Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Graduate Nurse

By Ann Rush
(pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham), ©1956
Also published as Florida Nurse 

Her superiors thought Nurse Dee O’Mara was too young, too pretty, and maybe too frivolous, for this kind of work. But Dee had a taste for adventure, and an iron will, so she got the job. She was sent out on a field assignment, one of the toughest ever held by a young woman, and the men she had to deal with didn’t make things easier for her. There was Dr. Barrows, tall and thin, demanding and badly overworked; and Jack Gregg, the cynic, who saw in her only the pretty girl—not the dedicated nurse; and above all there was Van Covington who gave her the biggest headache (and heartache) of all …


“So you’re the reason men have operations.” 

Nurse Diosa O’Mara—mercifully known as Dee—has just graduated from nursing school, and she’s been recruited to work in south central Florida between Miami and Ft. Myers to care for migrant workers because she speaks Spanish (in a very fleeting explanation, it seems her mother is from Spain). Pulling into town, she strikes up a hostile relationship with the first person she meets, realtor Jack Gregg, who is good-looking but too aggressive, looking her up and down and plopping down uninvited at her restaurant dinner table. He’s not overtly horrible, outside of being creepy, though when she starts chatting him up—VNRN heroines always warm up shockingly fast to creeps—we readers can’t wholly blame her. 

There are three big ranching outfits in town that use migrant workers, all run by unfriendly, resistant bosses, two of whom immediately toss her out when she shows up suggesting that they let her give clinics for their workers, but grumpy Van Covington agrees to let her stay—to wash out the dorms where the workers will be living. After one day of scrubbing and cooking Van a sardine omelet (this is apparently a thing; please comment below if you have tried one!), she agrees to go with him to the airport to pick up a planeload of workers he’s paid to have flown over from Puerto Rico, wearing “a smart black dress and a tiny black hat with an exaggerated feather,” the wild inappropriateness of which is never mentioned, but she wins back points when she insists on driving the truck to Van can sleep on the way.

At the airport, Jack shows up and buys her coffee while Van shepherds the workers through immigration—and then the two men exchange fighting words. Turns out Jack is hoping Van is finally going to go bankrupt after two consecutive bad harvests and will be forced to sell off his farm, which is the best one in the area. “You know I’m going to get it one of these days, by hook or by crook,” Jack grins. Van stomps off—only to find that the workers had gotten into the wrong truck and been kidnapped! So his investment in bringing them over is lost … who could be behind it???

A week later she finally gets to start a nursing clinic and attempts to give classes in childcare and sanitation. The classes aren’t going well, because the women don’t trust Dee and they’re too tired after working all day to scrub their houses, too. But a white immigrant worker named Neva Morton steps up to help. Neva is charismatic, intelligent, and hard-working—but she has a cleft lip, which causes Dee to give her “a look of surprise and distaste” when she sees it, professional that she is. Neva plays the accordion and sings comic songs she’s written about the joys of keeping a clean house, and tells the workers that Van will give a prize for the cleanest house. Soon the migrants are planting flowers and buying paint.

Now Van’s workers are all being lured off to a still in the woods and are too drunk to work, and Van is again convinced Jack is behind it. Dee, who has started dating Jack by now, is outraged, though she does find out that Jack is the financial backer of one of the ranches that won’t let her in. “Everything bad in Van’s life is caused by one man,” she fumes. “Jack’s quite a man, but if he tried, he couldn’t be to blame for everything you credit him with. There isn’t time enough in one life.” When she’s with Jack, though, she defends Van, and Jack begins to reveal his hatred for Van. “One more year of poor crops and that land he’s squatting on is mine,” he gloats. Then he proposes in the usual way of men we’re not supposed to like: He tells her, “You know by this time that you’re going to marry me, don’t you, sugar?” Mercifully, Dee “shied away from that, half-frightened by the idea."

Then crop duster Eddie proposes to Neva, but she turns him down because of her cleft lip. This sends Dee to Miami to hunt down a plastic surgeon who will do the repair for free, and of course finds one who agrees: “I do not perform operations like this for sweet charity, but because the ugliness makes me shudder.” Nice. While in town, Dee sees an expose in the newspaper that Jack’s ranch is keeping its workers prisoner in squalid conditions, barely feeding them. Flying back home in disbelief, the first person she meets in town is one of the kidnapped workers, who confirms the newspaper story. She takes the man to the police to help him tell his story and threatens the cops when they initially respond with indifference, and soon Jack is arrested for “peonage.” There’s no point in telling you how the book goes on from there, since you’ve seen this ending coming since the first shouting match Dee has with Van.

There’s a lot to be admired in this book. Dee is feisty and takes nobody’s guff, but it would have been better if we’d seen her work at more nursing and less cleaning and toting wood. Jack is never overtly awful, though he does make you suspicious, so you can’t entirely blame lonely Dee for going out with him. Van is gruff but is still sympathetic, unlike some male would-be boyfriends who never overcome their initial unpleasantness. Neva is a fantastic character, very well drawn, and though the Black characters—and Neva, too—talk in dialect—when I first saw their speech I cringed—the characters are treated respectfully. There is occasional humor in the writing and even some brief politics, when Neva talks about how native American migrant workers don’t like imported migrant workers because they work for less money and so get the jobs. And of course the cover is fantastic. The ending, though, was totally flat and disappointing. So if a couple of minor flaws keep this from being a truly top-notch book, but it’s still one worth reading.


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Recovery Room Nurse

By Rebecca Marsh
William Neubauer), ©1965 

Successful businessman Stan Livermore delivered his ultimatum to Nurse Jane Kemp: either she abandon her career to become a full-time wife, or they must forget each other. But as a desperately needed nurse, Jane wanted to be a permanent part of her profession. At the same time, she was deeply in love with Stan. It was a hopeless dilemma. Until Arthur Howard, her famous—and very handsome—new patient offered an unexpected solution …


“I’m not a kid intent upon storming any woman’s lips. Behave.”

“Some friends you have, Jane! Are they born rude, or do they acquire the knack only after long study?” 

“Jane thought that men were certainly a problem. Yet what a dull world it would be if there were no such problems for women to handle.”

“You’ve come to complain. You disapprove of beginning a subcuticular suture by placing a square knot lateral to the incision. Oh, I know, I know!”

“As a woman ages, she must substitute the charm of thoughtfulness for the charm of beauty.”

“Look, darling, if I didn’t feel good, I’d still put on the act just to keep out of your clutches.”

“The careers of all unmarried women should be smashed. An offense to nature.”

“I’m trained to see facts, recite them, do something about them. Others ought to have the same training.”

Pop the champagne, because this is my 500th VNRN review! I will admit I have been saving this review for a few weeks for this occasion, because there are few better authors to celebrate an occasion with than Bill Neubauer. 

Reading a book by Bill Neubauer is like walking into your best friend’s house. It’s a welcoming, comfortable place where you feel happy and at home, and you know it’s pretty likely are going to have a good time. Such is Recovery Room Nurse, which is about nurse Jane Kemp and her struggles at work and with her boyfriend, Stan Livermore. Stan is a 32-year-old real estate mogul, worth $800,000—a lot of money in 1966, when top doctors didn’t make $40,000 annually—who met Jane when she nursed him through an episode of appendicitis. The problem is that now he wants her to quit her job and be a full-time wife. Jane also has a roommate, Grace Ohlsen, who is a spunky ecologist. According to Grace, Stan insists that “all you must do to make him happy is quit your profession, renounce your individualism, and drudge for him. I continue to think you’d be an idiot to subordinate your life to his.” I really like Grace Ohlsen.

Jane is more torn, though, and struggles with Stan—even breaks up with him at one point—thinking, “Marriage, darn it, couldn’t be a relationship in which one partner had everything his way and the other partner had no individualism or rights or options to speak of!” But, unfortunately, Jane thinks, “Drat the character, she loved him.”

In the interim, she is sent to special a mega-famous TV writer, Arthur Howard, who has a mortal fear of hospitals and is, in a word, a crybaby. He’s due for a hip surgery, and, anticipating a tough recovery, is seeking “a voluptuous blonde nurse who will distract him from pain,” largely because he has a recurring dream in which a jolly, plump nurse chases away a skeleton that is trying to do him in. Unfortunately the supervisor of nurses, Mrs. Dolezal, has decided that he is going to have Jane Kemp, who claims to be neither voluptuous nor pretty (of course, she’s wrong; “the woman was a stunner” “with twinkling blue eyes,” and “her rippling laughter was music,” to name just a few of her charms), but is in fact the best recovery room nurse at Buttrick Hospital (the same site of Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse and TV Nurse).

The politics comes in, as it does with Bill Neubauer’s books, when we learn that Howard is planning to create a new TV series profiling a hospital, and the administrators are eager to please the man in the hope that he will choose Buttrick as the subject of his show. Mrs. Dolezal wants Jane to be his nurse in order to impress him with her skill, which she, of course, does. But on the day of Howard’s surgery, just as he is waking, Jane is pulled out of his room by a student nurse whose patient is choking to death. Jane quickly saves the man’s life, but when she returns to Howard’s room, the man has completely panicked, convinced that Jane “abandoned” him—and only his own brute courage and strength pulled him through the episode. Outraged at his mistreatment, he calls the newspaper to give them a front-page story, and Jane is put on leave. But she is a calm, skilled, intelligent woman, and we watch her play the silly man like a champ. Author Bill Neubauer really liked women, I think, because his female characters are always strong, insightful, supportive human beings who always help out their friends.

One anecdote he describes, though, does break my heart—in the story we are told about a young boy, a diabetic amputee, moved to another hospital ward to die. Though the remaining boys on the ward are not told of the death, they nonetheless scatter Lincoln logs (remember those?) on the floor, so that the boy’s ghost will slip on them and fall, rendering the creature unable to attack them. Neubauer, who was raised in the St. Giles Home for Cripples on Long Island, may well have experienced just such as scene when he was growing up. He led a remarkable life (see his biography), and his back story makes his gifts as a writer all the more extraordinary.

Anyway, in this book, Jane is an awesome heroine, the kind of woman who, stuck in the ear with a fishhook, pushes it the rest of the way through, cuts off the barb with pliers, and while stanching the flow of blood heads to her hospital’s ED, where she quips to the intern, “You’d better be good; I’d hate to perish of tetanus.” But the problem with this book is that Jane is in love with the jerk. We see little of Stan except when he is giving Jane ultimatums about leaving her job, so though she tells us many times how wonderful he is, I can’t believe it. In the end, her “win”—and you know she would have one—feels like less than half a victory because of the terms she unfortunately agrees to. Neubauer’s writing is otherwise witty, entertaining, and deeply satisfying, and the relationships he builds between women characters are more honorable than those created by many female VNRN authors. If he liked his male characters as much as he likes the women, this would be a better book. Recovery Room Nurse falls slightly short of his best work, but even if the “romance” central to the story isn’t much of one, this book is certainly a gem worth reading.

Shop this title, now republished
by Nurse Novels Publishing, here!

Friday, August 12, 2022

Nurse Jenny

By Margaret Howe, ©1958
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett 

Jenny Dawson was pretty, young and blonde, but she had absolutely made up her mind to dedicate herself to her nursing career and to the little nephew who was left in her care … Then, in her new job at the famous Merriman Memorial Hospital, she met—Dr. Peter Hurley—broad-shouldered and serious-minded … and Jack Merriman—handsome, wealthy, debonair … The story of a lovely and courageous nurse who finds that  life can be very complicated indeed when one is devoted to a demanding career, and much more so when one is young, beautiful, and admired by two very attractive and eligible men …





“The knowledge that Jimmie would never be a mental case cheered her.”


“Jack told me I was silly not to have a pretty nurse. It’s bad enough to be here, without having to watch a homely woman for hours.”


“A pretty girl like you shouldn’t dedicate her future to a crippled child.”


“We’d better get out of here before the hospital gossips start a rumor that they caught me necking with a nurse.”



I have said before that a C grade is really the worst possible grade for a novel: not so awful that it engenders at least some emotion, not laugh-out-loud bad, and certainly not enjoyable, it plops squarely into the category of books that there is absolutely no reason to read.


Nurse Jenny Dawson has inherited her nephew, Jimmie, a four-year-old with cerebral palsy, from the boy’s mother Belle, after the father, Jenny’s brother, died in a truck accident; “how callous and indifferent Belle had been from the moment Jimmie was born. She hated him. She would have put him in an institution.” So Jenny had taken him, then depleted her savings and abandoned her job to travel around the country to see various specialists to try to get him care. Merriman Clinic has gotten her one remaining dime for “this last attempt to find someone who could help,” and sure enough, Dr. Peter Hurley agrees that Jimmie has the potential to learn to talk, possibly even walk. In return for his treatment, Jenny takes on a job as nurse at the next-door hospital, caring for demanding matriarch Nora Merriman, whose money has endowed the hospital, and who has broken her hip in a fall and “might easily become a cripple” without proper nursing care.


Nora’s son Jack is a cad, flirting with everything but settling on nothing, encouraged by his mother, who feels that nothing is good enough for her boy. He starts chasing Jenny, who goes on dates with him and appreciates his charm, but she is put off by his lack of seriousness. At the other extreme is Dr. Peter, who is nothing but serious: “He doesn’t seem to get a kick out of anything but his profession,” observes Jack.


Well, his profession … and Jenny, whom he repeatedly asks out for coffee, even starts hugging and kissing her, all the while telling her, “I can’t allow my emotions to trick me into anything which might endanger my ambition to be a successful doctor.” That’s why he likes Jenny, he tells her, because she “expects no more than I can offer.” What a tease!


Eventually Jenny’s savings are wiped out and she worries she will have to take Jimmie out of the clinic, where he now receives round-the-clock care and therapy three times a week, which has somehow brought him to a vocabulary of ten words from none. But Dr. Peter contacts some wealthy philanthropists who offer to fund Jimmie’s treatment as long as Jimmie’s mother Belle agrees. Belle smells the money that could be made off Jimmie, as Dr. Peter and the investors are thinking of starting a national charity to benefit kids with cerebral palsy and starring Jimmie on posters to draw public attention. (It’s a little weird that either by coincidence or deliberate rip-off, the author has hijacked the story of the Jimmy Fund, which began a decade before this book was written by utilizing a 12-year-old cancer patient to raise funds and awareness, even down to using the same name for the boy with CP.) Now Jack, Peter, and Nora are all working to save Jimmie from Belle’s clutches, all to win Jennie for themselves, as a nurse or a wife. Who will succeed? Well, you won’t be shocked to learn that it isn’t Nora.


The curious parallel between Jimmie and Nora Merriman is only briefly touched on, when Nora wails, “It’s the prospect of a future as a cripple that appalls me.” When Jenny reminds Nora of Jimmie’s deficits, Nora replies, “Thinking about others doesn’t make it easier for me to face the future,” and flops back into her satin pillows and eiderdown quilts.


In the end, Jimmie is saved from his mother, who is essentially bought off, and Jenny wins the man you know she will in the final three lightning-fast paragraphs. The characters are flat and the writing is wooden, which is surprising, given that Margaret Howe has put her name on the cover of 2011 Top Ten VNRN Visiting Nurse—though she also claimed three other mediocre books (Special Nurse, Debutante Nurse, and The Girl in the White Cap). The best thing about this book is the Harry Bennett cover, even if on my copy of this book the printing register is out of alignment, making it look blurry and alien. But what’s inside the cover is off as well, so that may be fittingly appropriate.