Monday, October 25, 2021

Nurse in London

By Jane Converse 
(pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1970
Cover illustration by Bob Abbett 

“I want you, Luv,” said Lee Watson. He was the star of The Tree of Life, the top rock group in England and America, and he lay in a hospital bed, victim of a crippling motorcycle accident. In pain and despair he had clung to Nurse Holly Brooks. Now, he was going back to London to resume his career. “I love you, Holly,” he told her. “Come with me.” And Holly came because he needed her … stepping, unaware, into a frenzied, psychedelic landscape where The Tree of Life flourished, and she was a stranger.


Lee Watson is the creative genius behind The Tree of Life, a rock group that “the young patients on our floor rate up along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” except that this music is “country baroque. Banjo meets harpsichord.” Whatever that is. He and his band have come to the U.S. on tour, and while out for a ride one day on his donorcycle, Lee missed the curves of Topanga Canyon and went over the edge, resulting in injuries that insisted on the amputation of both legs. Though “he hasn’t lost his talent,” the accident set him back on his heels, if you don’t mind the metaphor, and he’s become reliant on Nurse Holly Brooks for his emotional as well as physical recovery. 

Interestingly, we meet here an orthopedic doctor who is concerned that his patient will become addicted to opioids (a rare species in this day and age) and who works with Holly to wean Lee off the morphine he’s been getting. “I am not so certain, not certain, at all, that our young man is unfamiliar with analgesic drugs,” he tells Holly. “We cannot risk addiction.” His solution is to administer an IV placebo, but guess what?

Lee is a volatile individual who one minute is screaming in Italics, “There isn’t going to be any tomorrow! It’s over! Can’t you stop playing your idiotic games and see that it’s all over?” and the next minute he’s going on “like a gushing fountain” about a proposal that his group give a free concert in a London park. He’s a bit manic, if you ask me, but no one else seems to have noticed. In the first scene between Lee and Holly, he tells her—hot on the heels of him rejecting the pills and begging for “a shot”—that he loves her and wants her to come back to London with him. His orthopod agrees: “To prevent him from becoming addicted to a narcotic, to keep his morale high enough so that he does not refuse to follow the routine of his exercises; this appears to be within your power,” he tells her. “Your presence at this time could mean the difference between recovery and total collapse.” But no pressure, luv. And, of course, contrary to all teachings about addiction; only the addict is responsible for their addiction. On Holly’s side, she feels “the flattery of being singled out by the exceptionally attractive idol of thousands of girls,” and has a “breathless sensation” over being invited. So off she goes, and her attitude about being able to save Lee does not bode well for either of them.

Dr. Glenn Raymond is the doctor who is taking over in England, and he quickly turns mean when Lee shouts for her in the middle of a press conference, “C’mon over and give us a kiss, pet. Give these ink-stained vultures something to write about.” Nonetheless, as Dr. Raymond continues to be “blunt, unsympathetic,” “smug and unpleasant,” Holly decides that she is falling in love with “this dictatorial, waspish man,” because nothing turns a woman on more than a man who is an asshole. Dr. Raymond suspects that Lee is on drugs, given his “mercurial” “manic-depressive” presentation. Furthermore, Lee won’t let anyone see his arms, and Glenn and Holly decide that Lee is “hooked on morphine,” provided to him by one of the groupies. They discuss getting him into drug rehab, but Holly thinks Lee will not cooperate. She wants to wait until after the big concert: “You can’t imagine what it means to him … a chance to prove that he isn’t a useless, unwanted cripple.”

The doctor stomps off, and Holly paradoxically decides that “whatever was done to save Lee had to be done quickly, and it had to be done, Holly decided, by herself alone.” She’s worried that it would be “an unforgiveable breach of ethics” because she would be “proceeding contrary to his orders,” but “all heroic acts were acts of defiance, were they not?” Lee’s monstrous egotism has apparently rubbed off on her. So she gets into a fistfight with the groupie who is dropping off the drugs. Lee’s manager stops the fight and throws out the groupie, and then a hellish night in which Lee suffers withdrawal ensues.

The next morning she summons Dr. Raymond. If Lee is not cured of his addiction that night, Holly recovers from her “arrogant conceit.” Dr. Raymond arranges to have Lee moved to rehab, but before he can accomplish this, Lee flies the coop. They tried to make him go to rehab, but he said no, no, no! He’s got to finish preparing for his big concert, see, and after that’s over, he’ll go, pinkie promise! Dr. Raymond comes over to yell at Holly some more, but after he’s done, and after he’s learned that Holly is not engaged to Lee, he warms up considerably and tells her that he’s in love with her. After some smooching, they decide to get married, because their one date and his subsequent horrible behavior have told her she needs to spend the rest of her life with him.

The concert goes off, and during the last number, Lee wheels himself offstage before the music has concluded. Holly has an ominous feeling and rushes after Lee, only to find that he’s shot himself dead in his dressing room. It’s soon revealed that Lee has left his entire substantial fortune to Holly, and Dr. Raymond trots out his Mr. Hyde personality again, accusing her of having pretended love for Lee to engaged and win his fortune. She dashes off to the airport, but it’s taking her so long to get a ticket that Lee’s manager, Bart, catches up with her. “You’re as bad as Lee, thinking you can run away from yourself!” he says, adding that Dr. Raymond had immediately realized, after hanging up on Holly, that he’d made a huge mistake, and had been trying to track her down ever since.

With a bit of time for backstory before the doctor catches up with them, Bart tells Holly that when he made his will, Lee had had to ask what Holly’s last name was, and mentions that Lee had been married twice before, the first time to an honest woman who’d had a son with him, and who had “kept hoping Lee would come around to see the boy someday. Fall in love with ’er again, if she didn’t annoy him.” Holly tells Bart that it’s was she and his Los Angeles doctor who had made an addict of Lee, but Bart shrugs that off, telling her that Lee had been high on speed at the time of his accident, and that his addiction was inevitable. By now the doc has found a parking spot and rushed into Heathrow to give her a kiss. Immediately she starts to plan “spending the rest of your life in a foreign land. Yet wouldn’t she be willing to live anywhere, for the remainder of her days, if she could be at Glenn’s side?” The terrible problem of her estate she decides to entrust to Bart to manage for her, never mind about helping out Lee’s good-hearted first wife or son, and they head off to get a wedding license and struggle with the burden of being millionaires. Poor kids.

Author Adele Maritano can crank out plenty of great sentences, but here she hasn’t given us anything for the Best Quotes section, and she’s lousy with plots, which is a tragedy for her and for us. Here she writes of addiction as if the attitude that the addict is helpless in the face of drugs is a new one; of course, in 1970 it may well have been, so we can’t blame her for that. But it’s tiresome to the more modern sensibility, especially when a professional like Holly is not with the program and falls into all the typical traps about her responsibility for Lee’s addiction or sobriety. It’s also dated in how it treats the musical genius of Lee; we are told that his brilliance endows him with “the superiority that permitted him to behave like a tyrant and get away with it.” Again, it’s not easy to swallow that perspective 50 years on or watch him abuse people who revere him. Here we have another of Maritano’s many mediocre works that offer little beyond a flashback to another time, which of itself is not really enough reason to pick up this book. There are other, better VNRNs that will take you to London (see An American Nurse in London, not to mention many of the Britain-based Harlequin nurse novels), so I advise you to turn in your ticket and catch a different flight.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

An American Nurse in London

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1968

The huge jet liner was London bound. And Elaine Gibbs had left thoughts of hospital routine far behind. But when the stewardess asked her to assist a sick passenger, she couldn’t refuse. Then, she discovered that her patient was none other than Tommy Taylor, the rock-and-roll idol. At the airport, Elaine helped Tommy avoid reporters—including the handsome young journalist who was her seatmate. And so, unwittingly, she embarked on a wild adventure that changed her entire life. 


“Hospitals. They give you a pill to put you to sleep, and then they wake you up in the middle of the night with a blinding light in your face.” 

“She hadn’t forgotten her own days of student nursing, when you combined classwork and exams with floor duty and wondered how much longer you’d be able to stay alive.”

“Pity I’ve a wife. Healthy one, too.”

“One felt almost anything could happen when the sun shone.”

“Luck was the last ingredient for a happy life. Work and industry and giving in a relationship was what made it grow and blossom.”

“Lionel always notices legs. I’m grateful for that. I’d loathe living with a man who noticed bosoms. That always seems so common to me.”

“Behind every delightful man there’s a wise and gracious woman.”

I’m writing this review on a jet to the US from London, and I have to say that what struck me most about this book was the ease of travel and immigration when it was penned 54 years ago—no passenger locator forms, no COVID-19 tests, no vaccination certifications or multiple COVID tests to schedule upon arrival—just show up, fall in love, and stay forever in a foreign country forever. Times have changed, indeed. 

Elaine Gibbs is a nurse on vacation, and so barely acts as one during this book, apart from diagnosing fellow passenger, rock star Tommy Taylor, with chicken pox. She goes above and beyond, however, when she helps him scurry off the plane to escape the press and the crush of screaming female fans, whisking him off to her friend Erica McLean’s flat at 14 Grafton Terrace in the Bayswater district of London, which is apparently a real address. (I wonder if its current occupants know of its prominent place in literary history?) The spots on Tommy’s face, we are told, would be “just great for my image,” and that’s all the sarcastic explanation we are given as to why Elaine must escort the man out the plane’s back door, a “service exit for airplane personnel,” through passport inspection and customs, and off to Erica’s—an address no one has bothered to give to Tommy’s manager, Bernard Moss, who is accompanying him on the flight, so he’s left worrying and waiting for Tommy to reappear.

Another problem is that Elaine’s seat mate on the plane, Tony Crenshaw, is a very attractive and interesting young journalist. Dashing off without explanation, Elaine is vastly disappointed not to have been able to share a cab and perhaps something more with the young man, who is left to cab it alone into town. As for Elaine, once she lands in London, she makes the most of her vacation with a very thorough tour of the city, and we are led to Trafalgar Square, Lincoln’s Inn Fileds, Temple Church, the Cheshire Cheese pub at 145 Fetter Lane—an old haunt of of Samuel Johnson’s—and Windsor and Buckingham Castles.

In a shocking incident of insight and coincidence, Tony is lunching at Twining’s at the same time as Erica, who is a literary editor, and she inadvertently leaves behind a manuscript with her name and address on it. This simple clue leads psychic Tony to decide that this must be where Elaine and Tommy are. He knocks on the door the following day, only to be turned away by Erica. But Tony’s brief visit makes fellow reporter Liam Cobb suspicious—my God, these British reporters must all have ESP—and he tails Tony as he’s tailing Elaine, Erica and Tommy on a driving tour of the countryside. Tony, spotting Liam, punctures Liam’s gas tank  to get back to town first to turn in the story that Tommy is alive and well. Elaine, deeply crushed that Tony had learned of her whereabouts and not contacted her, is unconvinced when Tony turns up to offer a dozen roses and a box of Fortunum & Mason’s chocolates in apology. She stomps off in the rain to see Picadilly Circus (I was there yesterday, and if it’s not as horrific as Times Square, it’s certainly not a pleasant jaunt) and then to Buckingham Palace, and he trails along behind for almost an hour after she refuses to speak to him, but “he couldn’t stay out of the office all day,” so making no further effort to speak to her apart from his intial rebuffed attempt, he stomps back to work, “thwarted and seething.”

Tommy, meanwhile, is whisked back to a more suitable hotel by his manager. He and Erica, during their time together, had found themselves remarkably compatible, able to quote the same Alexander Pope poems and discuss artists with insight and intelligence—but Erica just cannot accept that Tommy is a rock and roll singer—“one of those dreadful people,” Erica insists, after two weeks of the contrary. She finally agrees, reluctantly, to attend his concert, and discovers that it’s not rock that he plays at all! Rather, he opens his show with a flamenco paso doble in Spanish, “an elegant pop number,” and when it’s over, Erica is a changed woman. “That isn’t popular singing!” she exclaims, finally won over, the shallow fool. For his part, Tony continues to shadow Elaine, and finally runs into her on the street and discovers that she’s pinned one of the roses he’d given her to her lapel, so that relationship is saved, too, without them speaking a word.

This book is somewhat problematic. Tony and Elaine, who have barely spoken for most of the book—the intrepid reporter who stops at nothing including criminal vandalism to obtain a story can’t make more than a trivial effort to speak to a reluctant woman—end on the brink of becoming engaged, too much too fast. And after all the reconciliations, Elaine makes a slip that Tommy had had chicken pox, and that’s Tony’s lead story for the early edition, so he’s apparently learned nothing at all from his journalistic misadventures. Even more curious is Erica’s debate about men vs. career; she’d dumped a man who’d wanted her to give up her career running a literary agency to marry him. “Roger had wanted her to be what she wasn’t. He’d wanted her to be just a woman, nothing else.” Working at the agency “had remade her, made a woman of her. No, she had never regretted it; it was her life. Or so she’d thought. That it was enough.” Because now, having met Tommy, she’s having doubts. Grrrr!

There are hints here of what makes author Dorothy Fletcher, here writing as Diane Frazer, a great writer, but this is not one of her best books. It’s not a terrible book on its own, rather the difficulty is knowing that author Fletcher can do so much better. The amusing wit is not as prevalent, and the absurd leaps of plot are just not acceptable from a writer as smart as she is. It’s not exactly a fair yardstick—for an author like Jeanne Bowman or Arlene Hale, two dandelions on my Worst Authors list, this book would be a home run—but this is the curse of being good at what you do, that a B grade is a disappointment.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Nurse Ann in Surgery

By Ruth MacLeod, ©1965
Cover illustration by Bob Schinella 

Ann Phillips returned to Crestridge with a whole new life ahead of her. She was going to start her career as a nurse-anesthetist, and she was going to marry Dr. Frank Parker, whom she had loved for so many years. But when she learned that while she had been away, Frank had decided to marry someone else, Ann buried her hurt by filling her life with her hospital work. Then, Frank came to her saying that he had made a mistake and would she renew their engagement. She asked herself whether Frank really knew his own heart … and besides there were whispering words of an exciting young intern warning her not to make a second mistake.


“Tears do have a way of invading the nasopharynx instead of rolling like pearls down a rosy cheek.” 

“You’ll most likely marry before long and find you need your time to rear a family. At least I hope so—for your sake. That’s a woman’s highest calling.”

Ann Phillips is particularly interesting in that she is a nurse anesthetist. Current-day CRNAs will likely appreciate the description of her job, which includes administering anesthetic as directed by the surgeon, which is curious because nowadays it’s the CRNA or anesthesiologist who makes that call, and also because she’s usually using sodium pentothal. Furthermore, she manually bags the patient—squeezes a bag every six seconds to push air into the lungs, a job today performed by a machine—for the entire surgery, which can last hours, and reports the patient’s condition aloud “every minute or so.” And with administering IV fluids and medications, and blood products when necessary, Ann’s got a lot to do! 

But this pales in comparison to juggling her personal life. She’s returning home to fiancĂ© Dr. Frank Parker, who is a rising would-be surgeon and son of brilliant chief surgeon Dr. Stuart Parker, for her first job since receiving her certification. “We’ve been engaged since he graduated from medical school,” Ann reports to one hopeful young man. “I haven’t seen him much since then,” which is at least two years ago. “Maybe he’ll have become a creep,” says the astute gentleman, who can read the writing on the wall better than Ann. Sure enough, on their first so-called date, Frank tells Ann he’s in love with the new OR nurse, Carisse Moffett, and breaks their engagement. It’s not hard to understand why, as Ann “could never compete with a girl like Carisse whose beauty was matched by her charming poise and grace.” None of which make you a good person, but values were different in the Sixties. In fact, however, Carisse is a lovely person who becomes very interested in Ann’s work and decides that she, too, will become a nurse anesthetist, and the two become friends as Ann takes her under her wing and helps her get started with applying to the training programs.

Frank, on the other hand, quickly proves he deserves neither the charming Charisse or the plucky Ann. He’s constantly bungling the more intricate surgeries, and when Ann expresses her admiration of an appendectomy he’s pulled off without killing the patient, she’s corrected by talented resident Dr. Robin Price. “It was a neat, workman-like performance,” he points out. “Exactly what should be expected of an intern on his first assignment. If a resident surgeon couldn’t perform that well he should be sent back to medical school”—and he concludes with the zinger that what could have been done in seven or eight minutes took Frank over half an hour. 

Worse than that, Frank comes bumbling to Ann, pleading with her to take him back, that “I got off to a bad start—I’ve been all upset inside. That’s why I need you, darling! I’ve been all torn up inside and it affects my work. I need our love! Then I can settle down to the practice it takes to do good work.” Instead of vomiting, Ann, who seems to be driven more by the rush she gets when kissing Frank, succumbs, despite the disapproval of her entire family, and Frank breaks off his engagement with Carisse to take up with Ann again. It becomes clear that this yo-yoing is due in part to pressure from his family, although it’s not obvious why they object to Carisse when they’d objected to Ann as well. Carisse proves again to be the best person in the triangle and bears no grudge at all against Ann, and continues their friendship and works with flawless professionality with both in the OR.

Meanwhile, Ann demonstrates that at least professionally she has a spine. When her anesthesiologist boss suggests that she couldn’t handle open-heart surgery, she interrupts him to insist, “Oh yes I could!” And she suggests to both Frank and his father that he might be better suited for a different specialty, though both are equally outraged at the thought. Never mind that in one emergency surgery “Frank’s incompetence cost the man’s life,” and when her own mother needs a pacemaker, Ann talks her out of having Frank do the job. “He isn’t exactly incompetent,” she explains to her mother in ringing praise, but thinks to herself, “Thank God it was Dr. Stuart in charge—not Frank!”

Eventually Frank is called out for his dithering during a ventral septal defect repair and, finally at the end of his patience, he “snatched off his mask and cap and stomped from the room.” This enormous breach of aseptic protocol should certainly cost a surgeon their hospital privileges on the spot. When the operation is over, Ann rushes to console Frank, only to find Carisse has beaten her to it, so the motion-sick, tempest-toss’d ring goes bouncing back to Carisse, but not before Ann has again tried to set Frank straight. “You’ll ruin your own life and ours too, if you don’t grow up and make your own decisions!” she explodes—not to mention all the other patients he’ll maim or murder. “It’s time for you to quit behaving like a child”—though she could benefit from her own advice, as she’s never been entirely convinced that Frank’s return to her was completely honest. Ann’s scolding, apparently, is what it takes for Frank to tell his father what he really wants in both career and marriage, and “she experienced only a numb sense of relief that his feet, at last, were set on the right path”—and never mind that his finally making the difficult decision obviates her from doing the same.

In the end, she ends up not with a fiancĂ© but with a solid prospect who is an excellent surgeon—illustrating another curious VNRN theme that the heroine never ends up with someone who is not good at his job. Would I love my husband less if he was lousy at his profession? It’s a curious question. Overall I’m slightly bothered that Ann is highly capable at work, and yet cannot demonstrate the same incisiveness when it comes to Frank, instead allowing herself to be buffeted by his storm—not to mention dumped twice! Otherwise, it’s an interesting book worth reading, and not just to admire Ann’s grip strength as she squeezes the ambu-bag 2,400 times in a two-hour surgery.