Monday, March 30, 2020

A Nurse Comes Home

By Georgia Craig (pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1963

“Stick to your own world, you’ll never last here,” handsome, young Dr. Chastain told Nurse Holly on her first day at Mission Hospital. Holly had left a luxurious world as private nurse to wealthy patients to work among the city’s poor, but Dr. Chastain, in charge of Mission Hospital, was not impressed. He seemed to go out of his way to be unpleasant to Holly and made it plain he disliked her and her “charity.” Holly couldn’t understand why she wanted his approval so much. Didn’t she have wealthy Murray Howard in love with her? She couldn’t care for two men at the same time—or could she?


“He’s a swell guy and a caution with them knives and scalpels of his.”

“I admire the skill and the competence of luxury doctors. I also admire the nerve with which they present exorbitant bills for minor services.”

“Doctors and interns are too busy with their professions and careers to think about marriage.”

“I never thought I’d see the day when I’d find a girl who could look even lovelier in a formal dress than in a nurse’s uniform. There’s something about those starchy, rustly white outfits that make a fellow feel that all’s going to be right with the world as soon as the nurse puts a cool hand on his fevered brow.”

Nurse Hollace Lowman is a 22-year-old nurse in search of a man. “I’m going to fall in love one of these days, for keeps, and I’m going to get married for life, and have a home. That’s what I’ve wanted more than anything else in the world,” she says. This obsession stems not only from the mores of the age but from the fact that she is a “half-orphan”—her mother died and her father took off for parts unknown, leaving her to be raised in foster homes. But don’t feel sorry for her; she’s no Oliver Twist! “I was well cared for and sent to school just like anybody else,” she declares. And now she’s a vagabond living in a hotel with a box containing all her worldly possessions; so much for her deep connections with her foster parents.

At least, though, she cares for patients well-to-do enough to keep her in the finest mansions and summer homes while she’s ministering to their health needs. Again, though, the author wants to put the usual trope on its ear, as when Hollace is accused of pampering “the imagined ills of hypochondriacs,” she defends her rich clientele with vigor, saying, “a great many of them are seriously ill. They have operations from which their recovery is slow and sometimes painful; they have accidents.”

To wit, when we meet Hollace, she is just putting the finishing touches on the recovery of wealthy Paige Randolph, who is four weeks out from an appendectomy that nearly killed her—hard to believe that’s true, but this is fiction, after all—and is still not yet allowed to drive her own car. On their way home from the country farm where Paige has been convalescing, they drop by Mission Hospital, which the snobbish, shallow Paige has most uncharacteristically adopted as her pet charity project; indeed, many times in the book she is credited as being the only reason the hospital is still in business. But it’s not the hospital or the “horrible people … not really human beings” that Paige really cares about. “If you could see the way they live, the utter squalor! They are animals,” she says of the patients. Rather it’s the tall, cool drink of water that is Dr. Elliot Chastain she has her eyes on, though he is giving mixed signals. We hear that his eyes light up when she comes by, but his speech to her is sarcastic and indulgent, not exactly signs of true love.

When Paige and Hollace pull up to the front door, they find Miss Sara Ballard, 80-year-old resident RN, wracked with pain from a cancer that she won’t get treated because then there would be no nurse at the hospital—obviously missing the point that if she’s out a month for cancer treatment that’s less than she’ll be out if she dies from it. Hollace is instantly smitten with Miss Sara and volunteers not only to come work for the clinic but to do it for free and to pay for things the patients need out of her own pocket. In short, Hollace is a patsy, and proves it by wandering outside one night after she’s moved into the hospital and being dragged at knifepoint to the drug cabinet so she can get her new friend some opioids. Fortunately Dr. Chastain interrupts the interview and the gentleman caller is hauled off to the clink.

All this cements Dr. Chastain’s opinion of Hollace as a soft, lazy babe in the woods with an immorally cushy job. “I’m a nurse, not a glamour gal,” Hollace spits, and actually gets into a pretty feisty row with Dr. Chastain the likes of which I’ve not seen in a Peggy Gaddis novel, where the ladies usually just roll over for their lord and master, the MD. But of course the pair starts off the book throwing lots of verbal knives at each other, until page 48, when Dr. Chastain kisses her. “My goodness gracious!” she thinks later. “Why, I liked having him hold me! I liked having him kiss me! I’m not sure I didn’t kiss him back! Oh, how could I have?”

Before long, Hollace has attracted the attention of worthless playboy Murray Howard, who had previously devoted himself to Paige. That spurned woman is now furiously jealous of Hollace, though she continues to profess no interest in Murray. Eventually Murray proposes to Hollace, but she by that point knows she is in love with Dr. Chastain and gently turns him down. Eventually Paige wins the battle by bringing Miss Sara back from her convalescence, so now Hollace is out of a job and goes trudging reluctantly back to the penthouses of her former patients. But now “she grew very weary of their constant absorption in their own concerns. Neurotics, all of them, she told herself distastefully.”

Not to worry, though: Another VNRN trope in the form of a huge fire sweeps through the slums, and Hollace drops her self-absorbed, neurotic patient on the eiderdown counterpane and sprints back to the hospital. She works tirelessly for countless hours, and when the fire is out and all the burned patients are swathed in bandages and tucked in bed, she announces she’s coming back to work there permanently! Then the news trickles in that the townspeople are so ashamed that there was a slum in town, which somehow they have been completely unaware of until now, that they are rebuilding it and will charge no rent for the houses there and are building a toy factory where all the poor slobs can work to boot! On the last page, Hollace has a big blowout with Dr. Chastain and tells him she’s in love with him, and then it’s just half a page more before we can close the book.

This book of Peggy Gaddis’, here writing as Georgia Craig, that seems like it set out to reinvent some of the old standards, like the unhappy orphan, the undeserved rich patients (though it changes its mind at the end), the heroine who can’t say how she feels, even the degree of defiance the nurse demonstrates toward the doctor, as Gaddis usually loves to have a heroine scrappy of speech but wilting of action—which even Hollace can’t completely avoid when she says, “I’ve come home at last, because wherever you are is always going to be home for me.” But we’ve also got plenty of the usual suspects: the initial antagonism between the future lovebirds, the slums reborn, the much beloved elderly woman (a major staple in Gaddis novels, although here Miss Sara seems more imperious than lovable, and has an awkward habit of constantly referring to the slum’s residents as “my people” as if she were a queen). A few minor flaws include the fact that the work Hollace does at Mission Hospital is never described, nor are we told why it becomes so compelling to her. And Paige’s longstanding and time-consuming interest in the hospital is completely outside of her flitting, superficial character. But Gaddis can be a very good writer (except when her carefree—usually rich—women are “caroling” instead of speaking), and overall the book’s differences from the usual fare make it worth reading.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Lake Resort Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1966

Lovely Reba Rollins, R.N.,  was the happiest girl in town that morning. The lakeside resort town where she lived and worked offered her an exciting job and the promise of a love-filled future with Skip Thornton. Yet by the end of that very day, her contentment came to an abrupt end. For her Uncle Charlie had returned, and with him was a handsome young stranger. The blond Lee Chandler had come to Wind Wood to forget his dark past … but the storm brewing in his eyes was to engulf Reba in a raging tempest.


“Go ahead, go! I’ll get some young thing to take your place, somebody I can flirt with on the sly and maybe even pinch when no one else is looking.”

“I’ve got enough troubles without having girl troubles!”

“Was it thundering or was it only her heart?”

Reba Rollins is so lucky! She’s not really engaged to Skip Thornton, who “didn’t want to jump into matrimony until he was financially sound,” which seems like it’s going to take a while; he’s been involved in multiple businesses and “hadn’t been exactly successful in any of them.” “Sometimes, I don’t think you want to marry me, Skip Thornton!” she says, displaying a penchant for the blatantly obvious. But that’s where her luck comes in: How great is it for her that the ass she wants to marry refuses to have her! “I can’t ask you to marry a guy in a sinking ship,” he tells her, and any gal with sense would be running for the personal flotation devices. So when Uncle Charlie breezes into town with alluring, mysterious stranger Lee Chandler in tow, it takes only a few days before “she did a foolish thing”! At his apartment during a thunderstorm, when the electricity goes out, she falls into his arms. “I’m a brazen woman!” says our scarlet hussy.

Lee immediately gets a job working for Skip and cleans up the sloppy business, which before long is making money for the first time. Lee is a secretive fellow who is always starting to say something and then clamming up, like, “I know what it’s like, sitting around in a hospital room—waiting for God knows what.” He’s the kind of guy about whom everyone is trying to guess his occupation: “What are you, a lawyer or something?” “You sound like a judge or something.” “You sound like a doctor.” “It was almost as if he should be wearing some kind of a uniform.” Hmmm. He soon tells Reba that he loves her, and the pair circle around each other for most of the book, kissing now and then, and now and then Reba has the decency to feel slightly guilt-stricken about it. Meanwhile, Skip has struck up a friendship with summer tourist Helen Wakefield, and Reba is naturally wild about it. “Helen had a crush on Skip. Perhaps it was more. Perhaps Skip returned the feeling!” shrieks the blazing hypocrite. But not to worry, she is quickly over the guy she’s been seeing for three years and “found herself wanting Lee!” Just as well, because now that Skip’s business is finally looking up, he wants to sell. “He was too much of a rolling stone, too uncertain, too improbable.” No kidding.

The end of this book is obvious and not quick enough in coming. Lee turns out to have been a highway patrolman who shot an armed burglar in self defense, and has been torn up about it ever since, but Reba is there to help him mend his broken psyche. The story reads more like a teen romance with a lot of blather of little consequence and almost nothing about Reba’s nursing job, making it not much of a nurse novel. The characters are flat and uninteresting, as is the writing. The best thing about it is the cover, so my advice is to stop there.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Staff Nurse Sally

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

If only Staff Nurse Sally Nesbitt could have fallen in love with nice young reporter Mike Amberton, instead of carrying a torch for the surgeon Curtis Palmer, in company with all the other nurses at the General Hospital!


“I like men with a bit of ‘go,’ but I don’t let ’em break my heart. It’s made out of that new plastic stuff, you know, the kind that bends but doesn’t break, always comes back to its original shape.”

“When you’ve had enough of this career business I’ll still be waiting.”

“All the luxury in the world doesn’t make up for friends.”

“Nobody could possibly try to become romantic while occupied in disposing of coffee and crisps!”

My goodness, I’m really turning into a cantankerous old goat. It seems like every VNRN I’ve read lately is one I have actually read about five times before, and it’s making me discouraged to post yet another C-range review. This is what happens when you’ve read 383 nurse novels: The truth comes out that only about a quarter of them, and I may be overly generous in that estimate, have anything resembling an original plot. Staff Nurse Sally, alas, is not one of these treasured few.

Sally is the quintessential Marjorie Norrell heroine, which is to say beautiful, stalwart, honorable, intelligent, hard-working, dutiful, generous, and kind. We can almost see the halo glistening above her softly waving chestnut brown hair and crisp white linen cap. She’s dating reporter Mike Amberton, who will love Sally until the day he dies and has already proposed—and been turned down—four times, but she feels only a sisterly affection for the poor dope. In about every other chapter we are treated to more of Sally’s hand-wringing about why oh why can’t she love nice Mike the way he loves her? But instead she has joined the throng of nurses who are devoted to quintessential Marjorie Norrell hero Dr. Curtis Palmer, who “doesn’t appear to know women exist except in two states, nurses and patients. They just don’t exist otherwise.” This idea too is hammered home again and again, until you just cannot imagine what Sally is thinking, chasing after this automaton.

Dr. Curtis comes to be aware of Sally’s existence when she saves Francie Bodman, the only child of a wealthy family, who accidentally falls off a bridge into a river. Sally’s clear thinking and strong swimming save Francie’s life, and Francie and her family are so grateful that they press Sally into specialing Francie, who has sustained the classic VNRN spinal injury that means she needs months to learn to walk again but will be perfectly fine in the end. Dr. Curtis comes to visit his patient Francie daily, whether she needs it or not, and Sally naturally remains blind to all clues that it’s really her that Curtis wants to talk to. For her part, Francie is in love with a man who won’t marry her because she’s rich and he’s not, and it takes the wise grandfather to rescue all these young women and their bumbling beaux.

Marjorie Norrell can write a pleasant heroine (see The Marriage of Doctor Royle, Lesley Bowen M.D., Doctor Geyer’s Project), and Sally is certainly one. Ms. Norrell is sorely challenged, however, when it comes to giving us a man we can feel rightly deserves these stellar women; in fact, I can only find one really good one, and he unfortunately ended up with a dud for a heroine (in Nurse Lavinia’s Mistake). Ms. Norrell is a bit prone to the sin of introducing about five dozen different characters by name, most of which you never meet again, and this makes it difficult to keep everyone straight. She also has a tendency to blather on and on about trivial details in a way that makes you suspect she had a word count goal and that she’d come up short in the first draft. In the end this was a perfectly good book, just not one I am going to remember in a week.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

River Nurse

By Teresa Holloway, ©1969

Now that her mother was dead, the last thing Barrie Foster wanted to do was to go back to Delta, the small river town where she grew up. But she felt that she owed old Dr. Hamilton a debt for helping to put her through nursing school. Once that debt was paid, she could think about taking a job like the one she’d been offered in Atlanta. But Barrie had no time to feel sorry for herself. Delta was caught in its usual summer outbreak of sleeping sickness. And the town was divided over a hospital project—with the most influential citizen very much against it. To further complicate matters, a young and very handsome doctor, Jon Tyler, had moved to town … in direct competition with Dr. Hamilton. Suspecting Dr. Tyler had been “invited” to Delta to help eventually force the ailing Dr. Hamilton to give up his practice, Barrie soon found herself caught between her loyalty to the man to whom she owed so much, and her growing attraction to Jon …


“One of the minus factors of being a nurse is never getting to finish a cup of coffee.”

“Time’s a lousy measuring stick for anything except how long it takes a virus to grow.”

“An experience like marriage was for the hale.”

Nurse Barrie Foster is a new orphan, father long deceased and her mother having joined him two months earlier, when she arrives back at her home town intending to serve four years under aging, venerable Dr. Hamilton, the town GP, in order to pay him back for having assisted her financially when she was going through nursing school. Immediately upon pulling into a parking space on Main Street, she witnesses a young girl being hit by a car and runs to apply pressure to the head wound. A man in street clothes steps up as well, and she orders him repeatedly to go get a doctor—classic VNRN mistake!—only to discover that he’s the new medico in town, Dr. Jon Tyler. Ooooh, how embarrassing! And now we can segue quickly into another classic VNRN trope, in which the pair develop “sheer hostility at first sight.” Start shopping for something to wear to the wedding now!

Barrie catches up with girlhood friend Lola Gilreath, whose father is president of the bank and therefore in a position to quash our third VNRN chestnut, the idea of building a hospital in this rural, isolated town of 7,000 which practically speaking is unlikely to be able to support one. But never mind about that, because old dad immediately drops of a heart attack, opening up all sorts of opportunities for Barrie: First, Lola suddenly has room to spare and asks Barrie to move in, and now opposition to a hospital has melted away, and Lola’s house, much too big for two women in a way it wasn’t for Lola and her father, starts to look like a great place to open a convalescent home. It’s a blessing for Lola as well, as she steps into her father’s job and makes a big success of it, even if she is, well, just a girl, and a pretty  one at that: “Whoever would have believed that a brain lives under those blonde tresses?” says Barrie, Lola’s alleged friend.

Dr. Hamilton, spotting a good thing when he sees it, decides to have an attack of his own, but he opts for a stroke, which leaves him partially paralyzed, oddly from the waist down. This means he has to give up his practice to hottie Dr. Jon, but now he has time to putter around in his lab and develop a vaccine for the encephalitis that plagues the town. You will not be surprised to learn that soon a major drug company is knocking on his door offering large sums of money and a “tall and shapely, and with a smile you wouldn’t believe,” lab assistant to wheel him around. This means Barrie is off the hook, so she wastes no time in corralling a dozen women to each get 300 women to sign a petition to get a hospital in town. For those of you who resisted doing the math at home, this is a total of 3,600—in a town of 7,000, which even if half female must have some children too young to heft a pen.

Now all that remains is for Lola to give her house to Barrie for the convalescent home and for Barrie to contract pneumonia, which makes her the home’s first client. While still bedridden, the men who apparently run the town pop in to tell her that they’ve decided to fund the hospital, and soon Jon puts to rest Barrie’s conviction that he is in love with the receptionist, and we can lay the book down.

There are a number of strong women characters—the aged black former domestic of the Gilreaths, who has a quiet dignity and a role supporting the younger women, and Lola stand out—and the book drifts pleasantly along. It’s not a sparkling standout, but certainly the best of the four others of Holloway’s we’ve met (Nurse Paige’s Triumph, which was not; Nurse to Remember, best forgotten; a couple others whose titles don’t make for easy putdowns). Even the cover illustration of this Valentine publication is not as horrific as most of those from this imprint. So while in general not an overwhelming home run for us, this book is a win for Teresa Holloway.