Monday, January 18, 2016

Nurse in Panic

By Jane Converse, ©1971
Cover illustration by Robert Abbett

Diane Whitley was reluctant to leave her nursing job at Greenhaven Memorial for a position at a strange clinic in the New Mexico desert. But the promise of an exciting new medical discovery and the possibility of a new romance made the trip seem very appealing. Yet the moment she arrived at Hollingsworth Clinic she felt a vague sense of uneasiness. At first she thought she was just being foolish. Dr. Darryl Hollingsworth was a dedicated man and his handsome assistant was an earnest medical student. It wasn’t until she found herself falling in love that she realized how foolish she really was—and how easily a mirage of happiness could become a well of heartbreak … and terror …


“He remembered that he hadn’t told Diane that he loved her. ‘I don’t have to say it, though, do I?’ ”

When we first meet Diane Whitley, RN, she is serving her best friend, Polly Cravelle Richards, a dish of cherry Jell-O unadorned by even a dollop of Cool-Whip. Diane has taken a pause in her jet-set life to attempt to persuade Diane to leave her dull, dull life in Newark—“there isn’t one single, eligible male on the staff at the hospital. Not one!” Diane complains—to come work at a clinic where a revolutionary doctor has found a cure for cancer. Dr. Darryl Hollingsworth has discovered a medication, Tychorodryn, but despite his miraculous results, he has been dismissed by the medical community at large. Her advocacy on behalf of the Hollingsworth Clinic has a personal note: Her dear wealthy father has come down with a “terminal” case of cancer, but has personally benefitted from the magic touch of Dr. Hollingsworth and is “pepped up like a teen-ager.” In gratitude, Dad is about to bestow a huge chunk of his fortune on the good doctor, and Polly is crisscrossing the country to drum up further support amongst the family’s close (also rich) friends.

You won’t be shocked to learn that Diane agrees to visit the doctor’s hospital in remote New Mexico, no doubt encouraged by Polly’s description of Steve Bates, a medical student on leave for financial reasons: “He’s unmarried, and all of the aides are over forty. You have clear sailing.” And you also won’t be shocked to learn that Diane and Steve quickly tumble for each other, and Diane agrees to stay on full-time. She quickly falls under the thrall of Dr. Hollingsworth, as she sees all his patients growing pink and energetic under his care, and begins to quarrel more with Steve, who is rightly suspicious of the whole situation and is investigating Dr. Hollingsworth on the side.

Before long, Diane finds herself alone on the night shift when Dr. Hollingsworth stumbles in, smelling of bourbon, and grabs her for “a smothering kiss.” This is especially awkward because Polly has told her that she herself is in love with Dr. Hollingsworth. Though Diane is quite clear about her disinterest in the doctor, Steve suddenly turns quite frosty. And despite her repeated rebuffs, Dr. Hollingsworth continues to grab her behind closed doors before she can shove him off—sexual harassment, anyone?—and it isn’t long before Polly catches him putting the moves on Diane. Though Diane becomes increasingly concerned about the fact that the patients seem to be sleeping an awful lot, she still argues with Steve every time they cross paths, making for page after page of detailed discussion about the many, many problems with Dr. Hollingsworth’s story and treatment, and Diane’s increasingly thin defense of same. Her professed inner doubts make her continued justification of the doctor even more aggravating.

Eventually, though, Steve has one too many arguments with Dr. Hollingsworth and leaves the medical facility. Diane soon decides that she should leave as well—but it takes her quite a while to get around to it, given all the sick patients who need her care and her paranoid feeling that she can’t tell anyone that she’s going, lest they try to keep her prisoner. As she’s sneaking out of the hospital at 11 pm, she unfortunately encounters Dr. Hollingsworth, and starts babbling that she’s going on a date and taking some clothes to a friend who’s helping out a poor Indian family—but the doctor cuts her off and starts doing some babbling of his own, about how he’s converted all his money into Mexican bonds or stashed it in a Swiss bank, and is planning on moving his practice across the border, and darling, won’t you come with me? “Don’t disappoint me, darling,” he says, grabbing her again—you’d think she’d know what’s coming by now and just run when she sees him coming.  car pulls into the nearby parking lot, but rather than scream, she tells him to let her go or she will scream. Naturally he slaps a firm hand across her mouth and drags her into the hospital, but she’s eventually able to jerk free and scream and run into Steve’s arms.

Dr. Hollingsworth naturally gets what he has coming—he’s shot to death by his long-suffering secretary—and Diane gets her man, too, who curiously proposed by suggesting that instead of accepting a loan from Polly, “I’d rather be supported by an R.N. who’s silly enough to go back to work … put me through school.” How could she say no?

It’s a hackneyed story made all the more irritating by our heroine’s stupid inability to see the obvious, though she herself has doubts all along. The endless pages of back and forth about whether Dr. Hollingsworth’s treatment is for real quickly become monotonous; it’s a short story, and not a very good one, stretched into a novel. The writing is perfunctory and the entire situation is baffling, and I am baffled as to why anyone should read this book. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Resort Nurse

By Nell Marr Dean, ©1960
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Young Lynn Ryan was thrilled by her new assignment—hotel nurse at the glamorous Tamarac Lodge. Her duties would be informal, and she’d have a chance to meet fascinating people—at a salary that would enable her to help the family she loved. Lynn didn’t reckon with the three exciting men who appeared, each offering his own brand of romance. Nor was she prepared for the sudden challenge to her professional vows—a challenge to which at first she could find no answer …


“This climate has wrecked my hair.”

“She was unaccustomed to foreigners and their continental manners.”

“Spanish people have very colorful names.”

“Today almost every girl at some time or another thinks she wants to go into nursing. She feels it’s a way to do something constructive—something within her reach.”

Lynn developed a wild curiosity to see the inside of a gaming house. Woman-like, she planned a campaign to get Steve to take her.”

“Girls who are going to have babies simply don’t engage in strenuous sports. Probably the reason you got hurt today is because you were nervous.”

Pearl had just given her a shampoo and set, and she had the fresh feeling that always comes with a new hairdo.”

“Being a very chic little redhead, Audrey was indeed someone to be very proud of.”

“Kay, stop crying! You’re going to get married in ten minutes. You can’t do it with red eyes.”

“ ‘Missy Ryan, come quick! I take you with me.’
“ ‘With you where?’ she asked, trying to cut through his devious Oriental ways.”

“Any woman might as well face it. The responsibility for creating a happy courtship is mostly up to her—just like creating a happy marriage is. In fact, it’s about ninety per cent up to her. If nine out of ten women weren’t such fools, they could get—and keep—the man they want.”

Lynn Ryan, wearing a cashmere coat and a warm sparkle in her blue-green eyes, is awash in excitement about her new job at Taramac Lodge at Squaw Valley. She’s a little bit nervous about the job because she’s never set foot on skis, but is going to have to be ready to dash out to the slopes at any minute to minister to a hapless skier with a sprained ankle or a broken rib. But she’s going to overcome her fears for her stepmother, Carmen Marie, who’s lived in poverty her entire life: She’s spending her exorbitant salary—$250 per month—on a lot in the Los Angeles suburb of Fernando Acres, where Carmen and Lynn’s father will finally have a house of their own.

En route to the resort on the bus, she meets Steve Matson, an engineer working to widen the roads to four-laners before the upcoming Olympics. Later Steve drops by to visit and takes her out snowshoeing—and they come across a wealthy hotel guest, whom Lynn had previously treated for intoxication with lemon and honey and a cold bath, lying in the snow. As Steve races back to the hotel to get help, Todd Gilmore tells Lynn that he came out into the woods to commit suicide by freezing to death. When Todd is safely packed back, she whispers to Steve what Todd told her, but Steve completely laughs her off, as does the doctor who is treating Todd for frostbite. After the amputation of a few fingers and toes, Todd is back at the hotel recovering, and Lynn is dropping by daily to manage his care, and slowly becoming his friend.

Her interest in Todd takes her to the new casino he’s built nearby, and soon she’s won $3 on the nickel slots. You can see the writing on the walls. Before long, Lynn gets word that her father has been injured and can’t work, so he will have to live off the money that he and Carmen were saving to make the next payment on the Fernando Acres house. Lynn doesn’t have quite enough money to cover the whole payment herself, so she hustles back to the Pair-O-Dice with Wong Duck, the Chinese cook, and loses $195, all but $5 of the money she’d saved. If that weren’t enough, she returns and loses her entire $250 paycheck, just to put the icing on the cake.

Then, out on a date, Steve tells Lynn he loves her because “you’re soft and sweet.” This might be a nice turn for Lynn, but no: Steve very peculiarly becomes nasty and jealous of Todd after Lynn tells him of her gambling losses, though his biggest accusation is that Lynn, on her routine nursing visits to Todd, is being instructed on gambling techniques while she’s there, the scandalous tramp.

After a week in which Steve doesn’t call, Todd asks Lynn to drive him to a meeting, as he’s still sore from his toe amputations and can’t operate the gas pedal very well. En route, he tells Lynn that he’s in love with her. He’s a lot nicer than Steve’s been lately, especially when Lynn returns to the hotel and finds a ridiculous letter from Steve, telling her he won’t bother her again because he can’t compete with Todd’s money. Todd, desolate over Lynn’s kind refusals, gets drunk and flings himself off a cliff, and Lynn is forced to rescue him again. Safe back at the lodge, Lynn is tending to him in the lobby when Steve walks in and naturally transforms into a raging ass, making snarky remarks and jealous assumptions without pausing to listen to Lynn’s reasonable explanations. Fortunately, she has her friend Pearl to give her sound advice: “What do you expect me to do? Keep fawning over Steve?” she asks Pearl. “If you love him, you’d better,” Pearl answers. “Lynn, a woman has to make the fellow she adores think he’s the only guy in the universe.” Ah. Thanks for the tip. Though it does beg the question whether Steve is worth adoring.

This being a VNRN, however, that vital question goes unexamined. Instead, Lynn calls Steve and makes up a dumb story about needing medical supplies and then pretends she doesn’t know how to get to Carson City. She’s exulted when Steve falls into her trap and offers to drive her. She dresses for the drive—“for once he wouldn’t find her in a starchy white uniform, looking like a pillar of salt. Pearl’s words rang in her mind: Men like to be with women who are beautiful and feminine. Women who intrigue them.” On their drive, Lynn remembers more of Pearl’s pearls: “Men are like little boys. They love praise.” So she compliments the job on the roads he’s been doing, and sure enough, Steve melts long enough to hear Lynn tell him that Todd’s been committed to an insane asylum for a year because of his suicidal tendencies. He’s so pleased that he offers Lynn some advice for making the $700 payment she and her family need for the second installment on the house: Just ask for an extension on the option. He’s so smart! Before long, he’s calling her a bonehead and ordering her around: “ ‘Move over closer to me,’ he ordered brusquely.” She swoons: “It was the old Steve talking again, Steve with the same bossy sweetness in his voice, the same strong hard arms that could hold you so tight you hurt.” You know it’s real love when he hurts you. It’s enough to make you want to stop at the nearest quickie wedding chapel, which, unfortunately, they may well be about to do at book’s end. Run, Lynn! Run!

There’s a lot of campy writing and situations to be found in this story. Its deep flaws—the insidious racism (see Best Quotes) and the horrific attitudes about relationships—are pretty dreadful, but at the same time they make the book more interesting, they give you something to think about and cluck over, and be grateful that times have changed. I feel quite certain that Steve is not going to make Lynn happy, but I also feel quite certain, after Pearl’s advice, that happiness is not really the point of being married; being married is the point of being married, and Lynn is about to score on that point, so it counts as a success. Sometimes a book that makes you irritated is not necessarily a bad book, and in this instance, that is definitely the case.