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.

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