Monday, May 4, 2020

Nurse April

By Katherine McComb, ©1967

Maybe her kid brother was right, maybe April Bonner was a jinx. From her first day on the hospital staff as a full-fledged nurse, things began to happen. A mob rioted outside. A knife-waving fanatic invaded Emergency and seized April as a hostage. A baby was kidnaped from the nursery. Nurses’ training hadn’t prepared the tall, attractive redhead for anything quite like this. It also hadn’t prepared her for handsome young Dr. Ned Sparks, who didn’t mind if April became emotionally involved with him, though he seemed to be serious about someone else, but who warned her about becoming emotionally involved with any of her patients—a warning that came very close to being a tragic prophecy …


“An R.N. in the family! A female who gives baths and bedpans to strange men—ugh!”

“What pretty girl doesn’t enjoy being stared at—or whistled at, for that matter?”

“You’re as pretty as a new stethoscope.”

“She knew he would be furious if he learned that Mrs. Norman had tried to shoot her, and later tried to wreck the car and kill them all.”

I tell you, if you ever find out that April Bonner is a nurse at your hospital, pack your bags and run!! This “tall, lithe figure modeling a white nylon uniform, a small white cap perched smartly on her red-gold hair,” is a magnet for bad news, even for the ER, where she is sent her first day on the job. She gets a kid with an open tib-fib fracture after being hit by a car, a worker with chemical burns, and a gunshot victim whose treatment consists of stitching the bullet wounds closed. On her second day, there’s a mob rioting for never-specified concerns, and “mangled bodies” arrive in a constant stream. One of the rioters, looking for the leader of the gang, grabs April and holds a knife to her throat as Dr. Ned Sparks gives him a tour of every patient in the ED until he finds the leader’s corpse in the morgue. The man cries a bit, then pulls April out into the crowded street, where the mob is tear-gassed, but April is pulled to safety by Dr. Ned. Then, on her day off, Ned takes her to the beach, where he saves her from a rip tide that somehow manages to pull her out to sea when she tries to pick up a conch shell on the shore. And they almost get into a car crash on the way home. All this in just four days’ time.

One major source of excitement comes when a newborn is kidnapped after April puts him down for a nap, although April seems more upset about being blamed for the kidnapping than she is sympathetic for the frantic parents; she has “the tussle of her life” with the baby’s mother, who attempts to get out of bed to search the hospital for her missing son. But rest assured, April saves the day when she identifies the kidnapper after the police round up the usual suspects from their “list of women with mother complexes.” And we haven’t even scratched the surface of April’s fantastic exploits, either. There’s also a rollercoaster accident in which two teens fall from the car in front of April and both are killed (April pronounces one on scene and the other dies en route to the hospital); a car crash in which always-on-the-scene April pronounces three people dead and saves one from bleeding out by demanding a “clean white towel” (no other color will do, apparently) from one of the passengers and wrapping the patient’s head in it; a patient, driven crazy by an anonymous letter-writing campaign to make her think that April is trying to steal her husband, threatens April at gunpoint; and yet another car crash, this time with April actually in the car with the psychotic driver, after which April “hovered near death” from “a slight skull fracture and a few crushed ribs.” “Seems like you’re one of those people who always happen to be around wherever there’s trouble,” her brother Bob says, and he doesn’t know the half of it.

She’s also a magnet for the boys, and she is shocked that on her first day the interns are giving her “bold stares and wolf calls in the corridors,” and when she complains to Dr. Ned, he says, “I simply could not reprimand those interns for staring. I would probably have done the same thing myself.” It’s a horrible world the women in this book live in, where they are constantly judged on their appearance; one nurse is fired from her job because she “had a face as long as a donkey’s head, and ears as big,” and the nursing supervisor “went on with a chuckle, ‘the nurse would never take a beauty prize.’” Even April, speaking of her best friend Rita, says, “Rita arrived at April’s apartment in a tan pleated cotton dress that did nothing for her sallow complexion and only accentuated her large hips.” April saves another life when she takes charge and insists that Rita start “rolling on the floor to reduce your hips, and doing stooping exercises to flatten your tummy—and cutting out sweets. Then we’ll go shopping for some clothes with plain skirts, instead of those pleated things,” and she also dyes Rita’s hair and gives her weekly hairdos. And in no time flat Dr. Les Brown is proposing!

April is, unfortunately, a hypocrite. On the opening pages we hear about how April had, at the time of her own appendectomy, “caught a vision. She knew immediately, not what she wanted to be, but what she must be—a nurse. For three years she had dreamed of this moment, had worked toward it with all the strength of her young body and dedicated mind.” Yet once she’s clapped eyes on Dr. Ned, she’s ready to chuck it all: “She wanted only one thing—the love of one man. But she was slipping further and further away from that goal, as if the riptides of life were pulling her, dragging her under.” That may be true, but only because April is stupidly outraged when she tells Ned early on that he can’t be kissing her because he’s engaged to Eunice Frye, and he answers, “I’ve kissed a few pretty girls in my time, but I’ll swear on my Hippocratic oath that I’ve never asked one of them to marry me.” She immediately decides this means that he has decided he will never ask anyone to marry him, and again and again we’re reminded of her stupidity as she fumes along the lines of, “She had heard of men who could not tie themselves down to one woman, and he had practically admitted that he was one of them.” So if her constant snippy behavior to Dr. Ned leaves him disinterested, she only has herself to blame.

The writing here is choppy and comically bizarre, such as the description of one of April’s first ER patients: “It was a restaurant cook with three badly mangled fingers which had been caught in an electric meat grinder. Luckily, none had to be amputated.” As April’s adventures continue to pile up, the story seems increasingly outrageous; by the time the psycho patient pulled the revolver, I was giggling madly on the subway. April’s terrible dilemma over how to win Dr. Ned is solved by April herself after she comes out of her coma, when despite her broken ribs she flings her arms around his neck, pulls him close, and whispers, “I love you.” Her other terrible dilemma about having to quit her job after marriage—early on he’s monologuing, “I’m going to be head of my family, as well as breadwinner. That’s another trouble with these modern mothers. They bear a child, then turn it over to somebody—anybody—to bring it up while they take a job to make more money to buy more clothes, more automobiles, more household gadgets—things less important than the training of their child”—is solved when Ned decides to open a private office and magnanimously agrees to staff it with “Mrs. Ned Sparks.” Awww. Well, until Mrs. Ned Sparks becomes a mother. So overall, if you like the so-bad-it’s-good category, you should definitely add this strange volume to your library.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I'm exhausted just reading this review. And that cartoon cover art doesn't help. About 40 years ahead of its time.