Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Much-Loved Nurse

By Pauline Ash, ©1967

Nurse Leila possessed a rare quality—the ability to draw people out. Wherever she went, within the hospital or outside it, people found themselves falling in love with her. All except the one person she really cared about. Was there anything she could do to change the way he felt?


“I think you’d be wretched without something of your very own to keep you occupied, but I can’t help feeling, sometimes, that you ought to have a family to raise, instead of just a job.”

“I wish you nurses would just nurse, and not talk to the patients at all!”

“This young man was going to kick against the pricks, every inch of the way.”

“If he could have shrugged, he would have, but he couldn’t because of his injuries.”

Poor Nurse Leila Richmond. She really likes taking care of patients, which in this case means running errands for them, giving advice about their personal lives, carrying secret messages to the secret people in their lives—and unfortunately, as she’s on the men’s ward, all these patients soon come to feel they’re in love with her. And why wouldn’t they? “She was a golden girl. Golden of skin, golden of hair—and her eyes—they caught the sunlight, and they danced, and it was the happiest, the most beautiful face he had seen for a long time.”

A number of patients are yearning for her tragically: Dudley Marchmont, a wealthy young painter, whose hands were burned in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a child from the fire that burned his apartment building to the ground (an especially gruesome backstory that is barely commented upon); Jeffrey Philbey, a mountaineer with an unhappy marriage who had forced his reluctant wife to come on a climb with him, and in the accident that ensued he’d become a “spinal case”—though it seems likely that he will regain some use of his legs—and his wife was killed, leaving his 7-year-old ward, herself the orphan of his brother, in his disinterested custody; and Marwood Tappender, a travelling businessman with a habit of taking typists to dinner (but nothing more!) when he’s on the road, but he has not told his wife of his hobby, and is being blackmailed by one of the typists. Phew! And did I mention that Marwood’s wife Arabella is the sister of surgeon Kearney Holdstock, “a big man, with massive shoulders and a fine head which he held rather high,” with whom Leila is actually in love?

It’s not hard to see that nothing but serious trouble and hospital gossip is going to come of Leila’s heartfelt desire to help her patients struggling with despair—“You’ve only got to say you need something, and she’ll come galloping to do it for you!” exclaims one patient. Kearney’s feelings for Leila cause him to be sucked in to Leila’s efforts to help her patients, and it isn’t long before he’s in love with her too, but as the hot water rises around Leila’s neck, she’s convinced that the only way out—once she’s solved everyone else’s problems, naturally—is to quit her job and go work at another hospital. The women’s ward, apparently, where she would cause much less collateral damage, has no need for a dedicated nurse.

As she’s running away from the hospital with Kearney in enamored pursuit, her train crashes, which of course leads to the rapprochement of the heroine and her man. This involves her promise to marry him and quit working, even after earlier consideration of quitting her post at the hospital was described as quite a burden to bear: “With the end in sight, St. Mary’s assumed a new atmosphere, an atmosphere she didn’t want to lose. She had  been a part of this great family for long enough to be a little scared and very sad at losing it.” But with a man to be gained, she’ll chuck it all! “No more trying to arrange other people’s lives, my sweet,” says her surgeon, drastically arranging her life for her without a flicker of irony. “You’ll have quite enough on your hands managing your own,” he tells her, implying her life will revolve around him and their future children. She hesitates—and he says, “Leila, if you want to go on carrying the burdens of your patients, you have to make a choice. It’s them or me.” Well, the choice seemed obvious enough to me! While it is true that Leila gets herself excessively involved with her patients and needs to be redirected, she’s clearly a great nurse who turns hopeless patients around, and it does not stand to reason that she shouldn’t be a nurse at all. I felt the loss to the hospital, the patients, and to Leila herself—will she really be happy puttering at home with little to do (until the babies start cranking out) waiting for her surgeon husband, who will be working 60-plus hours a week, to show up?

It turns out I had read this book before but had failed somehow to write the review, and now, remembering nothing of it, I was forced to wade through it again. I can’t really say it was worth a second go-through. There’s a lot of drama in the plot, and as each patient tumbles for Leila she is completely incapable of telling them that she does not love them and that they need to pull themselves together, only compounding her problems. We’re told that Kearney is a good guy—he loves his sister very much, and he agrees to play along with several of Leila’s escapades—but she largely thinks he does not care for her and just enjoys yelling at her, not completely without reason. In the end we have a fiancé 13 years older than our 20-year-old heroine and who has few outward charms to put the reader on his side. The story is entertaining enough, but there’s not enough in this book to love as much as the fellas who all love this nurse.

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