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.

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