Saturday, April 20, 2019

Beth Lloyd, Surgical Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1970
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Nurse Beth Lloyd had just broken with the man she loved, the brilliant young surgeon Dr. Paul Bryant. She was heartbroken when he accused her of trying to push him into a marriage he felt would hinder his career. Suddenly into their lives came Jimmy Ladue, critically in need of a heart transplant. And Paul’s conservative senior partner, Dr. Weston, so strongly opposed to the new techniques, was for some mysterious reason willing to perform the operation. It was to be a transplant that would transform all their lives. For in its wake a desperate secret would emerge—a secret to threaten the reputation of two fine surgeons and bring Beth Lloyd heartbreakingly close to the man she was trying so hard to forget.


“The chic ex-songstress could be seen puffing an endless chain of cigarettes in the coronary care reception room.”

Beth Lloyd is a surgical nurse desperately in love with the cardiac surgeon she works for, who proves true to type and is an angry, arrogant jerk who dates Beth but refuses to offer more than vague expressions of interest, a setup that author Jane Converse has employed to equally poor effect in Heartbreak Nurse. Beth, needless to say, can’t seem to shake the loser. “Any opportunity to be with Paul, even a stodgy dinner at the Westons’,” thinks our pathetic masochist, “was better than staying in her own apartment, thinking about Paul, wondering why, apart from a few almost platonic goodnight kisses, he avoided any meaningful involvement with her … gave out no hope that their relationship would progress beyond its present stalemate.” Not surprisingly, at the end of chapter one, they get into an argument in the cafeteria when he gripes that the senior surgeon he works with, Dr. Merrill Watson, and his stuffy, high-society wife Lois are trying to pressure him into marrying Beth and settling him into a “smooth, proper, unchanging” life, which he implies is a “trap” worse than death—and then starts shouting when Beth, feeling rightfully insulted, questions whether his desire to perform a cardiac transplant in a small-town Indiana hospital, likely unprepared to handle such a complex patient, is due to his relentless and single-minded drive to make what he himself calls “some valid contribution to surgery” instead of enjoying life.

Paul Bryant’s partner, the stodgy Dr. Weston, is adamant that they will never do a cardiac transplant—until he turns up with 23-year-old  Jimmy Ladue, a talented artist imported from Paris with his trampy mother Sara, a former lounge singer who stalks the hall in her stilettos trailing cigarette smoke. Jimmy is dying from chronic ventricular fibrillation, and now the surgeons are planning their transplant. Even when things are going his way, Paul continues to demonstrate his “tense, almost paranoiac” streak: When Beth offhandedly mentions that the transplant could give a second chance to “a wonderful, talented, valuable person”—well! “Your attitude disgusts me!” Paul erupts, outraged that Beth isn’t “thinking of the advancement this operation may mean in cardiac surgery” and he bizarrely insists that her appreciation of this one patient means she doesn’t care about “old, untalented, unvaluable people”—though of course no doctor in their right mind would do a cardiac transplant on an old unhealthy person unlikely to survive the rigors of surgery. “All the pressure that had caused Paul to use Beth as a target tonight,” Beth thinks, means that “his violent reaction could have been triggered by almost any statement.” No wonder she’s so hopelessly in love.

Now the surgical team is on hold until a suitable donor presents—and after a couple of weeks, a healthy bum who has been beaten to the edge of death wheels in, conscious enough to sign the consent to give his heart to Jimmy Ladue—and conveniently dies on the OR table. Now the team is scrubbing for the cardiac transplant, when a nurse bursts in and cries out that Dr. Weston has died in a car crash on the way in. Dr. Paul proceeds with the surgery, which goes off swimmingly—but now the newspapers are asking why Dr. Weston was going forward with a surgery he had previously disavowed, and how the donor patient turned up so conveniently. Dr. Paul is promptly labelled Prime Suspect #1. The police are closing in when out of the blue the obvious story—one worthy of a Florence Stonebraker novel, actually—emerges and the insane murderer comes forward. It’s not nurse Beth, though you could attribute her with madness when at the end she falls into Paul’s arms and agrees to marry the bastard.

This is a mediocre book in which Jane Converse has fallen back on all her old tricks without putting in the least effort to sprinkle any spice on them. It’s resemblance to Heartbreak Nurse is quite uncanny, and it’s not even as good as that fairly lame book. If your alternative for the afternoon is watching paint dry, this might be a better choice, but on the other hand, you could in that time conjure up without too much difficulty a far better book than this one.

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