Monday, August 26, 2019

Doctor Geyer’s Project

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1967

Doctor Warren Geyer desperately needed money to help him carry out the research project that was so dear to his heart, and the rick businessman Rory McMurtry was willing to supply it. But Mr. McMurtrey had a beautiful daughter who was interested in Doctor Geyer. Were there going to be awkward conditions attached?


“Rory had never had much patience with what he termed ‘serviceable women,’ no matter how clever and competent they might be. He liked women to be decorative, and when they were he could forgive much.”

“Engagements are like promises and pie-crusts, made to be broken! Most marriages can be wrecked, if only one thinks about it a little. It shouldn’t be difficult!”

Nurse Hilary Oakworth is “about the best and most enthusiastic staff nurse in the whole hospital,” “friendly, helpful … a crisp, competent young woman.” Unfortunately, however, she has two major burdens to carry: One is that her twin brother, Robert, had been apparently paralyzed in an accident in which, saving a child from being hit by a car, he was struck himself. There’s a surgeon in Austria, though, who has cured cases such as Robert’s, and Hilary is working like a dog, denying herself even such essentials as talcum powder and bath oil to save “even the odd sixpence” to finance Robert’s trip and treatment. The end result of this scrimping is that Hilary holds herself aloof from the other nurses so as not to be tempted by the spontaneous outing to the movies, which makes the other nurses think “Hilary’s made of a cardboard heart.”

Our heroine’s other handicap is that she’s in love with Dr. Warren Geyer, “a man totally immersed in whatever it was which he worked at during every free moment in the laboratories of the hospital.” This in itself is a glaring warning sign—every VNRN aficionado knows that lab men are a cold, uncaring breed usually in possession of the emotional range of a turnip. Dr. Geyer asks Hilary out for coffee to discuss the book’s eponymous project, singling her out because “you don’t seem to gad about with the rest of the nursing staff very much, or indeed with anyone. You seem to live for your work, to mind your own business. To do what you can for your patients and leave it at that.” To behave, in short, exactly as Dr. Geyer does himself. “ ‘You make me sound all kinds of prig!’ Hilary protested, her color rising.” If a description that very accurately describes the man she’s in love with is so appalling to her, I do feel compelled to wonder why she’s attracted to him. She’s not alone in her feeling, though, as apparently half the nursing staff as well as one wealthy young volunteer, Francine MacMurtrey, are similarly smitten: “He always makes me want to take care of him! He seems so busy caring for everyone else that he doesn’t have time left over to bother much about himself. I think he needs someone to take an interest him,” Francine declares, bewilderingly believing that person to be her.

Dr. Geyer’s plan is to establish a research lab that will grow food without water or soil, and to create a diet based on these crops that will allow astronauts to be self-sufficient in space. He wants Francine’s businessman father Rory to fund his project, but is afraid that to seal the deal he will be forced to forge a more permanent partnership with the love-struck Francine. Hilary’s answer to this problem is that he should pretend to be engaged to her—and even get married if need be—to throw her off. In return, Dr. Geyer will pay for Robert’s surgery. Surprisingly, Dr. Geyer agrees to this scheme, though it’s not clear why marriage to Hilary would be preferable to marriage to Francine, and the plan goes off without a hitch.

Everything at the new clinic is progressing well, apart from the astronauts’ propensity to break out in rashes from their experimental diet. Hilary’s brother moves in to benefit from some buffing up before his surgery, and Francine’s disappointment in losing Dr. Geyer evaporates the minute she claps eyes on the handsome—and coincidentally even more helpless—Robert. “It drew her very heart-throb from her body. Never, she knew, had she felt like this in her life before. Never, she felt, would she feel like this about anyone else, no matter how long she lived or what happened to her.” So Dr. Geyer’s half of his  bargain with Hilary turns out to have been completely unnecessary. Rather than break off their sham engagement, however, Dr. Geyer instead gets pissy when a visiting doctor pays a little too much attention to Hilary. Accusing her of leading the doctor on and telling her that she’s making a fool out of herself for a man who is bound to dump her in the end, Dr. Geyer simultaneously infuriates Hilary and drops a few telling remarks about their bargain, which are overheard by Francine. Rushing to spill the beans to Robert under the impression that he will find this good news, she finds instead that Robert decides to refuse to have the surgery, bought as it is with money from the sale of his sister. When Hilary learns of Robert’s plan to quit the hospital immediately, she follows suit and tenders her resignation from both Dr. Geyer’s clinic and engagement.

With this shocking surprise before him, Dr. Geyer has a Dr. Higgins moment when he realizes that he’s grown accustomed to Hilary’s face, in the flattering fashion of self-absorbed emotionally challenged men. “She must be a very important person indeed in my life,” he thinks, and logically reasons that his upset at Hilary’s impending departure must mean he cares for her. Rushing to find her packing, he tells her, “Until today I’ve never thought of love except to tell myself it was a biological urge, something to while the time,” concluding, “I must love you.” Nothing else matters more than she does, he decides, except helping Robert, because he’s her brother—and this last is what brings Hilary to his arms.

The story is fairly perfunctory but not unpleasant. Hilary is a strong, capable woman, but her unswerving devotion to Dr. Geyer is never understandable to the reader. Clearly a longstanding theme in nurse novels and indeed in life is the one about the elusive man whom everyone wants falling for only you, but frequently the problem in VNRNs is that these unavailable men are seldom shy or insecure—forgiveable offenses—but are just completely devoid of emotion, making them completely unattractive to anyone with a shred of self-respect or confidence. This book is guilty of that sin, making the entire premise utterly baffling. The best reasons for reading this book are Hilary and Francine, and if it’s not the most compelling book, it’s perfectly serviceable.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Nurse’s Dilemma

By Hilda Pressley, ©1965

Sister Alys had been in love with Doctor Richard Kent for a long time—at a distance. Then she was appointed to the post of Home Sister, which would bring them into contact—not knowing that Doctor Kent considered that particular post a great waste of a trained nurse’s time.


“One tends to think that all teenagers are pop mad.”

“With a woman it’s different, even in our modern times. At least, it is with me. I still want the man to do the chasing. If he showed any sign, of course, I’d meet him halfway. But—well, you know, a girl has her pride and all that.”

From the very first sentence, Nurse Alys Newton is desperately in love with Dr. Richard Kent. She’d run into him at the train station and had snagged the only cab right out from under his aquiline nose, and that plus the swanky fur coat she’d been wearing (dad’s rich) had made him look at her in anger and scorn. There  you have it, the stuff on which passion is built in far too many nurse novels. “It was ridiculous to feel this way, she told herself, about a man to whom she had not even spoken,” and the best thing we can say about this is that at least she understands her foolishness.

But over time she and Dr. Kent begin a speaking relationship. As she is promoted to Home Sister, which is a position that involves supervising all the student nurses as well as filling in around the hospital when they’re short-staffed, she sees a lot of him—and he uses these opportunities to tease her about her cushy job: “What, if I may ask, is someone as  young as you—and obviously a good nurse—doing wasting her time in a position like Home Sister? Surely it’s a job for either the middle-aged or work-shy?” Now he is in her thoughts constantly. “His tall figure striding along the main corridor or across the quadrangle, his uncompromising stare, his way of saying exactly what he liked, and which never failed to spark anger in her.” Ah, true love!

They spar at every meeting, with varying degrees of friendliness, which causes Alys a lot of pain. To her credit, Alys does understand the silliness of the situation “She must be crazy to love this man! Why did she? she fumed inwardly,” after he’s made fun of her again. “It couldn’t be the real thing, anyway. She  barely knew him. It just couldn’t be any more than a superficial attraction.”

In the interim, small items go missing around the nurse’s dorm, and Alys’s suspicious fall on the new nurse, Edna Farrell, who is unpleasant and rude to Alys, though an excellent nurse. Edna had a tragic childhood, spent in orphanages and foster homes, so Alys tries hard to win Edna’s trust. Alys also catches a night nurse with a pair of missing hosiery in her hands, and nurse Halesworth says she’s just found them in the bathroom—indeed, all the missing items turn up eventually. Those of us who have read The Case for Nurse Sheridan understand exactly what is going on here, and indeed the detective who’s brought in to crack the case starts throwing around the K-word: kleptomania! But Alys, for all her suspicions, tells the detective when Edna is caught with a stolen nightie, “What I do know is—Nurse Farrell is no thief.” Eventually the story comes out that Nurse Halesworth, an orphanage friend of Edna’s, is indeed a klepto, and Edna has been returning all the ill-gotten gains.

This subplot very handily absorbs a large chunk of the story, as does Alys’s dating Dr. Ben Chalmers, who is really very nice but not a man she loves. When Ben eventually proposes, we haul out of the closet the threadbare question of whether you should marry a man you like if you can’t have the man you love: “Ben needed her. She sensed it. He needed her far more than Richard did, who indeed did not seem to need her at all, did not appear even to want her friendship. She needed love, needed to feel cared for, to feel sure of someone. And here, in Ben, it was being offered to her. They could fill a need in each other.” You screw up your courage to face her eventual acceptance of his proposal, as per the custom of the county, but we are in for a pleasant treat: As Ben pops the question at a swank restaurant, Richard strolls in with a beautiful but snippy nurse on his arm—you fear the deal is sealed—but Alys turns him down, saying they do not feel “an all-consuming passion for each other.” She’s resigned herself to becoming a vinegary careerist nurse—and about to resign her position as well to get away from the pain of seeing Richard—when the inevitable happens, and you know what that is.

If the prose here is not sparkling or campy, it’s a pleasant enough story that easily passes the time. I appreciated that Alys is self-aware enough to see the silliness of her crush even if she is helpless to shake it off—haven’t we all been there? Pleasant enough and not especially annoying—qualities that make for a fairly decent nurse novel, such as the one we have in Nurse’s Dilemma.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Prodigal Nurse

By Harriet Kathryn Myers, ©1963

All her life, Nurse Judy Austin had regarded Graystone Memorial Hospital as a haven, a place where problems were solved and lives set straight again. But suddenly all the comfort of the hospital turned to coldness; for the very doctor who had courted her so amorously was now accusing her of negligence and the death of a patient. How could Judy fight to protect her reputation as a nurse when the truth might ruin her last chance for happiness?


“He’s naturally a wolf, like very other man you’ll ever know. But that’s the nature of the beast, and it’s up to girls like us to tame that savage nature.”

“‘I won’t bite you,’ he teased. ‘If I do, I’ll warn you in advance.’”

“I’ll take him. Even if you don’t want him. I know how to handle him. With care and feeding—and gentle training—he can yet be a wonderful man, and an M.D. to be proud of.”

“Never let a man think you needed him; it was like money or fishing, you never got either if you needed them.”

“I always run a temperature when you’re near me, and I hope I always will.”

I’ve looked forward to reading this book for quite some time, drawn largely by the excellent and unusual cover illustration. What I found behind it, though, did not deserve my interest. In this fairly perfunctory  book, Nurse Judy Austin is a cynical, bitter young woman who, having recently graduated from nursing school, already hates her new career. She’s fled to a tropical island for a vacation where she contemplates her options with her best friend, Lora Kneeland. “Are you really going on with it?” Lora asks. “Can you really endure what they do to you? The hours without sleep? The doctors who either don’t know, or don’t care, or both? The pay—good lord, the pay! They want girls. They actually get up in front of you and tell how badly they want girls in nursing, smart, dedicated girls, and then offer you a salary you couldn’t live on! We must have had holes in our heads” But—but—what about our dedication to a higher cause? Actually Judy doesn’t have that either, having lost her ideals working alongside the hospital’s resident quacks.

Lora’s answer is for Judy to snag the ubiquitous handsome, rich society doctor. “You’ve got Warren Blackmarr down here all to yourself and you’d better take advantage of it while you can,” Lora advises. “You hook Warren Blackmarr in the next two weeks. You get him wrapped up in orange blossoms before you leave here.” But—but—what about True Love? “Would it kill you to fall in love with a man as rich as Warren Blackmarr?” It seems like it would, though. On her next date with Warren, she feels only self-conscious, “somehow contrived and dishonest.” “She was conscious of a part she had to play, and an interest Lora warned her to pretend when she wasn’t sure yet what she felt in her heart.” Though it’s pretty clear, when he dismisses her deep attachment to her family, what she ought to feel. So she flees the island early and comes home, on the plane sitting next to a poor sap of a man. He expresses concern at how troubled she looks, but “she was old fashioned, a square about many things: about talking to strangers, tricking men into marriage, loving her family and wanting to stay near them.” So she gives him the cold shoulder—besides, “most of all was the white suit. A white suit? A white suit in the dead of winter!” What a loser! But in the airport he’s looking so lost, she offers to share her cab with him. When she arrives at her house, she finds that Dad has dropped with a heart attack in the hallway and Mom is running a fever. In ten pages Dr. Guy Forrest—you knew he was—has cured Dad, and Mom too, and best of all bought some black clothes. He’s quickly adopted by the entire Austin clan, which he deeply appreciates, having grown up an orphan, so he’s ensconced most nights at the dinner table.

Dr. Warren, meanwhile, has come home to chase Judy some more—but before long he’s revealed himself for the wolf that he is when he offers her not a ring but an apartment!! She sprints home, berating herself because “she’d thought he loved her,” suddenly, when she’d had only doubts before—but the clouds break apart with equal alacrity and she is at once aglow with the knowledge that “she loved Guy Forrest. She had always loved him, from the first,” again another surprise to the reader.

With 40 pages left to go, we end up in the OR with Dr. Blackmarr and the other hospital quack, Dr. McLenton, who manage to assassinate a patient who’d come in for a routine hysterectomy, and the duo attempt to throw the OR nurses—Judy among them—under the bus for the death, despite the nurses’ valiant but futile attempts to nudge the surgeons in the right direction, away from the major arteries in the pelvis. The hospital chief, prodded by Guy, exonerates the nurses and insists the surgeons resign, but Dr. McLenton goes berserk and attempts to shoot Guy in the parking lot, just as Judy is rushing to him to tell him she loves him. A more successful murderer when wielding a scalpel than a handgun, Dr. McLenton gets Judy instead, and she is saved by the only competent surgeon in the building, Dr. Guy Forrest.

Awakening after apparent weeks—it must have been one big bullet—Judy undergoes yet another epiphany and finds that the world of medicine suddenly has meaning. “At last she was truly one of them. She had found herself at last because she knew she owed her life to dedicated doctors, devoted nurses, all working together. She  believed in them now, and what nursing stood for, wanted to be one of them after this long time of doubt and indecision.” Jesus rays shining down around her, all she has to do now is softly whisper Guy’s name and he appears before her, so she can tell him she loves him and we can close the book.

An ordinary novel for the most part, Prodigal Nurse swivels like a top in its positions: Does Judy love Warren? Does Warren love Judy? Does Judy love Guy? Does Judy love nursing? Depends on what page you’re on. Its finest point is that the usually righteously square Judy, who cannot tolerate fashion faux pas or an indecent proposal that should have surprised her not a whit is suddenly brazen enough to chase Guy Forrest across a parking lot. But maybe that’s just more swiveling.