Saturday, March 26, 2016

Disaster Area Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1965
Cover illustration by Uldis Klavins

The thunder roared and crashed about them—but Nurse Lynn Lawrence felt that the wildness of the storm was rivaled by the frantic racing of her own thoughts. She cast a glance at her fiancé, Greg Avery. Beside him, huddled helplessly, was the pretty Dawn Evans. There was no doubt that Greg was paying a great deal of attention to comforting Dawn—too much, Lynn thought. But there was another in the group of flood-marooned strangers. He was handsome, and smiled at Lynn in a way that sent the heart fluttering. Surely things would right themselves once they got back to civilization. But in a disaster like this, a short time could lead to a broken-hearted eternity.


“I’m not very hot for hardware.”

I had assumed that Lynn Lawrence would be a public service nurse who manned the battle stations during a disaster, à la Disaster Nurse, but no, Lynn is actually just a nurse who gets caught in a disaster. She and her fiancé Greg Avery are taking a bus to Lynn’s rural home, where Greg is to finally meet her parents—and he is none too happy about it, either—when ferocious rains cause the rivers to flood, stranding Lynn, Greg, four other passengers, the bus driver, and a passing motorist at a nearby farmhouse. Completely surrounded by water, the motley crew tries to make the best of things. Well, not all of them: Greg is whining and crabby at the outset. Actually, Greg’s downfall is not entirely unsuspected, as he’s one of these boyfriends about whom few compliments can be paid even from the opening pages, where he is billed as intense, nervous, skeptical, impatient, and resentful. One can easily see why Lynn wants to marry him.

He’s not the only one who can’t keep it together: Poor little Dawn Evans spends most of her time shrieking or sobbing, and only Greg seems to be able to comfort her. When Dawn is unable to get to her bedroom alone, it’s Greg who accompanies her, while Lynn watches, “an alarm bell ringing in her head.”  When Lynn follows them a few minutes later, she finds Greg holding the weeping Dawn in his arms, puts Dawn to bed with a glass of water and an aspirin, then hauls Greg off by the ear for a few words. He just seems pleased that she’s jealous. “Sometimes you’re so self-sufficient, I wonder what you can see in me,” he tells her. Uh oh.

Hypocrisy soon unfolds in spades when the motorist they’re stranded with, Marshall Davis, starts trotting around after Lynn, grabs her in the hallway and only lets go when Lynn insists—but soon he’s back, kissing her and telling her that he’s in love with her, which is certainly farther than Greg has gotten with Dawn. Though she feels “she was already throwing her pride to the winds where Greg was concerned, almost begging him to concentrate on her, to forget another woman,” at the same time when Marshall corners her again, “this time when he kissed her she was too tired to fight him.”

As this love quadrangle is unfolding, the 7-year-old daughter of the couple who live in the farmhouse, little Diane Wilson, has inconveniently decided this is the time to come down with appendicitis. Lynn attempts to “scatter the infection” with cold packs to the abdomen and the four remaining aspirins in the house (too bad she wasted one on the hysterical Dawn!), but those of us with a nodding acquaintance with modern medicine will not be surprised to learn this doesn’t work. Eventually Lynn, who has been keeping mum for some bizarre reason about the seriousness of Diane’s condition, confesses to Marshall how sick the child actually is, and Marshall sets about building a boat so as to go for help. Needless to say, his desperate voyage is made in the pitch black of night and involves encounters with large floating trees and a ducking or two, but soon a helicopter is landing in the back yard to take the girl off to the hospital. The next day the boats come to rescue them, and back in civilization, Lynn and Greg decide to end their engagement—but not to worry, by the time the day is over, there are two new ones to announce.

This book isn’t terrible, but the double standard Lynn operates under is just perplexing. I was sorry that our heroine, an outstanding surgical nurse (are there any other kind in a VNRN?), didn’t just do the appendectomy herself, like in Wings for Nurse Bennett, but our heroine isn’t that strong. The marooned-on-an-island plot has lots of promise—just ask any of the innumerable books, movies, and TV shows that have done well with it—but Arlene Hale is too pedantic to score any real success with it. The story unfolds automatically, with little suspense or excitement, so there’s really not much to be gained from reading it. With a title as fantastic as Disaster Area Nurse, the disappointment is all the worse.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wings for Nurse Bennett

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1960

“Office-dressing” … That, Sarah thought wryly, was exactly what she had been as nurse to the handsome and successful Dr. Ralph Caldwell Porter. Looking wand-slim and elegant in her white nylon uniform, her heaviest duty had been to stand by serenely while Ralph administered to the imaginary needs of some fawning, simpering female. And now she was suddenly in the wilds of Alaska, newly appointed stewardess of the Alaska Passenger and Freight Airlines, about to board the frighteningly small and flimsy-looking plane for her first trip. But at least, she assured herself, here she could be useful. And perhaps, in this new land, she would get a new perspective on her life. Because she had to make up her mind about Ralph. She had to decide whether she could marry a man she loved—but didn’t respect.


“ ‘Can you imagine a man ever wanting to go to bed with Miss Davenport, darling?’ Ralph had asked her once when, miraculously, the waiting room was empty. ‘She’s a good nurse—the best in Dayton, barring not even you, but ugh.’ He had kissed her. ‘Don’t ever let yourself get fat and frumpy, sweetheart.’ ”

Sarah Bennett is working as a flight attendant on a small Alaskan airline (apparently in the old days flight attendants were nurses as well; in any case, she is one). She’s taking time away from her job working for Dr. Ralph Caldwell Porter, who is just as he sounds: A pompous, society doctor who panders to neurotic wealthy women, and who plans to marry Sarah and turn her into one.  She’s desperately in love with Ralph and can’t wait to marry him, she says, but is constantly thinking things like how great it was to be a flight attendant, “a member of the team, just as she had been at the hospital, as she had not been, not really, in Ralph’s office.” But she’s managed to tear herself from his well-groomed side for a few months to step onto the plane, subbing on the job formerly held by her old friend and wife of the pilot Paul Fergis; Jenny Fergis is pregnant, and so grounded. It’s Sarahs third day on the job when this particular flight takes off from Killmoose to Tanacross, and not half an hour into the flight, one of the passengers steps into the cockpit with a revolver and knocks out Al Malcolm, the co-pilot.

Back at air control, the radio is blasting reports of three men who crashed a stolen Cessna near Killmoose and haven’t been seen since. The men are wanted for questioning in the attempted sabotage of one of the United States’ Distant Early Warning bases in far northern Alaska—these would be the bases where, during the Cold War, people sat around and watched the skies for incoming Soviet nuclear missiles, so they could call home and say goodbye before the missiles arrived on American soil. The air traffic folks instantly recognize from the descriptions that these guys are on Sarah’s flight!! Now everyone is combing the Alaskan wilds, but it’s a lot of ground to cover, so things are looking grim…

Meanwhile, the gun-toting head basher puts the plane down in a clearing hundreds of miles off course and hustles everyone except his two co-conspirators off the plane, then takes off again. So now the story’s narrative jumps from the worried air controllers listening to the news, to the passengers trying to survive in dilapidated miners’ cabins in the woods, to Paul Fergis and a passenger who have set off through the Alaskan winter to try to find help. As the passengers trap rabbits and build bedding out of spruce boughs, Al Malcolm is increasingly warming the cockles of Sarah’s heart, though she tries again and again to remind herself that “she was in love with Ralph, she was going to marry him—to her Al Malcolm could be no more than Paul Fergis’s co-pilot.” But there’s just the small problem that Ralph is a philandering ass, and is never set up to be anything but, even to Sarah: “Sarah wished she could think of Ralph Porter without something unpleasant nudging into her mind,” she thinks before we’re a quarter of the way through the book—“Why did she keep thinking of Ralph? Remembering things that made her slightly sick at her stomach.” I wonder how everything is going to turn out?

Of course, the passengers that the bad guys have been kind enough to abandon rather than simply murder outright are prone to all sorts of health issues.  Needless to say, everything turns out swimmingly for the stranded passengers, who have the capable Sarah to steer them through their medical crises, though she is inclined to a hysterical interior monologue: “Oh, God, Sarah thought. Suppose something is going wrong?” she wonders when she’s delivering a baby, which despite her fears—“Oh, God! Was the baby stillborn? After all this—” is perfectly healthy, only now she’s got to concoct something else to worry about, like the baby catching “pneumonia, here—” But it doesn’t, so on to the next emergency: One man, unfortunately named George Jefferson, develops right lower quadrant pain and “Sarah’s breath caught in her throat. Not appendicitis! Please, God, don’t let it be appendicitis.” But it is, and now we have pages of watching George’s temperature rise: “Four-tenths in an hour? Oh, God!” But she convinces Al Malcolm to assist her with the surgery, which she pulls off effortlessly in 43 minutes. Now she’s worried that she’ll go to jail: “What would they call it, practicing surgery without a license? Or—or criminal negligence?” For crying out loud, someone get this woman a Xanax!

Eventually the two men wandering the wilderness are spotted by a rescue plane, the party in the woods is whisked back to civilization, George Jefferson recovers easily and reveals that he is actually an FBI agent assigned to nab the bad guys who hijacked the plane—not a very good one, it seems—and the bad guys, not being very good pilots, are discovered to have crashed the second plane as well and killed themselves in the process. Sarah finds she’s not going to jail or lose her job, and that she does not love Ralph after all. Not to worry, though, someone else is waiting to offer her marriage on the last page, and then—oh, God!—we can finally close the book.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Nurse in Las Vegas

By Jane Converse, ©1975
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lana was never sure if she had taken the Prince case because of the lure of Hollywood and Las Vegas, or because Dr. Gil Whitaker had practically forbidden her to get involved. But what started out as an uncomplicated case and a chance to be near the doctor she loved turned into a nightmare. Her patient, famed comedian Reggie Prince, decided he wanted a closer relationship with Lana than medical rules required. And he certainly was a charming host, surrounding her with the glamour of TV, nightclubs, and posh estates. But nothing seemed to work out right. As Reggie’s attentions increased, Gil seemed to content to drop out of the picture. Was she doomed to lose the man she loved over a one-sided flirtation with a Hollywood Romeo…?


“A thing doesn’t hurt any less because it’s trite.”

“If this is what the doctor ordered, I’m ready to cooperate.”

“She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, a sultry siren-type who had taken on pounds along with years and was now desperately trying, with the aid of cosmetics and an expensive, hopefully slimming pants suit, to fight the battle against middle age.”

Our heroine, Lana Stafford RN, is a dope. She’s in love with Dr. Gil Whitaker, who operates a specialty practice, treating patients who are movie stars, writers, and television personalities. He’s gone to lunch with her a few times and once to the movies, but he just hasn’t demonstrated any real interest, damn the man. Then Lana learns of a private duty job caring for one of his patients, fading comedian Reggie Prince, and decides to apply for the job, just so she will be able to see Gil from time to time … and, just maybe, “in a glittering atmosphere, not hushed and subdued and miserable, where she wasn’t overworked empathizing with a dying patient, he would see her in a different light.” Gil takes her to dinner in an attempt to talk her out of the job, calling her childish and naïve to think that caring for this allegedly glamorous personality will be anything but hell on wheels. But she insists until, “half irate,” he agrees to take her to meet Reggie Prince to see how awful he really is.

At Reggie’s monstrous, Grecian-style mansion, the Prince puts on quite a show, screaming at his employees and discussing the merits of rose-hip tea and ocean kelp diets with Gil. The doctor, the only one in the room with any sense, suggests that instead of dieting, Reggie should stop drinking, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and popping benzos, but Reggie seems less than interested in this advice. So naturally Lana decides to take the job, because “it would be fun, going to Vegas, being around during the filming of a TV special,” even though Gil is livid that she has disregarded his advice. Maybe not the best way to win his affection, but that’s just my opinion. Curiously, Lana seems bewildered that Gil doesn’t kiss her goodnight when he drops her off.

On the job, she finds she has little to do except lie around the pool and unsuccessfully attempt to persuade Reggie to stop drinking, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and popping benzos. Despite his utter disregard for her advice, and his increasing regard for her figure, Lana adopts a protective attitude toward him, suggesting to his ex-wife and current girlfriend that Reggie is “wound up like a clock spring,” and doesn’t need them “hassling him about whatever it is that’s annoying you.” This does not win her any friends, needless to say, and it’s also rather inexplicable, as there is really nothing at all in this character to arouse pity.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the story involves watching Reggie wind himself and his staff into increasing frenzies as they prepare for the taping of a TV special that they are writing and producing. Reggie is in dire straits, it turns out, and the special is intended to revive his wilting career. Lana feels increasingly sorry for him, despite his abusive and self-destructive behavior, and continues to feel puzzled and hurt that Gil is cold and distant. Neither of her attitudes toward these men is in the least bit comprehensible, which makes the book seem a lot longer than it actually is.

Eventually Reggie and his motley staff head for Las Vegas to tape his show. Given the hysteria Reggie has worked himself into, it is small wonder that the show is a complete flop. Lana, oddly, lies to him and tells him how great he was—she’s traded in the role of nurse for that of major enabler. Then Reggie starts gambling heavily with three vicious-looking sharks, and when the big loss comes, Reggie literally hustles Lana out the back door onto a private jet that takes them to his ranch in Texas. The rest of the gang catches up a few days later, scared and pissed off, and Reggie’s business manager has been beaten to a pulp to boot. Turns out Reggie’s in the hole for $150,000 and has 48 hours to pay or he’ll be fish food—but naturally he’s in debt up to his bloodshot eyeballs and can’t come up with the dough. When the thugs finally track Reggie down, they’re not too happy, and one of Reggie’s party is murdered. Lana is kidnapped so they can “dispose of the witness”—though they could have just killed her on the spot—but before they have a chance to do her in, the cops track them down, shoot up the car, and rescue Lana, miraculously unhurt. Reggie is carted off to the psychiatric ward, and Lana has two pages at the end to admit how wrong she was to not do as Gil had asked. And listen to his admonishments: “Like, when you promise to love, honor, and cherish, that’s not the end of the line. You’ll have to listen to my advice. When I think I know what’s good for you, you’ll have to pay attention,” he tells her, and not at all smugly, either.

Jane Converse does enjoy the over-the-top Hollywood character, but Reggie is just an abusive ass, unpleasant to read about. Lana’s inexplicable concern for him and immediate enlistment as enabler-in-chief makes the book even less enjoyable. Jane Converse will always occupy a tender place in my heart, largely for her magnificent Surf Safari Nurse, but this was just not one of her better efforts, and I suggest that you leave Las Vegas behind.