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.