Sunday, August 10, 2014

Celebrity Suite Nurse

By Suzanne Roberts, ©1965
Poppy Helden had never forgotten her promise to return to her hometown as a nurse in the little clinic there. But Miami Beach, where she was training, had many distractions. There was the warm lazy sunshine of the beach, and the beguiling attentions of young Dr. Steve Harper. When Poppy’s singing idol, Nicky Farrell, became her patient in the Celebrity Suite, Poppy’s heart began to beat to a new and different tune and she was caught in a clash of conflict … in which both her love and career hung in the balance.
“We certainly don’t want an interne around who’s slightly psycho.”
“You look much too unworried to be a doctor.”
“Poppy—don’t fall in love with somebody famous before I get you down to the chili parlor tonight—okay?”
“If I’m running a fever, baby, you’ve got only yourself to blame.”
Goodness, she thought suddenly, men can certainly complicate a girl’s life!
“I’ll bet a wife like you could save a guy millions of dollars a year. I’ll bet you watch for all the sales and I’ll bet you can cook.”
“Stop behaving as if you’re still a silly student nurse, dying to get married!”
“There are very few girls who look really pretty in the early morning.”
On page one, Poppy is a new graduate, a hard-working hillbilly from a hardscrabble town in the Georgia mountains who borrowed money from the hometown doctor to complete her training. She’s sworn to return home to work after her training, but she’s planning to take one more year at Marymount-on-the-Beach Hospital in Miami Beach to gain a little more experience before packing her bikinis and heading home to the mountains. Unfortunately for her, the nursing supervisor has decided that the experience our little waif really needs is with the idle rich: She’s been assigned to the celebrity suite, where she will tend to just one patient at a time.
She’s not too excited about this, as she had hoped to be a little busier. But nursing supervisor Isabel Duncan has other plans. “I think, with the life you have planned,” she explains to Poppy, “that seeing the so-called pampered darlings of the world with their masks off, will do you good.” Why the hospital would waste the skills of someone who is acknowledged to be the most dedicated graduate they’ve seen in years on private duty with just one patient to teach her this trifling life lesson is perplexing.
But then, when Poppy gets one look at pampered darling Nicky Farrell, a singing sensation checked in with fatigue to rule out leukemia, it doesn’t do her good at all—she’s suddenly, unprofessionally, off her head over the poor, possibly dying boy, leaving the hospital after her first shift to go sit on the beach and brood all night over him—missing her date at the chili parlor with Dr. Steve Harper. This is a blow to the young interne, who has been planning to marry Poppy for quite some time, though up to this point she’s refused to consider herself “his girl.” Now she’s staying late after shifts to visit Nicky, her heart hammering wildly every time she pulls a thermometer from her pocket and pops it in his mouth (cringe), swooning when he tells her he’s in love with her, and, on her third day on duty, dancing with him and kissing him. She’s very confused: “Which man do I belong to?” she asks herself, as if she should belong to anyone, especially a patient she just met 72 hours ago.
Now we enter the middle of the book, which is mainly a lot of moping about whether Nicky loves her, whether she loves Nicky, her feelings for Steve—the fact that she has previously declared that she has none beyond friendship notwithstanding—and “her duty towards the two men who cared about her!” We learn fairly early on that Nicky just has a “glandular infection,” not a fatal illness, but he still insists that he’s in love with Poppy and wants her to come on tour with him. His manager, Joe, fruitlessly tries to warn Poppy that Nicky will leave her for his true love, performing, and tells her that Nicky always thinks he’s in love—the last time to a “crazy chick” who tried to kill herself with sleeping pills after he left her, and whom he never visited when she was in the hospital recovering, the selfish lout.
And Nicky now reveals that he thinks that his manager Joe only cares about him for his money, though it’s clear that’s far from the case—and Poppy wonders, “What if that worked both ways? Suppose that Nicky, feeling that no one could truly love him for himself, was unable to love back?” Quite a stretch, but we have to have some reason for Poppy to decline his marriage proposal—the fact that she’s known him less than a week apparently not sufficing.
Then Luzette Theibou, a French actress who is all the rage in Hollywood, checks in. “She comes to the hospital every time one of her boyfriends doesn’t jump when she tells him to. She tried the sleeping pill routine” when her last romance ended, Poppy is told—and the startling coincidence between her recent escapade and Nicky’s last girlfriend’s suicide attempt is never explained, though it seems Nicky and Luzette had never met. Sloppy plotting, apparently. Then, when Poppy discovers the patients slow-dancing in the Sun Lounge and Nicky insults Poppy by telling her to bring them some Cokes, it appears Poppy’s “relationship” is on the rocks, because “when a boy told girl he cared, and then proceeded to dance with another girl as if there were no tomorrow, it could be pretty darned confusing!”
Suddenly Steve is looking better, but not much: “She didn’t feel that wild and wonderful way around him that she felt in Nicky’s presence, but still, Steve was somebody very nice and comfortable to be with. Like houseshoes, she thought, and she flushed. It didn’t seem like a very complimentary comparison.” Indeed. “Was this love? The easy, friendly, comfortable, quiet thing, where two people sat watching a calm ocean, where two people talked of medicine more than of love or passion, where two people could not see each other for days and when they did, feel as comfortable as they had the moment they left each other.” I hate this device, where the author tries to convince us that friendship is a better foundation for marriage than passion. Call me a romantic fool, but it comes across as lowering your expectations, as putting matrimony ahead of personal happiness: Better to marry a nice man who wants you than remain single and hold out for a man you really love.
When Nicky is released from the hospital, he invites Poppy to come to a concert, and seats her at a table in the front, replete with flowers and a quick visit before the curtain goes up. “You know what? I was hoping you’d wear a white dress tonight,” he tells her. “In your white nurse’s uniform, you looked so pretty. White becomes you.” Poppy immediately feels this means that Nicky only loves her as a nurse—but she’s saved from awkwardly running out the door when Luzette crashes the party and seats herself at Poppy’s table, and tells Poppy that she’s in love with Nicky, whom she’s known for only a day—this guy is really something else! Poppy kindly tells Luzette that it will take time for her to convince Nicky that she really loves him, due to his “seeming inability to accept love,” but that they will be married by spring—so it won’t take that much time, after all.
On her way out of the music hall, however, there’s a bloody disaster, and Poppy calmly saves the patient and calls for an ambulance. Arriving at the hospital, they’re met by Dr. Steve—and now it’s the young doctor who is making Poppy’s heart miss a beat, nauseatingly enough.
This book has two fundamental and conflicting problems: Too much going on, and not enough. The central anguish we are subjected to for pages and pages—so much somber wallowing about who loves whom and whether it’s real or not—seems foolish when the relationship is silly and inconsequential and reduces our heroine to some very tacky, not to mention unprofessional, behavior. The questions about whether Nicky is capable of love, whether Poppy’s feelings for Ole Houseshoes Steve is real love, even the question whether Luzette is the old flame of Nicky’s who tried to kill herself, just clutter the story in an unhelpful way, because the story should be about a real relationship developing between Poppy and Nicky so we can find out if what they feel is substantial and long-lasting or just one of those things. As we have it, this is a trivial story about a pair of shallow individuals who just latch onto whatever is convenient.

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