Monday, January 17, 2022

Nurse at Spanish Cay

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1962
Also published as Future Nurse 

Ann Galt had come to Blalock Hospital to receive her nurse’s training. Then it was back to home on the Caribbean island of Spanish Key to care for the natives who had been working for her family for years. But Ann wanted more than to be a nurse; she set out on a desperate admission to marry a doctor and bring him back to her beloved ancestral island, and Dr. David Lochran, handsome, dedicated, and unmarried, seemed the ideal choice. But was there an understanding between David and beautiful Julia Anderson, the senior nurse who had taken Ann under her wing? Anne’s decision was taken out of her hands when a tropical hurricane roared across her island and opened her eyes to the meaning of love.


“Greater friendship hath no man than that he should lend his cherished car to a woman driver!” 

“I wasn’t permitted to read Oscar Wilde when I was growing up.”

“Well, of course I’m right. I’m the doctor, Nurse—remember?”

“Well, R.N.’s are taught they must maintain composure and move swiftly without running and a lot of other things.”

Author Peggy Gaddis has many annoying habits. Her heroines frequently lie about their feelings towards men, and they tend to be syrupy to the point of inducing nausea: They are regularly wide-eyed and/or near tears; they don’t speak, they trill; their laughter is always gay; and their interjections usually include “Forevermore!” “Zounds!” and “Phooey!” But here on Spanish Cay, unfortunately, Gaddis must have put a pound of sugar in her sweet tea, as she’s off the charts with the sentiment—and to make matters worse, she’s added a nauseating dose of racism to boot. 

The Galt family seems to own most of this small island located between Honduras and Haiti, on which their plantation grows coffee and—fittingly—sugar cane. Ann Galt, who is 18 when we open the book, is about to be sent to the United States to nursing school by her 80-year-old great-grandmother (the Galt women all appear to have been teen brides), who is called Clarita by everyone except Ann, who leans heavily on “darling.” Ann’s wishes to remain forever on the island must be sacrificed for nursing school because old Dr. John, who has either no first name or no last name, is on the brink of expiring with no one in line to step into his shoes. This tragedy the family would accept with equanimity if they did not feel responsible for the healthcare of the island’s native population. “They have been faithful and devoted and we are responsible for them,” Clarita tells Ann, and plantation business manager Tad agrees, saying that when she is a nurse Ann will be able to “look after the people who adore you and who have made a living for the Galts for 200 years.” (When a visitor to the Island asks if they have racial trouble, “Ann turned to stare at him, wide-eyed and shocked. ‘Racial trouble?’ she repeated incredulously. ‘Why, these are people, our people!’” demonstrating exactly why there might be a problem.)

Ann’s older brother Jerry had initially been teed up to serve as the sacrificial lamb, and had even been just a couple of months short of finishing his residency before returning to the island to pick up the stethoscope, “and then he had that beastly hunting accident!” Ann stomps her foot in frustration over the death of her apparently unloved older brother. “Oh, Clarita, it’s all so unfair. There were others on that hunting trip who could have been spared much easier than Jerry.” Total bummer!

So off to nursing school she goes, and there Ann meets Julia Anderson, who is appointed Ann’s “Big Sister,” to look after her during the brutal probie year. In addition to studying, from the first chapter Ann has been pretty frank about her plan to “snag some fine, upstanding young medic who’ll fall head over heels in love with me and be willing to marry me and come down here to practice.” Julia, who graduates when the year is up, has been dating Dr. David Lochran, who ends his residency at the same time. Of his relationship with Julia Ann is well aware, but that doesn’t stop her from fastening her wide eyes on the man and inviting him to Spanish Cay when the year is up. He mentions this invitation to Julia in Ann’s presence, so the little vixen is forced to invite Julia as well. Darn!

The year passes in pages, and soon the trio has landed in the Caribbean. Julia, who is no moron, is on to Ann, and David notices “just possibly the faintest tinge of acid in their tone” when they speak to one another. Ann even suggests to Tad that he start flirting with Julia so that she can work her wiles upon David without interruption. (Tad responds, “Why, you shameless, outrageous little somebody! I ought to spank the daylights out of you, the way I used to enjoy doing when we were kids and you’d got out of line”—spanking being one of Gaddis’s kinkier staples.)

But two weeks into the trip, when Ann and Julia are nourishing incipient skin cancers on the beach, Julia mentions that doesn’t know what she is going to do now that she is graduated, as “I can’t decide, of course, unless he does,” because “whatever David wants is what I want.” Ann’s eyes—wait for it—widen, and she is shocked! to learn of their relationship, and immediately chucks her evil scheme.

Four pages later, a hurricane of a strength never before seen on the island is upon them, which they didn’t notice until the winds were so ferocious they nearly knock a Jeep off the road, so it’s too late to evacuate. David and Julia hustle down to the clinic to help Dr. John, while Ann and Tad comb the island for the resident witch doctor, an elderly woman who has gone into hiding. Somehow, Ann manages to swim a tempest-tossed inlet to reach the woman, who is clinging to a cliff face, and haul her back across to safety. Once they’ve driven the old woman back to the clinic, Ann and Tad collapse into each other’s arms. “Then she drew a little away from him and stared up at him, her eyes wide with a sudden realization, her tear-wet face flushed. ‘Why, Tad!’ she breathed, her voice touched with wonder. ‘Are we in love with each other?’” Guess what the answer is? Tad declares, “You’re staying right here, and you’re going to marry me,” continuing the family teen-bride tradition.

After the storm blows out, the kids head for the hacienda, which is built on high ground, where “there were not too many signs of the hurricane,” the lights are still on, and everyone has a hot shower and plenty of breakfast. “Everything’s just fine and dandy,” Ann sighs. She’s sorry to tell Clarita that the village is gone, but the matriarch responds “as though it were of no importance.” Indifference is catching; Julia declares, “It’s been a terrific experience. Oh, of course I’m terribly sorry about the village being washed away and all that.” Will Clarita be disappointed that Ann isn’t going to finish her training? Naw! “I sent you away with the very kindly intent of giving you and Tad a chance to find out that you really loved each other,” she says. “I hoped it would happen, but I couldn’t be sure. And if it didn’t, and you came back with her R.N. degree then there would no harm have been done.” Which left me unconvinced that there was only one witch on the island.

Now we have time to catch up with the other pair of love birds: David suggests to Julia that he take over Dr. John’s post and that Julia join him. And it’s Julia’s turn to be disingenuous: “Of course. You would need a nurse,” she says, and when David answers that what he needs is a wife, she pretends that he must be talking about Ann. When that phony little misunderstanding is cleared up, it’s their turn to act all surprised and starry-eyed when they realize they’re in love with each other, complete news even after years of dating. “Well, I’ll be darned!” David says dazedly.

The worse part of it is that this insipid, dripping washout doesn’t even qualify as a nurse novel, since the central character quits after just one year of training; I don’t think Julia and David’s peripheral storyline moves it over the mark. The racism is of course hugely problematic, and I’m mailing off another check as per the White Doctor protocol. Every single female character is cloying, and even the aged characters, usually beloved Gaddis staples, are horrid: Dr. John is a constantly shouting ass, and the matriarch is alarmingly Machiavellian. Gaddis should have been given a strict limit on adjectives and altogether barred from using adverbs; in just one page selected at random, we get “said Tad carefully,” “said Ann hastily,” “he repeated slowly, carefully” “Ann cut in swiftly,” “he said gently,” “Ann said quickly,” “She added quietly.” Ugh! This book is not even of the so-bad-it’s-good variety (looking at you, Nurse at the Fair and Harbor Nurse); really it’s those C-range novels you have to be most cautious of. The only thing remarkable about this novel is that in it we have a particularly excellent example of a book that should never be read.

This book was also published
under the title Future Nurse
which is a complete lie, since 
the heroine drops out of 
nursing school.

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