Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Night-Duty Nurse

By Katherine McComb, ©1970

Pretty red-haired Karen Hayden was new at the hospital, but already she had a reputation for efficiency and dedication—since work came first in her life … Then one night a tragic explosion brought scores of emergency patients to the hospital. In the excitement Karen was kissed by Clay Palmer—the handsome, aloof new intern all the nurses were whispering about. After that kiss, sensible as she was, Karen could not wipe the moody Dr. Palmer from her dreams. It was only when Clay Palmer turned all his attention toward a female patient that Karen agreed to date the flirtatious Jack Arlen, an ex-patient of her own, and the son of the most influential man in town. But Jack Arlen was more than an irresponsible playboy, as Karen would soon learn—and Clay Palmer was not a man whose kiss she could easily forget ….


“Right now she was all for planned parenthood, though she knew that on the following day she would change her mind.”

“Close my eyes—with you to look at?”

“Did you, by any chance, have surgery for the removal of the heart, and then run away before they could transplant the new one?”

“I’m going to ask those doctors over there to examine you if they want to discover a sensational phenomenon—a living woman without a heart.”

“ ‘I formed the habit of eating early in life,’ she told him, ‘and I don’t seem able to break the addiction.’ ”

“Did anybody ever tell you how pretty you are when you’re angry? I see now why fishwives always keep their husbands.”

This book opens with a bang—a literal one, as a ship loaded with crude oil explodes in the harbor outside the hospital. “Enemy attack!” gasps our paranoid heroine, Karen Hayden, as she scrambles to her feet. She reports to Emergency, where she is teamed with the dreamy new resident to help a young man with a severe leg injury. Dr. Clay Palmer is back from a stint in Vietnam that seems to have left him rather crabby, as his first remark to her is, “Stop your daydreaming, Nurse!” To his credit, he apologizes in the cafeteria later, but as Karen starts babbling on about how the patient was petrified he would lose his leg: “It’s like being half a man,” she says understandingly, and Dr. Palmer abruptly stalks off.

Karen quickly recovers from this unfortunate gaffe, or at least with us readers, as she’s soon bantering with her friend Lorna with a sense of humor often relegated to minor characters. With Dr. Palmer, however, it’s another story, and the next time they meet he overhears her saying to a group of tittering nurses, “He has a disposition about as sweet as a crabapple!” Awkward! To her credit, however, she immediately apologizes. He asks about new patient Jack Arlen, spoiled son of wealthy Judge Arlen, who’s cracked up his head and his latest sports car and wants Karen to rub his pains away and otherwise gratify his every whim while he’s in the hospital. Dr. Palmer offers to get young Jack a special so as to free Karen from his wiles, but she tosses her head and declares, “I can take care of myself!” In response to this, Dr. Palmer grabs her and kisses her—and when she kisses him back, he pushes her away and says, “All women are vulnerable.” There is just no way to leave this scene with any fondness at all for Dr. Clay Palmer. And we are reminded of this on two other occasions, when Karen recalls “a young, brash doctor who had kissed her to show his superior strength and laughed at her anger.” But—and you will not be surprised to hear it—her heart is constantly racing or doing double flips or hopping and skipping like a frolicsome rabbit, I’m sorry to report, every time he is near.

Soon the wise “old” charge nurse (she’s 40) is telling Karen that Dr. Palmer is in love with her, but she’s finally relented and started going out with Jack, who respects her fortitude, though the two are really just good friends. Dr. Palmer doesn’t know that, however, and starts dating a rich widow: “My advice to any working girl is: ‘Marry for money.’ That’s what I intend to do—if I ever marry,” he tells her. In the meantime, there’s a young girl with a bone cancer in her leg who needs an amputation, and who runs away from the hospital because her mother insists that she’s better off dead than with just one leg: “What man would want to marry a girl with one leg?” she shrieks. But Karen tries to calm the girl down by telling her that “many amputees live normal, happy lives”—a curious about-face from her earlier position. And after a quiet half-hour chat with Dr. Palmer, young Laurie bravely marches off for her amputation, and “a fund had been started by the townspeople to buy Laurie the best leg possible.”

Eventually Jack proposes, and Karen turns him down because she is not in love with him. He suggests it’s because she thinks he’s an irresponsible kid, she essentially agrees, and he speeds off down the street in a huff. Needless to say, he’s later found with the wreckage of his car wrapped around a tree, with a girl “from the wrong side of the tracks” in the passenger’s seat. Karen soon learns that the girl, Nancy Lord, has recently acquired a new last name—she’s Nancy Alden! It turns out that Nancy and Jack had been in love since they were kids, only Jack was too worried about what his father would say to marry her. Karen’s barb, as it happens, was exactly what he needed to pop the question to the right woman. Who is now in surgery having her skull fracture repaired. You’d think this crisis is going to be the one that skates us into the book’s finale, but no—the darned hospital catches on fire, and it’s up to Karen to rescue at least two-thirds of the patients when some of the more skittish nurses abandon their posts. Dr. Palmer, even more heroic than Karen, is the last one out of the building and suffers some burns, but Karen is there to nurse him back to health.

There’s a little bit of the usual “he doesn’t love he” waffling, unfortunately, at the bitter end when the rich widow Dr. Palmer had toyed with briefly returns to the scene of the crime, which mars the ending slightly. But it’s over as quickly as most of the various scenes in this book, which at times gave me a bit of vertigo with its rapid spinning from topic to topic. But overall this is an enjoyable and amusing book, easily worth the two hours it will take you to blaze through it.

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