Saturday, September 24, 2022

Tread Softly, Nurse Scott!

By Marilyn Ross
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1966
Cover illustration by Mort Engel 

Nurse Judy Scott alone knows that Dr. Graham Holland, chief surgeon of the hospital where she works, has made a terrible mistake. Because of his error, a patient may die. Only one person believes Judy—Dr. John Randall, her fiancĂ©. But for reasons of his own, Dr. Randall refuses to do anything. He even threatens to end their romance if Judy exposes Dr. Holland’s mistake. With her future and her patient’s life at stake, Judy faces her most crucial decision as a nurse—and as a woman.


“How do you measure husband material? By the yard? Do you take the quality and width into consideration along with the texture of the hair?”

Nurse Judy Scott is the sort of heroine I can get behind. More than a little feisty, we are told that “she was just a jolly, good-natured young woman until some error caught her attention. Then her temper flamed to match her hair!” Right out of the gate, she’s telling a demanding, rude patient who has attempted to smuggle whiskey into the hospital—the bottle having been seized and stored in the nurses’ station—that “having it around too much has helped put you where you are now. We do not have time to bottle-nurse you,” and walking out. Amazingly, she never gets into trouble for her comments. 

She works on the surgical floor but also gets pulled into occasional surgeries as scrub—because apparently the existing pool of scrub nurses is not as talented as Judy is—which means she is on hand to witness the slow deterioration of Dr. Graham Holland, 65-year-old hospital chief who is moving slowly in gallbladder surgeries, stumbling in the halls, and complaining that the x-rays are too fuzzy these days. She discusses the problem frequently with her boyfriend, Dr. Miles Small, who has proposed multiple times but in whom she is not deeply interested. But Judy doesn’t always have the courage of her convictions, and tells Miles, who shares her concern, “Perhaps, if you ignore it, the trouble will pass and he’ll be all right.”

But the mistakes keep piling up, and soon Judy learns that there are two cases of patients whose gallbadders Dr. Holland had removed who had serious complications and were referred to major Boston hospitals for corrective surgery. Then the nasty alcoholic woman is not recovering from her surgery, and in a trip back to the OR that Judy and Dr. Small are assisting in, it is learned that Dr. Holland tied off the wrong duct (the common bile duct rather than the cystic duct, in case you are wondering).  Dr. Holland walks out of the surgery before it is completed, flies to Boston, and returns a few days later wearing glasses. Could this be the answer?

Well, Dr. Small is not convinced, because when his own father lands in the hospital with pancreatic cancer and Dr. Holland is planning to operate, he transfers his father to the Brigham in Boston for the surgery. “We have agreed that Dr. Holland shouldn’t operate on your father,” Judy says to Dr. Small. “But what about the others, the average patients who are still coming to him and depending on his skill? If Graham Holland isn’t in a fit physical condition to operate on your father, he isn’t well enough to be trusted with anyone else.” Dr. Small is shocked at this suggestion and defers any confrontation with Dr. Holland, because “we owe him our loyalty, Judy.” Judy adroitly replies, “Don’t we owe some basic allegiance to our patients?” Dr. Small answers, “There’s no harm in allowing him to continue as he is,” though it’s been proven that Dr. Holland is in fact harming patients, but Judy agrees to give Dr. Holland more time. Then she catches another mistake that Dr. Holland has made on the eve of major surgery for a prominent lawyer. Does she turn in her beloved colleague or allow the patients to undergo unnecessary risk? It’s an interesting and not uncommon dilemma in hospitals—and one I have personally witnessed—when a leading surgeon is no longer at the top of their game, and the debate around this question makes the book more interesting—the problem being that the answer is obvious to the casual observer.

Another unusual aspect of this book is how it dissects Judy’s relationship with another surgeon, Dr. John Randall. He is a serious, somber man and brilliant surgeon who Dr. Holland brings only reluctantly onto the hospital staff. Some say Dr. Holland is deliberately sabotaging Dr. Randall’s career, though Dr. Holland says his intention is to keep Dr. Randall humble and from acquiring an arrogance that undercuts his skill. It’s not an unwarranted concern; Dr. Randall laments that Dr. Small gets the important patients while his clinic consists of “a sewerage worker, and insurance agent and an elderly retired schoolteacher,” but Judy answers, “It seems to me that patients are all people and as individuals, important, regardless of their social position.”

Judy finds herself caring more and more for Dr. Randall, but she is concerned that if she marries him, his seriousness will eventually undermine their relationship. “There is a barrier between you and other people,” she tells him. “What worries me is that after we’re married and I’m trying to help you in the way I think right, you’ll shut down that barrier on me.” Later, she wonders if “the deep fondness she felt for him would not offset the pain his difficult disposition caused her. Many times she had seen divorce cases in which mental cruelty was listed as the reason for the breaking of a marriage and she saw that this could happen if she and John married.” When most VNRN heroines are grimly determined to marry the first man who presents themselves, not infrequently accepting a fellow who has previously shown himself to be an ass, it is refreshing to see our heroine consider marriage with the seriousness that it deserves.

Between these two weighty story lines, this novel has more gravitas than most, but it is not wholly satisfying. Judy has more gumption than many, but still has the stereotypical faults of VNRN heroines, such as when she needlessly frets about Dr. Randall’s involvement with a drippy woman no one—much less Dr. Randall—likes. A non-mystery is revealed in the final pages and leads to the overly neat solution to a number of problems. The writing is fine but not great, not campy or amusing, with little humor or joy, and the final pages are a series of declarative sentences that tell you rapid-fire how everything turns out, such as, “Patrick Lockary was operated on the next morning and his operation was successful. Miles returned from Boston with good news about his father.” It’s one of the better books (along with Arctic Nurse and Night Club Nurse) written by the extraordinarily prolific William E. Daniel Ross, but unfortunately that’s still not high praise.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Airport Nurse

By Monica Edwards, ©1964

For Joanne Terrell life as a nurse at the International Airport had taken on an air of wonderful unreality. There was the buzz of excitement of the place itself and the frequent emergencies—big and small—that came up every day. And then there was Wesley Hardin. Pilot Wes Hardin was the answer to Joanne’s every dream of romance. She knew it would be easy to fall in love with him. What was it that held her back—made her unsure of her emotions?


“Joanne was old-fashioned enough to believe that women should be the pursued, not the pursuers.” 

“Whoever would have thought this place would have a homey air? I would call it a definite triumph over the landlord’s intentions.”

“They were young, but the coming years would pass swiftly, each day their chances would narrow for their finding just the right one before the ultimate day arrived when it would be too late.”

International Airport, a major hub in some unspecified East Coast city, boasts a medical center with 2½ doctors (one is just the titular chief with no clinical role) and three nurses. Basically it’s an urgent care and trauma center rolled into one, and tends to treat mostly cardiac events, injuries, and major traumas like a bomb explosion and plane crashes. The three nurses, as well as one of the doctors, are all fresh out of their respective training, but when we meet them just four months into their jobs, every nurse has a serious boyfriend or is already engaged.

Joanne Terrell, age 21, is dating pilot Wesley Hardin, and hoping they will soon become engaged. We the readers more than hope they will not, because he’s one of those guys about whom nothing good can be said apart from his amazing looks and athletic physique. He possesses “a restless energy, harder on the people Wes was with than it was on Wes himself.” Joanne finds his driving “terrifying,” and he always ignores her when she asks him to take her home when they’re out on dates. At 36, “he’s one of those iron men who live within themselves and don’t need anyone.” Yet after she finally breaks up with him on page 52, she is a destroyed, empty shell, always thinking about him—until famous singer Howell Bellis shows up at the clinic fleeing a mob of crazed teenaged fans and promptly starts stalking her, sending 12 dozen (well, sometimes 24 dozen) roses to her office daily until she tells him where she lives so he can send them there instead, because her boss is getting pissed off. “Don’t try to resist me, because I'm going to batter your door down if necessary,” he tells her, and so she agrees to go out with him because “there was no use arguing. He was insistent.” Another alternative is a restraining order, but sure.

So she lurches into another awful relationship, worse than the first one: “The whirl Howell had taken her on this week made her frantic evenings with Wes seen pallid by comparison.” Before long Howell has sort of proposed—if you can call it a proposal when the man hands her a ring and makes nothing but demands—“I want to marry you. You’re going to find you love me, because that’s the way it’s got to be!” So we hope this relationship is doomed, too.

In the background of Joanne’s story are those of her two roommates. Beth has become engaged to pilot Tom Evers after dating for three months, and will get married in another four—but Beth has become literally petrified with fear that Tom is going to get killed in a plane crash. “I’m frightened every moment he’s up in that terrible sky,” she days. “The sky has become a big open space of terror to me, something I’m always going to have to fear when Tom is up in it.” Just one page after one of her rants, Joanne thinks “she was glad that things had turned out so well for Beth.” Huh? This is a major problem with this book; it constantly presents a situation the reader can’t help but see as horrifying, then pretends that things are completely different.

The third nurse, Doris Munsey, has inexplicably fallen for a monster even worse than Howell; airport manager Stephen Delmore is a “cold, hard type” who Joanne calls “horrid” because he’s also dating one of the clinic doctors, Elizabeth Pauley, which is creating just a little bit of tension at the office. “He plays Dr. Pauley and Doris against each other. I think it gives him some kind of sadistic pleasure to see them suffer,” Joanne says, so we can understand why not one but two women love him so much.

The other airport doctor, Peter Stadler, is just out of school but is modest, hard-working, highly competent, and, as fate would have it, from a small town in Illinois less than 100 miles from Joanne’s own home town in Indiana. He talks to her now and then, asks her about her life—the only man in the book who does—and only takes her for coffee and conversation when she seems depressed about her romantic situations. So from the first chapter it’s pretty clear how things are going to end—but I will say things came together in a surprising and charming fashion.

The book opens with a bomb explosion and ends with the plane crash you also saw coming from the opening page. This is another place where the book loses points with me, because as in all VNRN major disasters, no one has a clue how to manage a mass trauma event. The medical professionals just start treating people in the order in which they come across them, so a woman with second-degree burns is treated first, while the unconscious man with a depressed skull fracture going into shock is literally the last person they take care of—by deciding not to give IV fluids, which are at least today a core component of shock management. This could be an outdated medical practice, but it’s not the only malpractice. Part way through the book, Joanne and Dr. Stadler treat a choking child by giving her a tracheotomy—but first Joanne places an airway into the fully awake girl’s trachea. If you can get an airway in—and you won’t in an unsedated patient—by definition you don’t need a tracheotomy.

Another problem is that Joanne is aware early on that Wes is briefly losing consciousness at times, but mentions this to no one until the end of the book, when she tells Dr. Stadler, who then allows Wes to fly across the country to Los Angeles and back before trying to ground him. And the writer uses the word “refulgence” (which means “a brilliant or resplendent quality or state”; I had to look it up) twice. Overall it’s not a terrible book, but Joanne is painfully slow in rejecting her horrific boyfriends, which she does eventually but for the wrong reasons; the other two nurses’ relationships, equally obviously doomed, are also much too long in resolving. There’s no camp or humor, but it’s not badly written. You know a plane is going to crash and burn in this book, but it would be nice if the book itself didn’t.


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Libby Williams, Nurse Practitioner

By Virginia Smiley, ©1975
Cover illustration by Edrien King 


Libby Williams has just completed her training as a nurse practitioner and is on vacation, en route to the Adirondacks with her four-year-old ward Merry, when the child develops strep. She stops to ask a construction worker if there’s a doctor nearby, and he tells her there is no doctor in town since Dr. Sam was debilitated by a stroke, but the doctor might still be able to give her a script. She drives to the closed clinic, “trying not to think of the construction worker. I certainly had no intention of becoming interested in any man for a long time,” after her recent entanglement with Dr Kevin Davis, who she caught holding hands with the new secretary on pediatrics. “Kevin had hurt me too much for me to want to chance being burned by that superhandsome young doctor.” Which doesn’t stop her from kissing the construction worker, Matt Franklin, that night when it turns out he lives at the doctor’s house. 

Dr. Sam asks Libby to stay on as new medico at the shuttered clinic, and it takes Libby about ten minutes to agree. The next day she goes home and packs up her apartment, and the day after that she’s seeing a full waiting room of patients drummed up by Dr. Sam. She dates Matt a few times, but then a couple weeks later Kevin turns up at the new clinic, saying, “I want to be near you, wherever it might be. I was a heel to let you go.” He starts working at the clinic and spending evenings with Libby, hinting that they should get married—and she’s swooning all over again. “Now my life is complete,” she tells him, as they snuggle on the couch after dinner.

But then the secretary turns up again, and out of the blue, “I knew for certain that what I felt for Kevin wasn’t really love.” What?!? And then there’s a woman named Andrea Franklin who tells Libby to stay away from “my man” Matt, so Libby believes Matt is married. Then Merry and Andrea’s son go missing, and Matt is in a bulldozer accident …

So obvious, so perfunctory, so dull, so unbelievable. A four-year-old says things like, “He’d be a terrific father, don’t you think?” about one of Libby’s men. While not an unusual characteristic in VNRN heroines, Libby makes some completely incomprehensible about-faces in her views about the men in her life. Medicine doesn’t fare much better; she treats an elderly woman who says she’s worried that the lumps on her hands are going to keep her from playing the piano for the queen by giving her aspirin for her arthritis while completely ignoring her delusions. I have reviewed four of author Virginia Smiley’s books, every one of them a C grade. I was really hoping the only VNRN I’ve found that stars a midlevel practitioner would be worthwhile, but unfortunately for us, Libby Williams Nurse Practitioner is not that book.