Monday, March 29, 2021

Nurse Julie of Ward Three

By Joan Callender, ©1964

Julie Doran had been very happy in the busy, peaceful atmosphere of the geriatric ward, caring for her aged patients and on the friendliest of terms with the physician-in-charge, Hal Gardiner. But everything changed for the worse when Annette marsh came on in charge of the ward. Was it Julie’s fault—and if so, what she to do about it?

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“If she did not marry, she would undoubtedly reach the heights of her profession.” 

“For one preparing to cope with Dr. Blake, a little trouble with Mrs. Forrester seemed like child’s play. The hazards of life on Ward Three were as nothing compared with the hazards of Life.”

“Having thus made up her mind, in what she in imagined was a perfectly calm and logical manner, to throw away her career and her opportunities to be near the man she loved, she found she had nothing to do for the moment.”

“You look different. Not tired, exactly, but subdued. Has anyone been subduing you?”

“Surely he must have his doubts and fears, like everyone else? Even Matron had her moments of anxiety, which she relieved by talking to her pet cat. Perhaps Doctor Gardiner kept goldfish, or something. Perhaps he sat in an easy chair and watched them swimming round and round in a huge glass bowl. Perhaps he confided in Annette. Personally, she would have preferred the goldfish.”

“She did not expect to be successful in arguing with a man with whom she could not even discuss the weather in a natural manner.”

“You won’t go all cold and haughty again, will you? My nerves wouldn’t stand it.”

“Just in time, she remembered that today she was beautiful. Beautiful people could go anywhere.”

“It’s a pity you have to change into your uniform. That dress would make any patient feel better.”

“You see what I mean, Gill? That’s exactly how you behave when you’re in the throes of a romance. Touchy.”

“The voice of common sense has little hope of being heard above the wild, glad music of love.”

“Weeping solved no problems. It just left ugly marks on the face and a sense of shame on the mind.”

“I must be growing disillusioned in my old age. Each batch of students seems sillier than the last, these days.”

“It was a stare which would have paralyzed a lesser man.”

REVIEW:
When we first meet Julie Doran, she is three months out from graduation and is working on the geriatric ward. Unfortunately, her sweet aged patients have little regard for the niceties of protocol when the doctor is rounding and will insist on singing loudly in the bath, much to Julie’s consternation. But nice Dr. Hal Gardiner has visited the ward more than once and understands the old biddies. “They’ve lived too long to care about our little rules and regulations,” he says. “When you’ve been here for three years, you’ll have discovered what is important, and what is not, in this type of work.” 

Unsurprisingly, life is about to get more complicated for Julie. Motherly head nurse Crompton of the ward is the loser in a bicycle versus car encounter and is sidelined for several months, which means nurse Annette Marsh is sent up from surgery in the interim. Annette is “a remote, glamorous figure” who “made no secret of the fact that she considered most of those with whom she came into contact as being greatly inferior to herself. She could be kind, in a lofty way, and she was certainly efficient, but her manner in general was that of a queen forced among peasants.” When Julie politely remarks that she hopes Annette will enjoy work on the ward, Annette responds, “I don’t expect to.” She does not share Dr. Gardiner’s charitable attitude toward codgers: “Old people are selfish. The care for nothing but their own comfort,” she snaps. Naturally, Julie—and indeed most of the other ward staff—does not appreciate Annette’s gifts.

Another complication is her growing esteem for Dr. Gardiner. It’s a sweet crush that grows organically: First she is over-analyzing a trivial exchange for deep hidden meaning, then briefly tries to talk herself out of it (“she was glad she had discovered this weakness in herself for gray eyes. In future she would be on her guard against it”), but that doesn’t last long. “Having failed, the night before, to be sensible about Hal Gardiner, she had found such joy in not being sensible that she was no longer attempting to reason with herself. She was going to see him again soon, and if that knowledge gave her pleasure, she was doing no wrong, she told herself, in admitting it.” The wrenches in the works are: number one, Dr. Gardiner’s relationship with Annette, as it seems the pair are not complete strangers; “there was certainly an undercurrent of tension between those two. At times, they seemed to be fighting a duel of words. Did they secretly enjoy these encounters, or were they natural antagonists?” You can sense the coming misunderstanding of the relationship a mile away. Number two is Dr. Gavin Blake, who has arrived to work alongside Dr. Gardiner for a few months and thinks Julie is a plump gazelle waiting to be chased, though he leaves her cold. “She would tell him that he was embarrassing her, and that she preferred him to leave her alone. Once she had made her feelings quite clear to him, he would surely not persist.” Oh, think again, honey.

But the obvious idea of putting Gavin together with Annette occurs to Julie: Not only would this solve two of her problems at once, but the pair are perfect for each other. “They belonged together, male and female of the same breed. Physically they complemented each other, but there was something else, something in the nature of each that was partnered by the other.” Perhaps it’s that Gavin “was sometimes strangely lacking in perception of other people’s feelings,” while for her part, Annette “seemed to be incapable of understanding the feelings of other people.” (These two descriptions occur 40 pages apart, and made for a nice echo through the text.)

The crisis comes when Julie is having a bad day on the wards—one of the more senile old ladies accuses her of poisoning the boiled potatoes—and while having a good cry, she runs into Gavin, who mops her face as good friends do, but kisses her as good friends don’t. The next day, when she tells Hal she can’t go with him to the beach because her day off has been cancelled (which is the truth), he tells her he doesn’t want to go out with her any more. She is caught completely off-guard, though we are instantly certain that he witnessed the scene with Gavin. Sad and lonely, she agrees to go on platonic drives with Gavin, until the day he decides to pull the car into a secluded lane and says, “I expected you to be a little more—adult. Let’s find out just how adult you are.” Interestingly, here is one of the few times I have seen an unsolicited kiss described appropriately: “To be in his arms was to be imprisoned, to feel his mouth on hers was to suffer an assault,” Julie thinks. So what does she do? “She remained passive, waiting for him to let her go.” And he does, suggesting, “I could still change your mind. Luckily for both of us, I’ve still got a grain of sense, so I won’t do it. Persuasion is one thing, but to take advantage of someone as inexperienced as you is another,” which to me reads as if he is suggesting he could force himself on her, though I fail to comprehend how this would “change her mind.” There are more mean words after this, and only then does she fling open the car door and climb out.

A few days later she’s clubbed on the head in the dirty utility room by the crazy patient who thinks she’s being poisoned, so you imagine that this will bridge the misunderstanding between her and Hal—and it does, in a very roundabout way. The way things get pulled together in the end is, I am very sorry to say after what had heretofore been a most delightful book, abrupt, ham-handed, way too simplistic, and wildly out of character for the individual who plays the chief role in sorting everything out. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised, as Julie does on occasion behave in ways that surprise, including shouting at a patient (after she’s severely scolded another nurse for doing the same, scant pages earlier) and hurling some pretty insulting language at Annette (when she’s been subdued for most of the book, just quietly absorbing Annette’s verbal blows up to this point). Minor foibles include the fact that some points of plot are dropped (the orderly who is apparently gossiping with the patients about Julie) as are some characters (Julie’s friends Susan and Gillian), and about half the characters are only sketchily identified though they recur throughout the book, drifting in and out like ghosts in the periphery.

But any fault this book may have is more than made up for by the fabulous writing, which is frequently subtly clever and amusing, as evidenced by the lengthy list of great quotes resting atop this review. Many more lovely turns of phrase wouldn’t translate when taken out of context, such as when Julie and two of her friends are lounging by the hospital pool (!!!), and they spot Dr. Gardiner and the head nursing matron approaching. Julie is deliberately looking away, “but after a moment or two she could tell by the way her friends began to gaze blankly into space that the two had moved nearer.” The key characters are quite sharply drawn, and you really feel you know Annette, Gavin, and Hal—and Gavin is especially enjoyable. The real tragedy of the ending is that it is such a copout, and I was disappointed in author Joan Callendar for not putting in the effort to deliver us the truly stellar book that she is clearly capable of. Sadly, this appears to be the only book Ms. Callendar has published, so I cannot hope she will redeem herself in another novel. But if this book is not perfect, it nonetheless should not be overlooked.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Nurse Morgan Sees It Through

Book 4 of 4
By Rubie Saunders, ©1971 

When Broadway star Valerie Vale’s daughter entered City Hospital, the little girl became the center of her own personal drama—one that seemed doomed to end in tragedy. Marilyn Morgan was the child’s nurse, and assigned to the case was handsome, ultra-eligible Dr. Ed Clark. Desperately involved in a professional struggle to stabilize, did Ed and Marilyn realized they were growing deeply involved—with each other?

GRADE: C 

BEST QUOTES:
“A good aide was worth her weight in gold.”

“Isn’t she beautiful? Look at that groovy pants suit.”

“If Patty was worried about her appearance, she would be all right.”

“Oh, will this beautiful nurse and I ever be free at the same time? I might as well drink myself into a stupor and forget her.”

“I mean—how can you propose to a beautiful girl with half the hospital breathing down your neck?”

“If you’re ever going to have your own apartment, the first thing you absolutely have to have is a good recipe for meatloaf.”

“Hey, when you stop talking, you must be getting serious.”

REVIEW:
In this, the last in the series about nurse Marilyn Morgan, we pick up essentially the same book we’ve read the last three times. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: Marilyn and her sassy roommate, fellow nurse Marcia Goldstein, work, party, date, and hang out at their swinging bachelorette pad two blocks from City Hospital, which means that doctors and nurses are always dropping by. Here we have back again Marilyn’s old standby, Dr. Matt Evans,  who had disappeared off to Chicago for an internship in Nurse Morgan’s Triumph, but pops up here without a word about his time in the Windy City, or what his current job in the hospital is. Poor Matt is always trying to take Marilyn out, but on his one weekend off, an emergency comes up and he has to work after all—clearing the deck for super-cute Dr. Ed Clark, who is researching leukemia at City Hospital and is the hospital’s most eligible bachelor. But Marilyn just doesn’t feel like she’s ready to get married, even in her fourth book. “Your trouble is that you’ve always dated so many men at once that you don’t have time to concentrate on any one of them,” says Marcia, probably a little jealous. She shouldn’t be, though—it can be really hard work fending off the gentlemen! “He was kissing her again, and Marilyn’s thoughts were racing. If she made him stop, he would start talking about marriage. He had often in the past, and Marilyn knew he was ready at any time. But as for herself, she wasn’t sure at all.” 

At work, Marilyn has a lot going on, too. Jeff Cross, a young boy from her old Harlem neighborhood, has been bitten by a stray dog and required surgery—and may need rabies shots as well if the dog starts frothing at the mouth in the next six weeks, which it may well do, since it’s allowed to run free in the New York City park. The boy’s father is adamantly opposed to rabies shots on the grounds that they would be very painful—never mind how distressing death by rabies would be, a point no one thinks to bring up—and it’s Marilyn’s job to convince dad to go through with it. Then there’s the new nurse’s aide to break in, and giggling Patty, who spends more time on her hair and makeup than she does on her job, gives little Jeff some orange juice the morning of his surgery, which might have killed him if the anesthesiologist hadn’t caught it in time! Lastly, there’s ten-year-old Pamela Frini, whose mother Valerie Vane is a famous actress, who has been diagnosed with leukemia, and Marilyn is assigned to be the child’s nurse. At the time of this book, some leukemia patients “have lived for five years or more,” the nursing supervisor explains. Some are even “long-term survivors … who have the disease and live with it for over eleven years.” Oh boy!

The upside is that while caring for Pamela, she is working alongside Ed, and what a dreamboat! Eventually they start dating, and that’s fun! They go to a gala party for the debut of the musical that Valerie Vane is starring in—as a lion tamer, in fact—and they stay out until sunup, even though she has to work the evening shift that day, which seems like a bad idea to me! They head home only to find that Marcia, who’s been on vacation in Florida with her parents, is home a day early—sporting an engagement ring! The two women are instantly rendered insane, fleeing to the kitchen and leaving poor Ed to cool his heels in the living room and wonder, “What ever gets into females at the sight of an engagement ring?” Eventually he realizes they’ve forgotten he’s alive, and as they chatter in raptures in the other room, he slinks out of the apartment, and that, believe it or not, is the end of the book.

It’s a strange and very anticlimactic conclusion to the four-book Marilyn Morgan RN series. As frequently as we hear Marilyn say she’s not ready for marriage, it’s peculiar that we end the series with her virtual orgasm over her friend’s engagement, which is something of a mixed message. I’ve been mulling over the question of whether the heroine needs to be engaged at the end of the book to qualify as a VNRN, and I’m leaning toward no. Dating is certainly romance, and does not need to end in marriage to be such. The problem here is that there’s not much dating, either. We’re also denied the enjoyment of lifestyle scenarios that Rubie Saunders usually gives us in these novels, because what we do see is infrequent and unenthusiastic, and Marcia—frequently the life of the party in these novels—is packed off to Florida for about half the book. I don’t need to see Marilyn wind up her series with a ring on her finger, but I did expect her to go out with a bang, and I am disappointed to see her fade away with the whimper we have here.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Junior Pro

By Kate Norway (pseud. Olive Norton), ©1959

Before Lindsay Wood took up at nursing, she had been warned that it was hard work. What she hadn’t heard much about was the difficulty of steering one’s personal course. She did find someone to whom she felt she could turn for advice--but he was the resident medical officer, far out of the sphere of a lowly probationer. And she couldn’t quite understand his attitude, sometimes helpful, sometimes very much the reverse. How she coped with all her perplexities is told in a lively story with an authentic hospital atmosphere.

GRADE: A

BEST QUOTES:
“I wished, while I was about it, that Sister Tutor had taught us a little less about finding our way around the buildings, and a little more about finding it round human situations. It seemed to me that nurses needed a good deal of practice in dealing with people, and I knew I didn’t have it.”

“I could eat you, darling, only I haven’t time.”

“It’s a good sign to be a little scared. Bad nurses never worry—they don’t know how.”

REVIEW:
How lucky for me that after coming out of the first F-grade nurse novel I’ve ever read (if you must be reminded: Jolie Benoit, R.N.), I pick up such an incredible gem as Junior Pro. This book has all the hallmarks of a true great: Lots of girlfriends, witty writing that sparkles on every page, a feisty heroine, and—a rare treat—one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. Told in the first person, the sixth such VNRN I’ve read (but the third by Olive Norton; it seems to be a favorite trick of hers), here we meet Lindsay Wood, who is just entering her first year of training to be a nurse, making her what they call in this English hospital a “junior pro.” On the eve that the “lambs” are finishing their didactic months and being sent to the wards, though, there’s a ball. Like most VNRN hospital balls, this one is momentous, here because only one man asks her to dance. “When we did get on the floor we found ourselves in the middle of a Paul Jones [a dance in which you change partners], and I lost him after about four strides. He was just tall enough to be comfortable to dance with, and I was annoyed. Nobody came to claim me, and I went back behind my pillar.” He turns up later, though, apologetic, and takes her for a drive. When he finds out she is just a brand-new student, instead of mussing her lipstick, he starts the car. “Home, Madam?” he asks, and she replies, “Home, James,” and when they arrive at the nurses’ home, “he bent his head and kissed my hand very gently, and gave it back to me as though it were something extremely fragile and very precious, instead of just thing I used to hold a tennis racquet with.”

Like many people in their first days on a new job, Lindsay lands on the wards with a splat: There is almost nothing she does right, to such an extent that her first moment of triumph is remembering to take the stairs instead of using the elevator, which is forbidden to first-years. The worst of her crimes, though, is when her chauffeur turns up on the ward dressed as the R.M.O.—that’s resident medical officer, or chief of medicine in the UK. “Good morning, James,” she says without thinking, and it turns out that it is a most serious taboo to speak to a senior medical officer when you’re only a nursing student, made even more scandalous by the fact that Dr. Findon’s first name is indeed James. But he seems to forgive her, because when it turns out that she has scored top marks in several subjects and just barely loses out on a prize given to the top student, he gives her one: a silver pin shaped like Aladdin’s—or Florence Nightingale’s—lamp, engraved “Findon prize—Nurse L. Wood.”

Over the ensuing pages we follow not exactly the most original plot line, but still a very enjoyable one as Lindsay flounders less as the days pass, tangles with Dr. Findon, goes home to visit her family on their farm in Wales, and wallows heavily in a mistake of a relationship with Dr. Jack Beresford, an incorrigible flirt who has claimed the heart of her best friend Catherine, complicating matters. But she really does like kissing Jack! Which makes her agree when he vaguely suggests that they marry, though she comes to her senses a few pages later, thinking it would be better to have Catherine than Jack—but then, dang it, he kisses her again, and she loses her head once more. And again, the next morning, when Jack comes around to plan the wedding, she insists—as she has done throughout the book—that she is going to finish her training and get her nursing degree, which will take three more years. Hearing this news, Jack “sulked.” When Catherine pins Lindsay down later on, Lindsay insists it’s over: “He made it clear, then, that he wouldn’t hear of my finishing my training before I settled down. That changed the whole thing. Because nothing and nobody is going to stop me from getting State Registered. If he isn’t satisfied with that, then it’s no go. And he isn’t.” You go, girl!

Lindsay is a heroine we can adore because she is not perfect, but she honestly works very hard and she has a good heart. She is forced to give up her beloved Findon prize pin when a misunderstanding causes her to be suspected of stealing a brooch that a patient has given her, and when months later the nursing matron says she has earned it back, Lindsay disagrees: “James still doesn’t think I come up to some standard of his own,” she decides to herself. “So I can’t wear his badge because it would burn a resentful hole in my apron. I know whether I’m ready to have it or not, better than anyone. And I’m not.” Toward the end there is the usual catastrophe when the hospital’s old smokestack falls in a storm, landing on an ambulance, and Lindsay, who is on the admitting desk in the ED with Dr. Findon, crawls through the broken window in the ambulance door and gives the trapped patient inside a hypodermic of morphine, talked through the procedure by Dr. Findon—and later she asks to be marked off for having given an injection, the spunky lass! When she is on night duty, she uses the quiet hours to study her butt off, because she is deeply passionate about medicine, much more so than surgery: “The way I saw it, medicine was so much more complicated and important than merely tailoring people’s insides neatly. Medicine took skill, and brains, and patience, and selflessness.” 

The writing here is not so much laugh-out-loud funny but just constantly and quietly sparkling: “I thought our off-duty time was a mad scheme to let us relax,” Lindsay says to a chum who wants to use her time to study; “I spend my life in here, mopping up Sister Badger’s casualties. Better women then you have wept upon this manly bosom, I can assure you,” Jack tells Lindsay after he finds her crying in the linen closet on a particularly bad day; “I expected to pass out, and I didn’t. There was too much competition,” Lindsay says of her first day in the OR, in which the surgeon faints; “Thanks for mopping the fevered brow,” Lindsay says to a friend when she’s recovering from the chimney crash. The ending is a true, rare prize in VNRN literature, in which Dr. Findon tells Lindsay that one of her most attractive qualities for him is her dedication to nursing. He gives her a Gloria Steinem–worthy speech about her rights to be “a person in your own right,” and agrees to wait for her to finish her three years of training before they marry (though in retrospect it’s not clear why they can’t marry while she’s a student). I dropped bona fide tears at multiple points through this book, the ending most of all. This book is not to be missed; if Lindsay Wood is only a junior pro, author Olive Norton is a pro of the most senior sort, and if her many other nurse heroines are even half as perfect as Lindsay, I look forward to meeting them.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Jolie Benoit, R.N.

By Ruth McCarthy Sears, © 1970

For three long years lovely Jolie Benoit had been a nurse at bustling Empire General Hospital in New York. Now she was flying home to Kansas in a private plane—at the call of handsome young Senator Brad Benedict, who had deserted Julie at the altar to pursue his political career. When Jolie arrived, she found Brad at death’s door. Romantic dreams were forgotten as she joined with Dr. Quentin Hale to fight for Brad’s life. But the gnawing questions of the heart could not be long ignored. Should Jolie spurn the attentions of the Brilliant doctor at her side? Was she helping to save a man who wanted only to use her, then break her heart again? Amid medical drama and emotional turmoil, Jolie Benoit, R.N. had to make the hardest and most fateful decision of her young life.

GRADE: F

BEST QUOTES:
“All during the thick blackness that preceded the dawn she prayed fervently that a tracheotomy would not be necessary.” 

“Even though he was in a coma, she sensed his grim determination to win whatever he undertook to win—in this case his life.”

REVIEW:
There is nothing worse than opening a new nurse normal and finding, right there on page two, that the heroine you are about to spend the next few hours with is a dope. Meet Jolie Benoit, R.N. On the first page, she’s in a limo en route to the airport at 3:00 a.m. to jump on the private plane belonging to a guy from back home in Kansas City who had dumped her at the altar three years ago and never spoken to her since, preferring instead to chase a career as a senator and “the nation’s top diplomat.” “Three years without a word—and now this! Why hadn’t she trusted Brad completely? Why hadn’t she believed in Brad, and waited?” Oh, bless your heart, honey, don’t get me started! Well, all right: Why does not have to be 3:00 a.m. instead of a more reasonable 9:00? Won’t a phone call suffice? And really, three freaking years without a word, she jumps on a plane when he sends his secretary to  bang on her door in the middle of the night? All Jolie has to placate us with is, “How like him to be so flamboyant, so mysterious, so dramatic!” She forgot selfish, inconsiderate, and manipulative, but maybe I’m just not as impressed by a private jet that’s been named after me as Jolie is. 

So all the way to his house she is scheming beautiful, unicorn rainbow dreams of their ecstatic reunion—and when she is shown to Brad’s room by a servant, where she finds him, transformed into a “deathlike figure” lying in the bed. Drawing on her three years of intensive training in a New York City hospital, she promptly “cried out in a long wail of horror, ‘My God!—Oh, my God!” And faints, “or at least lost consciousness briefly.” It turns out he’s gotten tetanus from scratching his arm on a rusty nail in the stable when reaching for a bridle, and Jolie has been called in because “the strictest secrecy must prevail,” explains Brad’s secretary: “Should those with whom Mr. Benedict has been negotiating—or, for that matter, our own people—discover that he is ill—I cannot estimate the dire results.” Only four people in the world are to know that he’s sick, and when Dr. Quentin Hale shows up, he is frank about his doubts about one of the party. “So! This is how you care for a patient, is it? Sniffling and daydreaming? I might have known I’d get some silly schoolgirl!” But he’s an expert on tetanus, because his wife died of it. And he’s an expert on silly nurses, because when he gives Jolie an afternoon off, first reminding her of the utmost importance of secrecy, the first thing she does on arriving at the family manse is blab to big sister Bernadette and the son of Bern’s deceased husband the whole story. Big miss for the book, though, is the fact that the pathetic pair actually keep Jolie’s secret, so Jolie’s stupidity remains unchastised.

Jolie is thrilled to see Bern again, though we the readers are not sure why, because Bern is a self-absorbed loser—apparently it runs in the family—who constantly tosses off petite French phrases and announces that she’s mortgaged the house and given the money to stepson Watt Wilkins, a short, fat guy with “liver-colored lips” who ogles her and says things like, “What’s all the ruckus, Bern? Where’s my spuds you went to git?” Watt has built a meat empire in town, because why not?

Turn the page and weeks have gone by, and Brad finally gets better—wouldn’t you know, dang it, at the very second in which Jolie and Quentin Hale decide to make out, rather unprofessionally, in front of their heretofore comatose patient. But now Jolie is a-quiver for Brad to tumble out of his hospital bed, kneel before her and propose. First she goes for a walk, though—and when she comes back, there’s an epidemic going on: “The place was a mess from the constant vomiting, the continuous diarrhea, and the moaning and suffering.” It turns out Watt’s sold poisoned meat all over town, and Jolie is enlisted to help the beleaguered hospital staff. Unfortunately, not even she can make a difference, and 31 people die, including Bern, who apparently vomits to death: “The awful round of nausea began again. When it was over, Bernadette was dead.”

The good news is that Watt’s off to jail, so now all lovesick Jolie has to do is wait in her house for Brad to come by and propose. Um, good luck with that, “kid,” as Brad irritatingly calls her in every sentence: “This isn’t good-bye, kid, just aloha,” he says as he jumps into the limo and jets back to Washington to save the world. What a creep. Without a whiff of irony, Jolie wonders, “Had Bern needed to give of herself in a martyrdom of duty to that thankless, greedy Watt? But Brad would come back for her, and until that day came, she would live cheerfully in this home that Bern had preserved for her at such a sacrifice.” In other words, she’s going to do exactly what she feels Bern wasted her life doing.

To fill her empty heart, she’s offered the position of superintendent of nurses, because her one week on the job has shown her to be the only suitable candidate in a hospital full of nurses. But Jolie turns out to be amazing at solving everyone else’s problems. She saves all the postoperative patients who “become depressive” and demonstrate “distemper” and “suicidal tendencies,” by suggesting they open the sunporch and “recruit some ladies to demonstrate flower arranging, weaving—that sort of thing.” Next she saves the town, which is going bankrupt, by suggesting that they have the interstate rerouted three miles so it passes through town, and build a replica of old Prairie City for the tourists, replete with “ladies of the evening” who “daintily picked their way to the elegant dining room of the hotel, where they quaffed make-believe champagne and provided an interesting atmosphere,” as well as “daring dance-hall girls, resplendent in black lace stockings, beads, and sequins.” Guess what—her whorehouse cum tourist attraction is a smashing success.

Another 18 months go by without a word from Brad the louse, or apparently either from Dr. Hale, who also has taken a job at the hospital. Brad finally arrives back to town, leaps from his ubiquitous limo at a parade, and takes her in his arms before the entire town as the band strikes up “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” If you can believe it. He tells her, “This is it, kid! We’ll be together now—for good. Always!” Jolie about explodes in joy: “The years of waiting, of praying for this moment, had come. Brad wanted her, always and forever, for his love, his wife!” There are about two more paragraphs that run along this vein—I’ll spare you—but then a photographer steps up for a snap, and Brad says, “You’re blocking me, kid,” and gently moves her to one side. Well, 15 years of chasing this one lame guy are sunk with those four little words. “This isn’t the beginning, her heart whispered. It isn’t the beginning at all. It’s the end.” So she walks off, runs into Quentin, and the pair head off to get a hamburger, “running toward the future—together—where there is safety and warmth.”

Holy smokes, I just don’t even know where to start. I’ve given a lot of thought in the past few days to terrible nurse novels. I have only given a flat F to one other book, Conflict for Nurse Elsa, but even that book had so much zaniness to it that there were at least a few moments to pluck out and hold up for laughs. And there are those so-bad-you-gotta-read-it books, of which Arlene Fitzgerald and Zillah MacDonald are the undisputed champs, so though they are veterans of the Worst Authors list on the Annual VNRN Awards, I still look forward to picking up another of their books.

This book, unfortunately, is not of that ilk; it is just plain terrible. Its sins include the trivial, such as when we’re told that “the four giant wings of Wyandotte Memorial Hospital” were “built in the shape of a T,” which of course has only three branches. The language is startlingly formal, such as when, in the throes of passion, Brad blurts out that Jolie is “a vital presence without which I did not wish to die,” the romantic fool. The story is regularly just plain bizarre, such as when it mentions a wild squirrel one of Jolie’s siblings had tamed “until Bernadette accidentally had slammed the casement on his furry little body,” or a pony that Watt, age ten, had beaten with a stick, breaking its back so it had to be shot. The Jolie family is apparently actually French, though we’re never overtly told this, which belatedly but still unsatisfactorily explains Bern’s occasional pretentious fran├žais. We off-handedly learn that Jolie’s two brothers were killed in Korea and that her sister is a cloistered nun in Wisconsin who is allowed to send only a solitary postcard once a year. Bizarrely, Brad was “only a freshman in high school at age twenty,” and that’s all we learn of that. These strange details are randomly tossed into the soup and just float there, or more likely, sink, adding nothing.

Then there’s the essential problem of Jolie’s obsession with Brad, which is fervent and unswerving except when he’s in the room, and then she tells him “the spontaneity is gone”—but not to worry, so is he, three paragraphs at later. Almost everything that happens in this book is told to us rather than shown; I don’t believe we are given more than two dozen sentences from either one of the leading men in 157 pages. The story is just dull: There are no talking parrots, no exonerating medical charts stuffed into a hole in the sofa, no intruders who leave half-full bottles of whisky in the cupboard. I had a premonition of foreboding when I saw the cover illustration, but maybe it was actually Ruth McCarthy Sears’ name, as the woman has given us some profoundly mediocre books (see Nurse in Acapulco and Timberline Nurse). All I can say is that in the future, when I pick up another RMS book—and she seems to have written a total of 19 nurse novels, woe unto me—I will understand any omens of ill portent that tiptoe down my spine. Although Ghetto Nurse sounds promising.