Monday, April 25, 2022

Nurse for Mercy’s Mission

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1969 

When Kay Lanyan came to visit her aunt and uncle at the isolated lumber town of Mercy’s Mission, the pretty young nurse thought it would be just a brief vacation. Her life seemed complete, divided between her work in a big city hospital, and the attentions of Andy Collings, a brilliant, charming intern. But working in a modern hospital and Andy’s happy-go-lucky attitude had not prepared Kay for the idealism and dedication of young Dr. Ian Davies. Soon Kay was at his side, meeting every medical challenge as she helped Ian serve the poor and needy of Mercy’s Mission. Never had she felt happier, more fulfilled—until Andy Collings appeared on the scene to throw her heart into desperate turmoil. For there was a difference between devotion as a nurse and love as a woman—and how could she make that choice?


“Lee couldn’t even remember her name—said when a gal looked like that, who needed a name?” 

“Sit down and I’ll pour you a cup of coffee. It’s great for solving the problems of tired maidens.”

Kay Lanyan, RN, has a common ailment—her boyfriend is an ass. Dr. Andy Collings, intern, seems to spend most of his time paying his fellow residents to cover his shifts so he can go out with Kay. Helps when your Dad’s a rich lumber magnate, but not so much if you have any interest in being a competent, hard-working doctor. Needless to say, Andy does not—he aspires to have a cushy practice catering to “wealthy patients who were not too sick to appreciate a smooth bedside manner.” He’s also a rude, ungrateful jerk who insults Kay’s best friend and one of the (poorer) residents who routinely covers Andy’s shifts, sneering that “your fat friend will probably be there with Talbot, which is a pretty good match, if you ask me. One’s as much of a drag as the other.”

Sadly, though Kay is disappointed with Andy’s attitude about medicine, she still seems to like him—and says nothing at all in response to his nasty remarks about her best friend. “People who were not rich or beautiful or both did not find favor with Andy Collings, and it was sad that they did not, she thought. It was even more sad that Andy did not know that he was hurting himself.” It’s not clear how, since Kay still gets all twinkly when she thinks Andy might be calling.

And he doesn’t, for months after she decides to take a job in the poor Oregon mountainside village called Mercy’s Mission, working with Dr. Ian Davies, who is everything Andy is not. You’d think that moving to the other side of the country would be a death knell for their relationship, but Kay thinks that Andy “had no reason to doubt that he had her love,” though she is constantly comparing the two and finding Andy sorely wanting. “Ian, she thought, is so much more a doctor, so wonderful a person—Dr. Ian Davies would keep going as long as anyone needed him, because he was dedicated to Medicine. Ian, she thought, didn’t know what it meant to be selfish; he probably never had dreamed of a practice like the one Andy wanted for himself, of patients who were wealthy, a little neurotic, not too sick. If only Andy were more like Ian, she thought.”

So Kay and Ian spend most of the book racing from one dire emergency to another. There are a few minor side stories, like the brief appearance of a “luscious brunette,” as Andy repeatedly insults the poor woman who has decided that Ian’s hardscrabble life is not one she wants to share, and there’s also an even more brief malpractice scare. In the end, Mercy’s Mission is saved by a huge investment by Andy Collings’ father, and Andy shows up to tour the town—will he undergo a completely unbelievable change of heart? Will Kay throw over the solid, hard-working, dedicated professional she’s been leaning toward the entire book for a shallow, mean, selfish ass?

Overall, the book isn’t badly written, and is reasonably entertaining, with a primary focus on medicine over men. But the end is surprising and unsatisfying, I’m sorry to report, though not as bad as it could have been. As my New Hampshire Yankee grandmother would say: “Have some chicken. It’s kinda tough.” Or maybe just have Jello salad instead.

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