By Patti Carr
(pseud. of William Neubauer), ©1966
Cover illustration by Bob Abbett
Pam Green was one of Buttrick Hospital’s best nurses—capable, dependable, the perfect choice for out-patient works at the rehabilitation center. But the day Pam’s romance with Dr. Sam Flint came to an abrupt end marked the beginning of some startling changes in the beautiful brunette’s life—the most startling being Joe Budd, the ruggedly handsome and notorious labor leader. Everyone warned him against him, but he made the perfect rebound date. After all, she could not possibly fall for a man who offered everything but love. Or could she? It was absurd ... but suddenly her idea of fun on the rebound had turned into a dangerous game that she had to keep playing, a game that threatened to destroy the career she had planned for a lifetime.
“The dress lent her a nice primness, and primness was a useful armor when you were not sure of a fellow you’d picked up in the first place.”
“Overlook the bad temper, please. I guess it’s this dress. I hate prim and prissy girls, I really do.”
“Like all nurses, I’m starving.”
“Ginny here is the daughter of the Haskins who’s one of the governors of Buttrick, Pam. Very posh family, tons of money, blood so blue you could use it for ink. If from time to time she snubs you, you’ll understand why.”
“Pam found her arm being taken companionably, and the hand gripping that arm piloted her quite expertly through a nonexistent lobby crowd, through a quite negotiable doorway, and into a Marine Room that was neither dark nor boobytrapped with obstacles.”
“I think women ought to make themselves useful. They’re particularly lovely when they’re doing womanly things at table.”
“The longer I live, the more I thank God for creating these comical characters we call men. They always talk with such authority you have to believe they really think they are authorities. That’s the funniest thing of all.”
“I find women potent medicine.”
Pam Green works at Buttrick Hospital in Hardin City, California, the same location for Patti Carr’s book TV Nurse—but I was disappointed to find out that the star of TV Nurse does not appear in this book, and Pam Green has no cameo in TV Nurse, either, which seemed like a lost opportunity for Ms. Carr. But anyway, Pam’s just been transferred out of Ward P, a rehab floor, to a department that seems to be case management for outpatients. Pam is assigned to a case, Miss Coolidge, who had been in a car crash and had to have both legs amputated—as well as her first name, it seems, since she never has one in this book. When Pam meets her, Miss Coolidge is in jail for panhandling, and though Pam gets her sprung, Miss Coolidge vows to go back to her former corner and resume her efforts. When Pam points out it’s not exactly a career with great upward mobility, Miss Coolidge retorts that she is unable to get a traditional job, since no one will hire a double amputee in a wheelchair. “There’s no law, you know, that says a business establishment must hide its handicapped people in the offices or stockrooms. We all do, however,” says the department store manager who refused to take Miss Coolidge back after her accident. “Ask us to hire a handicapped person, and the first thing we worry about is how it’ll look to our customers. Hide the horrible face or horrible lump on the back or the twisted legs or arms or even the emptiness where legs or arms should be.” This book was obviously written before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which only came into effect in the shockingly recent 1990).
In her new role as a nurse-cum-social worker, Pam gets Miss Coolidge an apartment and a job working for the labor leader called by many “a Neanderthal goon,” Joe Budd, who is everything a union boss is painted up to be, with an expensive-looking cigar, diamonds in his cuff links, and the build of a guy who’s whacked a few slobs on his relentless climb to the top. Somehow, though, when the big lug tears up over a firefighter who has lost the use of an arm while on the job, she feels that he’s more than his stereotype.
She’s not so sure about the man she’s actually dating, Dr. Sam Flint, who “would not remove a cataract from his own mother’s eye unless she paid him a whopping fee.” And he’s not even that great a doctor, albeit a good-looking one. Sam has just made the acquaintance of Sally Banes, of the Baneses, and is impressed by her “money, plus beauty and intelligence,” he lists in order of importance. When Sally drops in on one of their dates to invite them to a party, Sam goes, and Pam goes home—to call Joe and ask him to dinner. There Joe convinces her to go to an amusement park with him, which wasn’t too hard a sell, because “as it happened, in those emerald green eyes there was an interesting challenge that she couldn’t resist.”
Eventually, though, Pam learns that Joe’s job for Miss Coolidge is not meant to be permanent, because her position allows her to learn a lot of information about how he runs the union, and this might endanger his power. She confronts him, he admits it, and she stops seeing him. Meanwhile, poor little rich girl Sally Banes has fallen in love with Sam Flint—who’d lost it when she called the mansion he’d worked so hard to buy a “cottage,” and now they’re not seeing each other, either. Sally is looking pretty raw about it, and in trying to clean up her life she asks her father to hire handicapped people, starting with Miss Coolidge, and he agrees. Sally’s beneficence goes too far, though, when she asks Miss Coolidge to come to dinner at her house, and Sally’s father says something rude, and Miss Coolidge chews him out, and Mr. Barnes fires her again. Miss Coolidge, on her way out the door, tells Sally that “it was no wonder to her that nobody who amounted to anything in Hardin City wanted Sally Banes around.”
Sally responds to this mess by slashing her wrists, which naturally brings Sam to his senses, and he tells Pam he’s going to marry Sally. He also tells Pam that her zeal for Miss Coolidge is misplaced, because Miss Coolidge is unemployable. “People can’t have everything on their own terms,” he tells her. “You have to learn to put up with things you don’t like. You need self-discipline. She lacks it.” And Pam has to admit he’s right. So the next day she goes to Miss Coolidge’s apartment to pack her up and deliver her to a “home for unemployables” run by the state of California. Pam’s parting gift, before she peels out of the driveway, is a lecture about how many people tried to help her, “And all for what? You can’t be helped, Miss Coolidge, until you help yourself.” It turns out, though, that Miss Coolidge is only to be kept there for three months, which she doesn’t know, and Sally Banes is footing the bill. Joe Budd learns a lesson, too, and decides that his ambition isn’t worth what it costs him, particularly when he has a pretty good setup where he’s at. And Pam also decides that social work isn’t for her, but maybe Joe is, after all.
Patti Carr is a very perplexing author. Her other two works (TV Nurse and A Nurse to Marry) earned her a C- and a D+ respectively. But here we have a fairly charming, brisk, interesting, witty novel that easily snagged a top mark. Pam is smart, strong, independent, and hard-working, and the supporting characters are not completely dull, either. Its theme is also intriguing: Miss Coolidge ultimately wasn’t a failure because of her handicap, but because of her attitude. And it’s certainly rare to meet a character in a VNRN who doesn’t turn over a new leaf when assisted by the hands of the capable RN in the end, though it must be admitted that her eventual success is hinted at, even if we don’t get to witness it. This book bears more than a passing similarity to the writing of William Neubauer, between the union boss with a heart of gold, the machinations of hospital politics that have Pam transferred all over the hospital, the scheming mind of Pam herself, and the witty writing: “‘I love your dress, Pam,’ Sally said. Pam wanted to burn the dress on the spot.” I have wondered over the years if a VNRN was not actually written by the person whose name is on the cover, and this one does make me scratch my head, because not only is it the only book of Patti Carr’s worth reading, it’s also head and shoulders above most other VNRNs.
NOTE: After writing this review, I discovered that Patti Carr is actually a pen name of William Neuabuer, so my hunch proved accurate.