Monday, June 21, 2021

Office Nurse

By Rebecca Marsh
(pseud. William Neubauer), ©1960

Gerry Staley, R.N. loved the sleek elegance of the society doctor’s office but her conscience told her there was more to nursing then caring for the imagined ills of the rich. Then, when diamond-in-the-rough Tom Covert demanded an answer and self-confident Dr. John Driscoll asked her to wear his ring, Gerry knew she must make the decision that would influence the rest of her life.


“Ho, for the old days, when the blacksnake whip could be summoned to teach you your duty.”

“Aren’t we a bit formal this morning? The first sir is acceptable, of course. It establishes your respect for my skill, my position, and my bankroll. But once you have established that, Staley, you mustn’t belabor the point.”

“Well, you don’t always look forty, Boss. On day like this, with that look in your eye, you look maybe thirty-nine.”

“The man should always be allowed to think he’s doing the chasing.”

“Ah, have a good cry, Staley; it’ll clean out the ducts just fine.”

“‘Will you tell me why so many men are so idiotic?’
“‘Girls,’ he explained solemnly. ‘They do that to us, for some reason.’”

Gerry Staley is a 23-year-old nurse working in the posh office of fortyish Dr. John Driscoll. It’s a well-paying job and one that she enjoys, but at book’s open she is talked into helping a young man she knew growing up in the slums who has made a stupid mistake and robbed a jewelry store. She testifies for the young man’s defense, but this means that she needs to come clean with Dr. Driscoll, who is unaware of her upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks. Upon learning this about her, he magnanimously agrees to keep her in her position after “he checked up on you all over town before he graciously agreed to retain the best nurse he’s ever had”—though you’d think the fact that he’s worked alongside her for more than a year would acquaint him to her character. This is just the start of a long line of dominoes that tumble following this one seemingly in significant act in a plot that is fairly typical of author William Neubauer—not that there’s anything terribly wrong with that. 

Gerry is dating ambitious and successful salesman Tom Covert, but she has a crush on Dr. Driscoll, and apparently everyone in town knows it, including Tom. Nonetheless, she continues to see Tom, even though “he wasn’t John Driscoll, of course. He had neither John’s handsomeness nor John’s suave wit. Yet with Tom, at least, she could always be herself.” Interestingly, if Gerry likes him, everyone else in town thinks Dr. Driscoll is “a greedy, money-chasing, social-climbing guy.” The objection seems to be that he doesn’t take enough pro bono shifts: “The only time your fellow goes to the slums it’s a great big show,” Tom tells Gerry. “There’s the limousine sparkling like this bauble. There you are in a spanking fresh uniform and your red-lined cape. Everyone knows you’re there doing charity work. Only it isn’t charity work, because your fellow gets his compensation in the form of publicity.”

Dr. Driscoll seems to live up to the town’s idea of him when, in an attempt to rid himself of his girlfriend Iris Preston, who he feels is getting too serious, the good doctor asks Gerry to pretend that the two are engaged, and he’ll pay her to go out with him a couple times a week. As much as Gerry would love to be with Dr. Driscoll, she is outraged by his proposal. “Did you honestly think, Dr. Driscoll, that I’d help you play such a rotten trick on any woman?” she shouts. “What a strange, pathetic man you are!” She’s summarily fired, but has a new job in five minutes in the hospital emergency department.

Meanwhile, Tom is working on a plan to buy in on a local food distribution business, which he thinks he can leverage into great profits. But he needs $25,000 to swing the deal, and the bank will not lend him the money outright. He asks Gerry to use her connection with Iris, since her dad is also the bank’s president, to influence a positive decision on the loan. So now, with more free time on her hands, Gerry meets with Iris and puts in a plug for Tom’s business. Iris, though, insists on the truth about why Gerry isn’t working for Dr. Driscoll any more—and Gerry gives it to her. “And that, Iris thought weakly, would teach her to do less snooping in the future!” Iris agrees to promote the loan with her father and rushes out the door to see Dr. Driscoll, in a scene that is played offstage.

A few days later Gerry bumps into Dr. Driscoll in the ED, and he tells her that what he really wants is to start a free clinic, and has even purchased a building in the poor section of town; all his money-grubbing ways are so he can amass a pile of money to open the clinic. When Gerry tells Tom about this, he suggests that if Dr. Driscoll really wants to raise money for the clinic, he should undertake a fund-raising campaign, so Gerry suggests he run one, since he’s such a great salesman—and since it’s not likely he’s going to get the loan from the bank. If he succeeds at fund-raising, she suggests, he’s likely to get his seed money from other sources. Sure enough, the campaign is successful, Dr. Driscoll lends Tom the money, and Gerry goes back to work for Dr. Driscoll. Suddenly, though, Gerry is saying to an old friend, “Surely you don’t imagine for an instant that I’d marry Dr. John Driscoll? I’m fond of him, sure, but as a girl might be fond of a rather nice if strange older brother. Lord, it’s always been Tom.” News to us!

Everything ties up very nicely, as you imagine it will. The writing is wonderfully amusing, and there is a terrific character in the person of the Superintendent of Nurses, who has marshalled Gerry along with tough love through her training and now career, and the two regularly meet to trade witticisms, much to our benefit. Dr. Driscoll, also, has a marvelous way with words, à la another personal favorite, author Alan Jackson, who wrote as Rosie M. Banks. “There are times, Iris, and this is one of them, when a man wants the companionship of a full-blown woman,” he says in one lovely example of his eloquence. “Even the cave man was unhappy if there wasn’t a cave woman to grunt her admiration when he’d slain some prehistoric beast. Do grunt your admiration, there’s a pet.”

Gerry is a strong, determined, intelligent, hard-working, top-notch nurse, and not one to fall swooning into anyone’s arms; in fact, she is quite hard to get, right to the bitter end. The only trouble with this story is that you will at times struggle to keep up with the intricacies of the plot, as is customary with Mr. Neubauer, but that’s certainly no reason to shun his books. Rather, it’s a treat to see a VNRN writer who actually puts in an effort to construct a story that you haven’t read fifty times before, and in Office Nurse we have a smart, witty little gem that you could actually read several times and still get something more out of it every time.

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  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I just pulled this book out, and four others by Rebecca Marsh to read.