Thursday, December 15, 2022

Mollie Sloan Special Nurse

By Millicent Morgan
(pseud. Rudo Globus), ©1962
Cover illustration by Jo Polseno

Mollie Sloan, R.N., was a good nurse, so good in fact that a group of doctors from the hospital where she’d trained used her exclusively on their most difficult cases. She had a nice apartment, money in the bank, friends galore, but something was deeply troubling Mollie. It came to a head when Eric Hart, a young concert pianist at the peak of his career, was admitted to the hospital. His right hand was completely paralyzed, though organically there was nothing that matter with it. Dr. Paul Desmond, his doctor, immediately put Mollie on the case. But in the end it was more than curing Eric so that he might return to his career. For in the process Mollie discovered that she must make one of the most difficult choices in her young life. It involved not only her work, which she loved, but two men. The trouble was that it seemed to her that she was in love with them both!


“The truth of it was that people were more dangerous than bacteria and a cure for ‘people’ was as elusive and far-off as ever.” 

“Next time I see you, I’ll expect a sexy smile. That’s why you women are here.”

“Some day, of course, she would marry, have children, fulfill her role as a woman.”

“None of you smart people have any idea what the nurse really does. There seem to be two schools of thought. One is that a nurse is a drudge, forever emptying bedpans, making beds, giving shots, handing out pills and taking temperatures. The other thinks that all we do is sit in a room with someone like you and play gin rummy. Well, both are wrong. We’re something special. We’re not little doctors and we’re not glorified maids. We’re the extra part of medicine, the ones who give patients something that makes it easier to stand illness, the cold impersonalness of the hospital, the mechanics of treatment.”

“A nurse isn’t supposed to look the way you look now. Fix your hair and straighten up.”

“I’m very proud that you can admit that you’re wrong. Most people try to find excuses to prove that they were right. That’s when I mean by running away. They think it’s easier that way. But it’s the hardest way in the end. If they faced up to things and told themselves the truth, they could easily solve problems. Never run, Mollie. Stick it out, fight it out, demand the truth of yourself and do what the truth demands you do. When you’re older, you’ll learn that somehow you can deal with any problem if you tell yourself the truth and don’t run away.”

“From now on I’m just an unemployed gal waiting for some man to make an honest woman out of me.”

This book is like a nurse novel heroine’s runner-up boyfriend. He is so handsome, and he makes your heart pound—but in the end he turns out to be arrogant and selfish, and he runs off with the wealthy patient. The philosophical question to ponder here is whether your ultimate disappointment nullifies your initial excitement.

Mollie Sloan is the greatest nurse ever! She explains, “I’ve got a funny kind of auburn hair, I’m five feet two, my eyes are hazel, and I’ve been told that I have a cute figure and gorgeous legs.” She is a private-duty nurse, and has a half-dozen doctors who can’t live without her. “They would tell her that she was the only nurse in all of New York City good enough for this case—oh yes, this was a case for that special something of Mollie’s, Mollie’s Magic Touch.” In her first year as a nurse, “on Grand Rounds, the attendings, the great men, asked her opinion and took it seriously.” Which has happened in real life exactly never.

Here, though, she’s called to care for misunderstood, overwrought, emotionally traumatized musical genus Eric Hart, a brilliant pianist who was raised by an abusive mother and who after a weekend of debauchery following a smash concert at Carnegie Hall develops conversion disorder—psychosomatic paralysis of his right hand. Mollie’s casual boyfriend, Dr. Paul Desmond, is a neurosurgeon who asks her to take on the case, because she is the only nurse in all of New York City good enough for this case, as we’ve already heard.

The patient isn’t told that his problem is psychological. “If we had years and years, we might try psychoanalysis and reveal the truth behind the conflict, but we haven’t time,” Paul says, because if Eric is unable to use his hand for months or years, his brilliant career will be ruined! After chatting him up for a week in the hospital, Mollie is allowed to take Eric out on unethical Saturday night dates, during which he begins to open up to her—and to kiss her. Highly unprofessional! But she is not allowed to come off the case because “Eric has made a transference to her,” a psychological term that goes unexplained but here means a deep connection to a therapist. Paul “was certain that she was the key to Eric’s recovery, the one factor motivationally strong enough to make Eric want to use his hand.”

Meanwhile, we are told repeatedly that Mollie and Dr. Paul are Just Friends. “She and Paul had never gotten past the point of enjoying each other’s company. They were attracted to each other and affectionate as all get out, but the words that changed friendship into a serious romantic feeling had somehow never been spoken.” “Was it possible that she was in love with Paul? Good heavens, no! They had known each other too long. Their friendship was so fine, why ruin it with sentimentality?” “Paul was too totally absorbed in his work and snorted contemptuously at physicians who married too early, giving up crucial years of creative work to support a wife and too many children.” But, surprise, now that Eric is demonstrating a strong interest in Mollie, Paul begins to recognize that his casual attitude about Mollie is a sham. “It was not until Eric had threatened to take her away that he had come to realize that he wanted to marry her.” But is it too late?

When Mollie ultimately manages to cure Paul—by tumbling off a cliff and requiring two equally powerful hands to pull her back to safety—Eric’s feelings for Mollie become more than a little alarming as he demands she stay with him morning and night, even though he no longer needs a nurse. “After all, he owned her now, didn’t he? Hadn’t he saved her life and hadn’t she given him back his right hand?” Unfortunately, no one seems to feel that the admittedly nutty Eric’s behavior is off base.

How does Mollie decide which man she wants? She chats up her old superintendent of nurses and spends a day wandering the hospital where she had worked before leaving to do private duty—and ultimately makes a heartbreaking decision. Though Mollie has many times asserted and demonstrated her devotion to nursing, she decides that “nothing ever really can take the place of a man and children.” “Something else had entered her life, something more important than work.” Numerous nurses tell Mollie that as much as they love their jobs, “if a man ever showed up who could give me the kicks that I get out of my work I’d quit in a minute.” I know that in 1962 this was a prevailing attitude, but this book does not question of that sexist, illogical line that we find in some VNRNs. I do wonder if this book takes that position in part because it was written by a man, who can’t appreciate the prison he is sentencing Mollie to.

The language and intellect in this book is quite sophisticated, reminiscent of a JeanneJudson novel, and it has a similarly complex understanding of Eric’s psychological problems, which gives it a touch more realism than the usual VNRN. But Eric’s alarming stalker-like attitudes pass without comment, and the beliefs about a woman’s place in the world, make this book in some ways even more disappointing because initially it gave me such hope. Is it better to have loved and lost than to have read another dull Arlene Hale story? I think maybe it is, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still let down in the end.

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