Sunday, June 12, 2022

Dr. Jenny of Timberland

By Isabel Stewart Way, ©1964

In the surgical wing after the operation, young Dr. Mike took Jenny’s hand. “You were wonderful, Jenny. You saved this man’s life. You’re so young—a girl. I couldn’t believe it.” Suddenly he was holding her in his arms, kissing her with a strange ardor. Just as suddenly he let her go. “My tribute,” he said formally, “to a very able doctor.” Lovely, young Jennifer Warden was a skilled and dedicated physician, but this handsome, arrogant man had touched something deeper in her nature—her pride as a woman!


“Gossip is like a bottle of strong medicine—you’re entirely remiss if you don’t check the label before and after giving.” 

“Let’s get away from here fast—before these hospital smells seep in and anesthetize us both!”

“Don’t you laugh, Missy! It ain’t no joke for a man to find himself without his pants! Especially around females!”

“What a loo-loo of a redhead! Any chance to make out with her?”

Dr. Jennifer Warden was all set to step into a cushy job as a general practitioner when she got the call from an old friend to help out at the High Valley Lumber Corporation’s mountain hospital, caring for the employees and their families at a clinic that “runs the usual gamut of cases from obstetrics to brain surgery.” Doesn’t sound like work for a GP, but Dr. Jenny is “smart at surgery,” so she’s tapped for the job. She’s not wild about it, but the chief suggests that she’s a little too, well, flirtatious, and tells her, “You need to find yourself, Jenny. You’ve got to find some way to bring the woman and the physician into accord within you, Jenny.” She accepts the assignment, though, because she realizes that “when a good-looking guy looked at her with admiration, she felt a definite response. In fact, she liked to feel this response, liked to feel the warmth spreading through her veins, liked the tingling excitement that a man’s kiss could give.” I’m not sure how working in a logging camp is going to fix that, or if that’s even a problem. 

Not surprisingly, the plan to “integrate” her two selves gets off to a poor start when she meets company general manager and hot guy Nathan MacLaren, who immediately decides, “As soon as I can arrange the company affairs, I’m going to get sick—and have a nice long stay at our camp hospital!” He asks her to dinner and she agrees, then chastises herself: “She was banishing herself to the lumber-camp hospital just to get well rid of this frivolous, unprofessional attitude toward men!” But she decides to worry about that tomorrow, and sets off for some dinner and dancing and smooching.

Up at the hospital, though, there’s this big oaf, Dr. Mike Raditche, who scowls a lot and seems to regard women doctors rather poorly. So even before chapter two, we’re prepared for the old trope about falling for the guy you hate. And on day one, when a tree falls on Benjy Hart, Jenny acts as lead surgeon for a middle lobectomy, a surgery very nicely described, in which Mike assists—and then afterward confesses, “I was appalled at first, when Dr. Luke said you’d do it—you’re so young, somehow, and a girl! But well, it was thrilling to watch you, and a privilege to assist.” Thanks, Mike. He crowns the backhanded compliment with another one, grabbing her and kissing her, “vehemently, with fierce ardor,” and then calls it a “tribute.” Do we think he kisses Dr. Luke after an appendectomy?

She’s on her way home the next day when one nurse’s boyfriend, logger Gig, offers to drive her home but takes her to a mountaintop and kisses her without asking. She isn’t so pleased about that and jumps in his jeep and drives herself home, leaving him to walk. But in her anger—and, of course, “peculiar attraction” for Gig—she forgets about her postop patient Benjy, who’s been running a temp, because she had been “sunk in her own female ramifications of emotion!” Whatever that means. Mike and Luke have patched up the patient, and Jenny goes to the hospital to confess all, even her attraction for Gig, which seems a bit excessive. They forgive her—but Gig tells everyone in camp that Jenny was chasing him, and that Benjy almost died due to her neglect, and now everyone else is quite cool to her.

Benjy’s wife arrives in the hospital to have a baby but refuses to let Jenny see her, even though Jenny is the only doctor available, and the nurses keep mum about the patient’s incipient delivery until it’s essentially showing its little head and are forced to alert Jenny to the situation. It’s a tough delivery and the baby almost dies, but Jenny brings it around with mouth-to-mouth rescuscitation. Later Mike chews out the nurses, and Jenny feels all warm inside to have “a man championing a woman’s honor,” but then goes all frosty when he tells her that she’s a “damned good doctor! You’ve got the right to practice your profession without these personal things coming between you and your work!” Because he’s thinking of her as a doctor, not a woman. Grrrr!

The two become close partners, but it peeves her that he seems to think of her only as a friend. “This was, of course, what Dr. Devers had prescribed for her—removal to a climate where men wouldn’t notice her, except as a member of her sacred profession. But it certainly was a bland tasteless medicine.” Fortunately Nathan shows up, takes her to dinner, and proposes, but if she wants to say yes to him, she has to say goodbye to medicine. “You were created to be a woman, Jennifer, and not a sexless professional! You’re made to be a wife, a mother, the center of a home,” he tells her. “She smiled at him, feeling protected and desirable and feminine—and she liked it.” But she cuts short their date so she can bone up on a surgery she’s doing with Mike the next day. Still, she’s mad at both men—Mike who doesn’t seem interested in her as a woman, and Nathan who wants her to give up her profession. Who will she choose?

The problem with this book is that is main premise—woman vs. professional—is completely weak and illogical, not to mention sexist. It’s not clear how Jenny is supposed to “integrate” both aspects of her personality, unless it means that she’s supposed to fall in love, but she’s not supposed to like going out with or kissing men, because that would make her a “flirt.” Interestingly, though, there is a quick reference to the fact that Mike, completely immersed in his career, has sacrificed his own heart; “If a man is ever to be a good doctor, he has to go through that phase, that wholehearted absorption in his work. Of course, Mike has been in that phase for a long time,” notes Dr. Luke with dismay. Jenny is miseducated by the times—she constantly blames herself for accepting a ride home from Gig the day he assaults her, and seems sadly bought into the belief that if she has a home life (“is a woman”) then she must sacrifice her professional life, to an even greater extent that women must continue to do so even today. But she is generally a strong character who regularly stands up for herself and demonstrates a lot of confidence, and skill, in her work. Another plus is that we get to observe a lot of medicine in this book, even a couple surgeries in detail. In the end this book has enough decent features to make it worth reading, even if the main trope is stale and stupid.

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