Monday, December 6, 2021

Special Nurse

By Jean S. MacLeod, ©1944
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik 

When a woman believes herself indebted to a man, should she offer her heart as a sacrifice? Nurse Lindsey Hamilton knew that she owed to Richard Stewart Harvey, surgeon, the almost miraculous recovery of her dearly-loved brother. She knew too that she could—that she did—love Richard himself. But when, by coincidence, Richard’s own brother Douglas came to the same hospital as a patient, it seemed that she could best repay her debt to Richard by marrying Douglas. In a world where daily sacrifices were asked and made, she had this much to give. What would be her decision?


“A man never likes to think he’s been helped on to his feet. He likes to believe he’s struggled there of his own accord!” 

Dr. Richard Stewart Harvey is everything a young woman would want in a man. “He’s got that look about him—remote, yet assured,” says Nurse Lindsey Hamilton’s best friend. Guess who Lindsey’s going to tumble for! And he’s at least a decade older than her too, which makes it even better. And when for unknown reasons she’s transferred to a rehab hospital on the other side of Scotland—surprise!—he’s working there too. His brother Douglas is a patient there, as he’s a pilot who was shot down in the war. It’s not clear what exactly his injury is, as he’s able to walk for miles without even a cane, but his depression is keeping him from agreeing to the final surgery that will make him even more whole. Interestingly, Lindsey also has a brother, Norman, also trained as a surgeon, who also sustained some unnamed psychological damage during the war. “I can’t go back into surgery, I’ve lost my nerve. I’ll never operate again,” he tells Lindsey, but somehow he ends up as an assistant to the great Dr Stewart Harvey and slowly begins to bloom.

Douglas, too, starts to unbend under Lindsey’s expert care, but unfortunately this means that he decides he’s in love with her. She tries to be cool and professional, but he’s insistent in a way that is uncomfortable at best: “You’re going to get used to the idea of loving me one day,” he tells her, even throwing in that it’s what Rick wants, though it’s clear that it’s not at all what Rick wants. “I told you you belonged to me,” he adds, ratcheting things up an awkward notch. Brother Norman sees what’s going on—her feelings for Rick and Douglas’ for her—and tries hard, even if only obliquely, to keep Lindsey from doing something stupid. “You’ve never let anyone down in your life, Lindy, and I believe you would even go to the length of sacrificing your own happiness if you believed the cause justified it,” he tells her, on several occasions. The cause, in this instance, is her gratitude to Rick for his help with Norman, as Rick is increasingly giving the shell-shocked doctor more responsibility and gradually luring him back to the OR.

Lindsey and Norman become increasingly entwined with the Stewart Harveys and their home life, staying with their dad at the family home in the country and meeting the neighbors, including a young woman who is clearly in love with Douglas but is nonetheless completely gracious to Lindsey. Interestingly, pretty much every man in the book, including Douglas’ father and Norman on at least five occasions, hints to Lindsey that she should not marry Douglas, though no one comes out and actually says it, and Lindsey doesn’t seem to hear what they are telling her. Eventually Douglas is persuaded to undergo the final surgery, and Rick is in a car crash on his way to perform the op, so Norman is obliged to step in and do the job, in a scene that I, as a surgical PA, found the most thrilling of the book. Underplayed was the role that Lindsey served as Douglas’ nurse in keeping the fact that Norman was to do the surgery from Douglas (unethical as that may be), as she was as cool and professional as they were in preparing him for the operation.

Then we push through another particularly frustrating 50 pages, watching the push-pull of Douglas and Rick on Lindsey’s left fourth finger, and her crushing feeling of obligation to Rick, her bizarre belief that he is interested in another woman, and that she must marry Douglas. It’s a long time to hold your breath, and it’s frankly a bit exhausting, even if eventually it all pulls together well. Overall there’s a lovely camaraderie amongst the three families—it happens that the six young people all pair up evenly—which include three parents and a child. The writing is easy and pleasant, with rare drops of humor, so even if the book is too long and drags at a bit at the end, if you can just sit back and have faith, it’s an enjoyable outing in the Scottish countryside, without too much awkward attempt to write the accent to distract you. Author Jean MacLeod, a Scottish author who cranked out romances for more than 60 years, may not have here delivered a particularly special book, but it’s good enough for an afternoon.

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