By Rebecca Marsh
(pseud. 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.