Saturday, March 23, 2019

Tender Nurse

By Hilda Pressley Nickson, ©1957

Few women could resist the handsome good looks and polished charm of Martin Graham, the brilliant surgeon. But Nurse Andrea Grey was one of the few; she had only dislike for this man who seemed to take pleasure in humiliating her. How different he was, she thought, from Godfrey who, lacking Martin’s brilliance, was ever  kindly, warm-hearted and considerate. But as the days went by and Andrea had increasing opportunities of watching Martin’s untiring hands at work, she was forced to admit her first judgment had been hasty. For all his faults he was a man of character, never sparing himself any more than he spared those who worked with him. And Martin, too, was forced to think again. Accustomed to feminine adulation, he found himself increasingly drawn toward this cool, independent girl who never seemed to give him a second glance. In the circumstances, it was inevitable they should fall in love …


“Andrea would not have been surprised if a row of heralds had been arrayed on either side of the ward door ready to play a fanfare of trumpets on his arrival.”

“Uncertain love is no sort of love at all.”

“Any knowledge of your job I can gain will make me all the more fit to be your wife.”

This is one of those lame stories that have absolutely no plot line apart from the gradual, 160-page long rapprochement of the two love birds. In this case our nurse is Andrea Grey, who was late getting into nursing and so is considered “old” at 21—too hilarious!—as she starts nursing school. She has a young  man from her childhood whom she goes out with periodically and seems  mildly fond of. Poor Godfrey seems far more attached, or eager for a housekeeper anyway, as he stands around the sidelines “waiting to give her love and the security of marriage.” He’s one of those guys who feel that Andrea should marry them immediately and give up her ridiculous idea of becoming a nurse. “He had tried so hard to persuade her against taking up nursing,” because, he tells her unselfishly, “you’ll become so engrossed in your work you won’t have time for me.” Andrea persists, however, out of a dedication borne after caring for her mother on her deathbed, and tells him she cannot marry him until her three-year nurse’s training is complete.

Early on, Andrea encounters the oft-discussed surgeon Martin Graham, who is revered at the hospital as much for his looks as he is for his skill. The first day she is to attend him on rounds, he enters the ward just as a patient is asking her for a drink of water. Rather than drop the poor parched man, she helps him to a drink, keeping the team waiting—and fuming—though it’s not clear why rounds would wait for a first-year student nurse. “A real nurse, one who puts her patients first,” Dr. Graham says, “even if she has to keep four other people and a whole ward of patients waiting,” so his first impression is that of a pompous jerk. Though Andrea recognizes his fault and is angry and full of disdain for someone who “allowed and encouraged everyone to pander to him,” she, too, disappointingly remembers “the deep grey eyes that had held her for a brief moment in their spell,” and so I am sorry to report that Andrea fast becomes “one of a crowd of worshippers at this particular shrine” and “had at that moment begun to fall in love with Martin Graham.”

Out with her pal Godfrey, his car breaks down and threatens to make Andrea late for curfew until the heroical Dr. Graham pulls up in his Jaguar (here we will pronounce it jag-you-are, since we are in Britain) and offers to drive her back to the nurses’s barn. Still fuming over his treatment of her, she is less than enthusiastic toward him and as they spar, he pulls over—she thinks to abandon her by the side of the road—and “pulled her suddenly towards him and brought his lips down upon hers in a hard, commanding kiss.” After this assault, she is one of the few VNRN nurses who feels shame and anger, and avoids Dr. Graham as much as possible—until she is posted in the OR and again melts in his aura, “amazed at his skill. She watched entranced as without the slightest hesitation and with a sureness of touch he made his clear-cut incision, noticed his dexterous handling of delicate instruments, the steadiness of his hands, the rapidity with which he worked and gave his orders, and saw the intense concentration in his cool grey eyes. All held her enthralled.” Ugh.

Over the next hundred pages the two date, and the OR chief nurse gets jealous and is mean to Andrea, and Martin turns cold to her also, and she is completely despondent. She passes out in the OR out of heartbreak and having been driven so mercilessly by this mean nurse, and Martin scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the nurses’ lounge and explains he was only being a dick because he was trying to get the mean OR nurse to lay off and hadn’t bothered to mention his plan to Andrea in advance. Then Andrea is out with Godfrey, about to tell the long-suffering dear that Martin has proposed and she’s accepted, when they are in a car accident and it seems Godfrey may be paralyzed from the waist town. She decides, therefore, that “if Godfrey is going to be a cripple for life, I can’t let him down.” Astonishingly, Martin says, “No, darling, you can’t,” though he continues to see her and assure her that somehow their love will triumph.

Guess what—Godfrey turns out not to be a complete fool. After Andrea is relentlessly snappish, cold, and rushing off in tears every time she comes to visit him and declare her undying love, pinking up only when Dr. Graham stops by to check on the patient, he starts to catch a clue. We needn’t feel sorry for Godfrey, however; he’s fallen in love with his nurse, Andrea’s roommate, who conveniently has been dropping hints since early in the book that “she knew only too well, what it was like to love in vain,” but who could she possibly have feelings for??? Equally wonderful, the literal minute that Andrea and Godfrey are actually honest with each other for the first time ever, you’ll never guess what!! “Something’s happening—something’s happening to my legs,” he cries out. “I can feel a queer sort of pricking sensation. Oh Andrea—Andrea—can it mean—” It sure can!

Now no longer insisting that she finish training before getting married, Andrea tells Martin that their wedding “must be quite soon. I don’t want to wait for anything—” Not even her RN? asks the sly Martin. “Not for anything, Martin! All I want now is to be your wife and to be with you for always,” she says, apparently planning on chucking the lifelong dream that was so vitally important at the beginning of the book, the fickle wench.

Really this is a very straightforward story with not one the detours or side roads—patient stories, adventures with the roommate—that make VNRNs worth reading, and there is certainly no camp or humor in the writing. You can’t even call this a real nurse novel, since our heroine is about to become a first-year nursing school dropout. There’s nothing I can point to that’s overtly bad here, just nothing that’s overtly good either, so I can’t especially recommend you stick your fork into this tender nurse.

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