Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Resort Nurse

By Diana Douglas
(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1969
When lovely Elizabeth Spencer, R.N., made up her mind to escape the narrow confines of hospitals and see for herself what went on in the outside world, she never expected anything like her job at Key Sud—the luxury Florida hotel where female attributes seemed more important than nursing qualificiations. She also never expected to be working with a doctor as handsome as Kimball Brown—nor with a nurse’s aide who was a very rich, very pretty, seventeen-year-old hippie with much too grown-up ideas. But the biggest surprise of all was James Scott Haldane, the savagely good-looking author who threw Elizabeth the curve of her life … and forced her to wonder whether she was ever meant to be a nurse at all.
“With her legs pressed together, she was feeling uncomfortable in the overly short uniform the management had insisted even the hotel nurse should wear.”
“You’re an intelligent girl, Elizabeth, and very, very attractive. I’ll be surprised if you remain a nurse for very long.”
“It was her eyes that fascinated him—those glorious, golden-brown, slightly slanted eyes. He had seen Eurasian girls with eyes shaped like that, but with most Eurasians there was an impenetrability behind them. These eyes were different—vital, utterly feminine, and full of changing expressions. And they were wholly American.”
“Women should only hide their eyes behind sunglasses if they have very pale, mean, blue eyes. Or if they have a squint.”
“You’re still a kid until you marry.”
“Rita was rather a plain girl with mousy hair and pale blue eyes, but she was cheerful and efficient, and beneath her mini-skirt she had perfect legs which, as far as the men on the staff were concerned, more than compensated for her face.”
“She was twenty-five years old, and she supposed it was time she thought of marriage with the right guy. But how did a girl go about finding the right guy? At one time she had thought that if he were tall, dark, and handsome, and two or three years her senior, that would be sufficient. But now she knew that this was not enough. A lot of other things came into it. Love and marriage should be for keeps, and that meant a great deal more than just physical attraction in a man.”
“I don’t believe any drug can put into the mind what isn’t there. The impulse must already be present, whether the addict knows it or not. But he or she has been told that this is what the drug will do, and, because they want to feel that particular way, they take it, and suggestion does the rest.”
“A doctor friend once told me that the difference between an heroin addict and an alcoholic is that the alcoholic gets high and goes home to beat his wife, but a heroin addict goes home and his wife beats him.”
I don’t pick up a Diana Douglas/Richard Wilkes-Hunter book with any eagerness whatsoever, and Resort Nurse is yet another reason why. They—and this—are superficial, stupid, patronizing, and perfunctory. And a little creepy; the heroines are usually ridiculously beautiful with “slim, high-breasted figures,” and in the case of Elizabeth Spencer, R..N., brains and personality—or so we are told, though we see little evidence of either in any of the pages that follow. Exhibit A: Elizabeth has left her job at a hospital because she’s decided “to escape the narrow confines of hospitals and to see for herself, for a while, a little more of what went on in the outside world. Life owed her that, she had decided, and this had been the argument she had used to escape, no matter how briefly, from discipline and routine. She had tried private nursing, at first, but had found the patients demanding and irritable.” So right off the bat, Elizabeth comes across as a lazy whiner.
She’d seen an ad for a nurse at a resort in Key Sud, Florida, and now she’s in Miami, being subjected to an unnerving interview with her boss, who insists, “When we’re alone, call me Marvin. That’s one thing you learn in the hotel business. People in high places come to detest formality, Elizabeth. They have too much of it in their work. Success is a lonely thing. It’s made me a lonely man. That’s why I want you to call me Marvin.” Next thing he’ll be telling her that his wife doesn’t understand him. When she finally shakes him off, she can’t get a cab, and when a handsome hotel guest offers her a ride in his “powerful white sports car,” she hops right in. It turns out that her escort is James Scott Haldane, a very successful novelist. She immediately dissects his latest play, which she didn’t like at all, and when he drops her off, “she had been ready to refuse an invitation to dine with him—or at least to go out with him again. Now she felt frustrated and angry: He hadn’t asked her at all. He hadn’t even bothered to ask her name!” So when James Scott Haldane calls her later to ask her out for a drink, she gets all pissy and hangs up on him. The next day she heads to the beach for an early swim and is “indignant” when he doesn’t show up, angry when he doesn’t call her. “Not that it mattered, she told herself, because neither did she have the slightest interest in James Scott Haldane.” Clearly.
But while in Miami, she inadvertently stumbles into a club for a cup of coffee and finds out it’s a drug den, with a couple of stoned teenaged hippies dancing in the back. Now we get a pages-long lecture about how evil LSD is and how it causes genetic defects and “leukemia-like symptoms of cell abnormality” (it doesn’t). Ham-handed foreshadowing is a specialty of the author, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s still irritating.
Once Elizabeth reaches the hotel, she is working with Dr. Kimball Brown, who “was not at all like James Scott Haldane.” Their biggest medical concern is Mrs. Connell, a pregnant woman with a heartrate of 42 and hyperemesis gravidarum, which the good doctor tells the patient, is “primarily caused by a neurotic influence, so you see how important it is for you to try to control your vomiting and not worry.” He asks her to “help us by trying not to expect to be ill every time you eat something.” His treatment is bed rest in a darkened room, codeine for sedation, and—the obvious treatment for someone who is bradycardic and vomiting excessively—fluid and diet restriction. He tells Elizabeth privately that hyperemesis gravidarum is “one of the toxemias”—an older term for pre-eclampsia (it is not)—and that “left untreated it could have led to dehydration,” so again, one does wonder why the doctor has ordered fluid restriction. Elizabeth is also told to position Mrs. Connell in bed “so she can’t inhale any vomitus while she’s under heavy sedation.” God help this poor woman, because the doctor obviously won’t.
After Mrs. Connell is soundly mismanaged, the next person to walk into the clinic is a 17-year-old girl in a “brief mini-skirt, a white sweater that accentuated her young, pert breasts, and she wore the pale makeup that kids seemed to find attractive.” And so I recalled with further dismay that Wilkes-Hunter never described a woman without mentioning her breasts. Sharon Miller asks about the “dangerous drug cabinet”—where could that possibly be going?—and then, “How much of a drag is it? Learning to be a nurse, I mean.” Elizabeth quickly assures the teen that “nurses have boyfriends they go out on dates with, the same as anyone else,” and adds, “I guess one of these days I’ll get married and that will be the end of my nursing career.” The more this book progresses, the less I like Elizabeth Spencer, R.N. Sharon asks if she can help out in the clinic, “as a sort of nurse’s aide,” to decide if she wants be a nurse in the same mold as Elizabeth: “Where I worked wouldn’t matter as long as I don’t have to be ‘dedicated.’ I could work until I got tired of it or wanted to marry some guy.” The ugly mirror Sharon is holding up to Elizabeth passes, needless to say, unnoticed.
It isn’t long before Sharon asks Elizabeth to “give me one of those pep pills,” and helpfully suggests amphetamine, or, when Elizabeth balks at that, “benzedrine then.” Elizabeth gives her a lecture instead, but decides Sharon’s interest in drugs “was not important,” and assigns Sharon to sit up all night with and dispense medication to pregnant Mrs. Connell, who is vomiting, hopefully while positioned on her side, despite the codeine. Poor Mrs. Connell’s prospects of surviving her medical treatment are growing increasingly dim.
Outside of work, Elizabeth is just full of bright ideas: She goes on a date in Miami with her lonely boss, Marvin, and between the two of them they consume a magnum of champagne. Amazingly still consious after this, she has him drive (!!!) her back to the seedy club for coffee, where they spot a girl who looks like Sharon Miller, apparently the same hippie stoner Elizabeth had seen gyrating wildly the last time she’d dropped in. Rather than try to chase the girl down, they convince themselves that it isn’t really Sharon and drive back to the hotel, Sharon’s head “pillowed carelessly on Marvin’s shoulder,” and nevermind the four or five times she’s hoped he wasn’t going to make a pass at her; she gives him an “almost sisterly kiss.” At this point I am wondering if the author wants us to hate Elizabeth in particular or if he hates all women in general. (Actually, I’ve read enough of his books to believe it’s the latter.)
One can only hope it’s a massive hangover that impairs her judgment and not her basic lack of sense when, the next day, Elizabeth asks Sharon to count the drugs in the drug cabinet. You will be shocked to find out that some amphetamines go missing—as does Sharon, who had gone to Miami for the evening. Does the penny drop? Not for our idiot heroine. She innocently asks Dr. Brown if someone might have stolen the drugs, but he is outraged at the insinuation that Sharon might have taken them, no doubt because he liked the tiny little bikini Sharon wore when he went surfing with the teen earlier.
Now Elizabeth is called to the penthouse suite, only to find—James Scott Haldane! Who finally gets around to asking Elizabeth’s name! She tells him about the missing drugs and kid, and he convinces Elizabeth that the two might be related: “She’s in the age group with too much money and too much freedom to do as she pleases. On top of that, she’s bored with her parents and is ripe for all that talk about middle-class Freudian hang-ups, indifferent parents, escapes, and so on.” The man missed his calling; he should have been a psychiatrist. So the pair climb into his powerful white sports car and head back to the club, where they chat with a groovy lad wearing a red-and-blue-striped coat and a stovepipe hat, who tells them Sharon has run off with a heroin addict named Roger. Hot on their trail, Elizabeth and James Scott Haldane find their dilapidated hideaway, break in, kick open bedroom doors, shine a flashlight around although the hall light had worked perfectly well, and find Sharon, buck naked and unconscious, on a blanket with needle marks on her “white thighs—which, along with her breasts, contrasted vividly with the rest of her suntanned body.” Next scene, it’s a few hours later and James Scott Haldane is inviting Elizabeth up to the penthouse for a drink and a little conversation, which entails his ordering her to quit her job and come to his ranch in Nevada with him, after they’re married in Miami. Ugh.
The constant references to women’s breasts; Elizabeth’s unbelievable stupidity and shallowness; the obvious, overly moralistic plot; the automatic and distasteful marriage proposal on the penultimate page—this book’s faults are many and egregious. It’s frankly insulting that the author should think Elizabeth is a heroine that we should like, although to be fair, there really isn’t one single likeable character in the book, so maybe he hates everyone—though his particular disrespect for women is quite apparent. As it happens, the book’s readers will most likely be women, and it’s usually a bad idea to insult your target audience. And so I suggest you refuse to allow Wilkes-Hunter to talk down to you and decline to open his books.

1 comment:

  1. He wrote gothics as Caroline Farr and they are pretty much the same way. Some are creepy and NOT in a good, acceptably gothicky way.