Thursday, March 10, 2022

Nurse Adele

By Hilda Pressley Nickson, ©1966
Also published as Season of Mists

Staff Nurse Adele Palmer had always brushed aside Sister Margaret Bowen’s bitter comments on her romance with Norman Wayne as the jealousy of a frustrated woman—until it began to dawn on her that Margaret might be right after all …


“I’ve known many an otherwise fine and intelligent woman be attracted to the dopiest man.” 

“No wonder women surgeons and doctors were not popular. In the main, they were over-conscientious and inclined to interfere with matters out of their province. They seemed naturally to have an eye for detail and for domestic matters, traits which the wise professional woman used to advantage, traits which could be valuable but which were so often misused.”

“Men? I guess some of us will put up with anything to get the woman we want. Rent, rates, mortgages—even children.”

Every nurse heroine I’ve met lately seems to be working happily on the night shift, and Nurse Adele Palmer is such a one. “She always found night duty so immensely satisfying. A night nurse had a much deeper, closer relationship with her patients, could help them in a way which often contributed to their recovery far more than drugs or even the surgeon’s knife. The murmured confidences, the heart-to-heart talks in the small hours when the rest of the ward were wrapped in their own dreams. Then, a nurse became friend, physician, priest and councilor, the problems of another human halved by being shared.” When I worked nights, there were a few hardy nurses who did actually prefer it, but most seemed to be forced into it by the demands of their family life. 

Adele, the youngest of three children, lives at home with her parents. Her father is a cold, aloof man who barely speaks to his daughter and discourages her from bringing anyone home. Her mother aids and abets the old goat, but fortunately the couple are travelling a lot, he on business and she going with him because “her parents were still so much in love that they could not bear to be parted for long.” She won’t be lonely, though, because she is going out with Dr. Norman Wayne, with whom she has quickly fallen in love and is planning to marry. Though one might be forgiven for thinking that what she is really in love with is the idea of moving out of her father’s cold house. “How wonderful it would be to have a place of one’s own where once could really be free. Adele was beginning to what that more than anything else, and dreamed of the home she and Norman would one day set up together. Their children would feel absolutely and completely free to bring anyone home at any time. She must talk to Norman about this.”

Fortunately, Norman is dragging his heels about getting married—she seems to want to have it over and done within months of their starting to date, so anxious is she to move out—ironically because he loves her parents’ home so much that no rinky-dink flat, all they would be able to afford, will do. What he really wants to do is move in with Adele’s parents, not at all comprehending that Adele would rather live under a bridge than with her parents.

Three other people round out the list of dramatis personae: Nurse Margaret Bowen, a thirtysomething angry woman who “was a good nurse in many ways, but was inclined to adhere too much by the book,” who has an “intimidating, dominating personality” and a “pessimistic, soul-destroying view of life.” Standing up to Margaret one night on the floor when the older nurse is convinced that there is hanky-panky going on in the kitchen (the junior nurse was making tea), Adele does what anyone would do when forced to work with such a monster: She invited her to come stay with her for a week while her parents are out of town yet again. While visiting, the two have minimal chilly conversations in which Margaret strongly disapproves of not just Norman but every male on the planet. The stuff of great friendships.

Two other doctors round out the cast: Dr. Susan Kent, a cool, unfriendly surgeon who insists on flicking on all the lights and flinging back the covers on the sleeping patients on Adele’s ward. (Adele, admirably, resists this unnecessary treatment, but in the end she is forced to apologize for her insubordination, and never mind that she’s right.) The other is Dr. Ian Patterson, who was once engaged to Susan; he’s a kind but shadowy figure with whom Adele has maybe three conversations with until the day they start making out in the woods.

And that’s really about all there is to say about this book. Adele and Norman spend a lot of time looking at flats, none of them proving suitable for Norman. Adele, out of the blue, decides she’s really in love with Ian—while she’s still engaged to Norman—but happily catches Norman smooching Dr. Kent, so that makes everything easy there. And Margaret is given a personality transplant, her incessant, angry sniping about men, so tiresome to the reader, melts away into wreaths of smiles when she meets a nice man who likes her. Even Adele’s unhappiness with her father is smoothed away with a single honest conversation. Pretty much every character in the book is a shallow, self-deluded fool whose fundamental psychoses melt into rainbows at the lightest touch. Adele often demonstrates confidence and backbone as a nurse, but she has none of these traits as a human being, and her successes at work are minimized while her successes in her personal life are essentially accidental—“Adele had too much pride to do the chasing,” we are reminded again and again, so she makes little effort to get what she wants. Her relationship with Margaret cannot be called a friendship, but she certainly chases after this unpleasant, bitter woman, and though it pays off in the end, it’s impossible to understand why she pursues that relationship so determinedly. A perplexing, uninteresting character, it’s ultimately not rewarding to spend any time with Nurse Adele.

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