enormous black woman named Abby Cameron, a genius in the kitchen who is recognized as such and highly respected for her talents. (She does tend to talk in the heavily stylized vernacular of black VNRN domestics, unfortunately, which does make me cringe.) The writing and the story are gentle, with an easy humor that doesn’t really translate to the Best Quotes section well, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The only drawback to the book is that Marian essentially collapses in a lovesick swoon into the arms of a man she has not much liked up until the last few pages, but I will overlook that one quibble since we foresaw this ending long ago, and Ms. Judson gets it over quick and concludes the book with an amusing little joke. All in all, Small Town Nurse emphatically cements Jeanne Judson’s reputation as one of the very best VNRN authors on my shelf.

Shop this book, reprinted under its
original title, offered by
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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Nurse Christy

By Isabel Stewart Way, ©1968
For Christine “Christy” Merrill, life couldn’t be more wonderful. She had her job as an orthopedic nurse at City General, and she had Paul … Paul Edfield whom she’d known and loved all her life. And one day soon, she and Paul would have their dream come true; he would finish his doctor’s training and open his own practice and she would be his nurse. But that day, suddenly, wasn’t coming soon enough … for Paul. He saw Christy, young, lovely, “wasting” herself, waiting for him. And suddenly Paul decided no more waiting, no more med school. He would take a good job he’d been offered, and he and Christ would be married. But to Christy this was a betrayal of everything they had hoped and planned for … and for the first time she looked at Paul and asked herself if this was the man she wanted to marry … or some stranger she had never really known?
“I’m glad we ate early before we have to start worrying a lot.”
I was initially tempted to write this book off as having one of the stupider heroines I’ve met, but now that I think about it, I’m considering putting it in the “You’ve come a long way, baby” category. From a vantage point of almost 50 years into the future, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between what we now see as backward cultural expectations and a lack of intelligence.
Nurse Christy Merrill, long engaged to medical school student Paul Edfield, is patiently looking for the day three years from now when Paul will finish school and his intern year and they will be able to marry. When he’s finally done with residency, they will move out to the country and start a GP practice together. Paul is working his way through school as a pharmacist, but the waiting and the struggling is killing him, so he tells Christy that he’s going to drop out of medical school and take a job selling drugs with a pharmaceutical company in California—which means they can get married right away and move to Los Angeles! Because being married to Christy is much more important to him than being a doctor!
Christy is more than a little flabbergasted in this big change of plan, and by the fact that Paul has already signed a contract when he decides to fill her in on his plans. “A man has to do what he thinks is best,” he explains, “without asking anybody else to share the blame if things go wrong.” Christy, horrified, tells him, “You had no right! It’s my life, too!” Which is absolutely true. The funny thing is that Christy acknowledges several times in this book that she doesn’t even really like nursing: “Nursing doesn’t mean a thing to me anymore! I wanted to be a nurse because of Paul’s plans.” Even if Paul’s new job means she would be quitting her job to raise babies, that’s no consolation; the real blow is that Paul is “cheating himself like this, sacrificing his whole future to marry her sooner,” she thinks. “He had thrown it all away in a terrible useless gesture.” It seems she wants Paul to be a doctor more than he does, so she refuses to marry him, and he drives off into the sunset.
She immediately has second thoughts, but it’s too late. “She wanted to write him, to phone him, but how could she do that, when she was not sure that he really wanted her?” He’s told her to call him in California if she needs him, but this is not invitation enough for dopey Christy, who points out that Paul did not tell her to call him if she changed her mind, just if she “needed” him, “and the office phone number was just to call in case of any emergency!” Good point. So she mopes around for endless pages, whispering to herself, “Paul! Paul! Call me again!”
And dating Tommy Treonne, indolent son of a wealthy businessman, on the side. Tommy is soon proposing marriage, and mentions that he’d talked about it with his parents before popping the question. “Somehow, it rankled, as if he had discussed every phase of this matter with his family,” curiously enough. Later, when a hurricane is bearing down on the Texas town, Tommy comes to pick up Christy and flee the county, telling her that this is what his father had advised they do. “You asked him? You made somebody else decide for you?” You see where this is going, but I didn’t see her point—asking for advice from your family is, after all, essentially what she had wanted Paul to do and why she’s angry with him, for “not even talking things out, making all the decisions, with no discussion with her ahead of time.” Now suddenly discussion is a bad thing? Yes, it is, and she writes Paul a note, telling him, “I was wrong. A man should make his own decisions and stand by them all the way through.” Yuck.
Now we have the kind of ending that Peggy Gaddis is fond of employing: The hero admits he was wrong, but the heroine decides, no, she was wronger! Paul, concerned for Christy’s safety after the hurricane, returns to town and tells her, “You had a right to help decide our future, because it was as much yours as mine.” But Christy throws her gains away, saying, “My future belongs to you. All I want is to be with you always!” If this doesn’t make you vomit, the book’s final treacly sentence will finish the job for you. So what do you think? Is Christy a moron, or a victim of a sexist time that urged women to disregard their personal desires and careers for a husband? Maybe both, but either way, it adds up to a book—and a heroine—that are just irritating, and not worth reading.