Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Doctor’s Challenge

By Marjorie Moore, ©1939 

When Doctor Trast told Judith that she was a useless, incapable creature, unfitted for anything but luxury, she decided to prove him wrong by taking up the most exacting job in the world—nursing. “You won’t last three months,” he said, and waited …


“Mind you do what the doctor says. I certainly couldn’t cope with you dropping on the floor all over the place!” 

“I pity your poor patients. You’ll probably mend their bodies and break their hearts!”

“She’d always heard that to play two rounds of golf in a day was an excellent effort for a girl, but at the moment she was inclined to believe that making a dozen beds was in infinitely greater effort.” 

Judith Ganet is a wealthy, worthless lass who drifts from party to party—and indeed is waking at noon with a terrible hangover, just in time to go out to another cocktail party at 1:00 when she faints dead away on her bedroom floor. Her stepmother Elaine drags in the first doctor she can find, who happens to be a stern, scowling sort, Dr. Simon Trast. He tells her that her lifestyle is a waste, and she is “unfit for anything but luxury.” She stamps her foot and tells him she can do anything she wants to! And the next minute she’s made a bet with the doctor that if she works as a nurse for three months, he has to take her out to dinner and apologize for all those mean things he said about her dissipated way of life. 

Soon she’s waking up in a narrow, lumpy bed at St. Jude’s Hospital as a nurse-in-training. You’d think the jokes about how she doesn’t know how to mix a glass of Ovaltine would be more forthcoming, but the author missed that opportunity. Instead we learn that Judith—who “deep in her heart was dissatisfied and restless”—“had only been in the hospital a short time and already she felt different, curiously elated as if, with the will to do it, here, in this atmosphere of friendliness, she could regain something which she had thought lost forever; a spirit of joyous, carefree happiness, and curious though it might seem, a freedom born of bondage.” She goes to lectures, works hard, studies lots, and dates seldom. She makes real friends with her other fellow students, and hates Dr. Trast, who pops in to her ward now and then to needle her. “He’s the most impossible man I’ve ever met,” she tells a new friend. “I couldn’t fall for him if he were the last man in the world.” Hmph.

For his part, he has told her early on that he’s in love, and she thinks it’s with nurse Pat Shane, one of her new friends—in fact, she’s convinced that the pair are secretly married. She’s dating Simon Trast’s brother Nigel, who is also training to be a doctor, but is a bit more like Judith and had flunked a major exam, so he’s in hot water. But though he presses her for dates, she insists he stay home and study instead—and soon he’s passed his exam, but Simon is furious that she is dating Nigel.

Of course, the reader can easily see all the misunderstandings glittering in the sun, even if Judith herself is completely unaware of them. But the book unfolds gently, and the major climax of the plot is not the ubiquitous explosion or a tornado, but a skeleton that falls over when Judith is trying to move it back to its corner after lecture and it cuts Simon’s head. This is not a complicated book or a terribly sophisticated one, but nonetheless it’s quite pleasant and enjoyable. Judith is a feisty heroine who is a good match for Simon precisely because she challenges and stands up to him. When her ex-boyfriend says, “She’d be a very fitting ornament,” he is told, “Haven’t you learnt yet that Judith is no longer solely ornamental? She is a useful member of society.” If in the end she caves a bit and tells Simon, “I think I loved you from the first moment you began to order me about,” and if it doesn’t seem likely that Judith is going to carry on with nursing now that she’s found a man, these are minor disappointments in an otherwise pretty little book.

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