Saturday, March 11, 2023

Nurse Turner Runs Away

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1962

Iris felt the blood rush to her head. “Yes, 411 is occupied,” she finally said. “By a patient of Dr. French’s. He had to leave but told me that he will give me all the necessary information when he comes back.” “Well, that’s highly irregular—highly irregular,” Dr. Larrabee said. “This is against all regulations and I am very upset, Iris, that Dr. French involved you in this.” “Involved me?” “Yes, of course. After all, the day ledger is your responsibility. I’m sorry, I’ll have to see the patient in 411.” “You can’t,” Iris said flatly. “I promised Dr. French that his patient would not be disturbed.” He brushed by her and started down the hall. Iris got to the room first. “Over my dead body,” she said. The words were theatrical but uncalculated. She was barring the door, her hand on the knob.


“My dear child, we are all schizophrenics. That’s the lifetime struggle. We all want to eat our apple pie and to have it, too.”

“For Lord’s sake, if it’s too offensive for you girls to give an enema you shouldn’t go in for nursing. Get married and wash diapers instead.”

“You’re pretty, popular and rich, and that’s very good for the disposition.”

“You can learn tact if you can learn medicine.”

“‘I want you to take these,’ he said professionally. ‘Librium. I think they’ll help. They give it to beasts in the zoo who have become unruly.’”

“The only time I went to the Wayside Inn was with a freshman from the University. Emphasis on fresh. It’s one of those places where you get so mixed up under the table because of lack of space that when you want to go to the john you have to say, ‘Excuse me, may I have my legs back?’’ 

Iris Turner is an unbelievably beautiful young woman, and she’s rich, too! She’s a debutante who for some bizarre reason has flouted societal norms and become a nurse. “She had welcomed the discipline her studies forced on her. She had never before had to deny herself anything. It was a new and gratifying experience,” which she contrasted with “the empty social chitchat of her friends.” She’d led a sort of double life while in nursing school: “She would sometimes look down at her legs, unglamorous in the white stockings and clumsy shoes, and think of herself as she would later be in the evening in a Scaasi frock, at the Harwyn or the Colony, or riding up the Hudson in Bruce’s blue Lancia.”

And in a Cinderella moment, pressured by her family and the man in question,  she caved long enough to agree to marry Bruce Landon III—and almost immediately regretted it, so on the eve of her wedding she’s packed a hasty bag and left a note pinned to her Belgian lace pillowcase and left town, fleeing Manhattan to the one place she would immediately be found, her Uncle Andrew Fairfield’s house in western Massachusetts. “At least at this moment in time she belonged to herself again,” she thinks-- and immediately makes eye contact with a well-dressed, handsome man getting on the train in New Haven. “You’ll know me when you see me again,” she smirks to herself. And, of course, he does. It turns out that he’s Dr. Frank Larrabee, who is coming to work at Bleeker Memorial with the intention of taking over the hospital administrator job. He meets Iris when she—surprise—decides to take a job at the same hospital.

Andrew is a doctor, a large part of her own interest in medicine. The morning after her arrival, she discusses her options with him. “I don’t want to do anything,” she tells him. “Except have a nervous breakdown. Couldn’t I just have that, do you think? Fall apart and mope?” He instead recommends she take a job at the local hospital, and she agrees. “I’m really essentially a very serious person, Uncle Andrew, only from habit and urbanity I have this silly way of disguising it and before I know it, I’m typed as a hoyden. I want to change. I want to admire myself, to reach my best self. I want to find myself.”

She takes a job at Bleeker Memorial, though almost not quite making the cut. “A looker like that would completely corrupt the staff,” says the superintendent of nurses. “Girls will hate her on sight. The doctors will start taking temperatures with their stethoscopes.”

On her first day, Iris meets Dr. Ken French, who is an intense, dedicated, “angry young man and, incidentally, a very good doctor,” who came from an impoverished background—and, “worst of all, he wore brown shoes, which would have been an unforgivable faux pas in Manhattan.” His goal in coming to Bleeker Memorial is to help transform it from a posh escape for the wealthy into a real hospital, with a ward for poor folk who can’t afford to travel long distances for healthcare they can afford. Needless to say, when he discovers Iris’ background, he assumes she is a snob and acts the part of one himself, sneering at her for what he perceives as a lack of dedication to the job. But she gives it back to him: “You don’t know anything about me except what you hear. Remember, I hear things, too. But I make my own decisions. This uniform is mine. I’ve earned it. I do as I choose and I choose to be a nurse.” With this little speech he begins to thaw and tells her about his plans for a ward serving the poor—and would she mention to her Uncle Andrew, an influential member of the hospital board, that it’s a great idea? Iris is put off—“his dreams were commendable. But he wanted to use her”—but nonetheless agrees to tour the slums of the area with him to see the dire conditions for herself.

Unfortunately, she forgets about her date and instead agrees to go out to a club with the smooth-talking Dr. Larrabee, whose “white linen of his cuffs showing just the right amount below his tweed sleeves.” I bet his shoes aren’t brown, either. You can be sure that Dr. Larrabee is not wild about the idea of polluting Bleeker Memorial’s hallowed hallways with the impoverished, and he, too, exhorts Iris to use her influence with Uncle Andrew on his behalf. He also is revealed to us readers to be scheming to seduce Iris, because he also wants her to persuade Uncle Andrew to give him the Administrator job. Dr. French is hurt and refuses to accept Iris’ apology, and she gets madder—and ends up telling him, “Underneath your noise and unpleasantness you’re a man I admire,” bursts into tears and runs off.

The big problem with this book is that the big showdown scene—unfortunately telegraphed on the back cover blurb—is not much more than what we are given, like when you see a movie whose trailers include a few amusing lines only to find out when you go see the movie that those are the only funny parts of the entire film. In the wimpy climax, Dr. French admits a poor woman who is dying of sepsis and refuses to give Iris any information about the patient, saying he has to go on an urgent mission on the patient’s behalf and will fill her in when he gets back, but the patient absolutely must not be disturbed. Dr. Larrabee, ever hopeful for dirt on his professional rival, insists on entering the room, firmly putting Iris aside with little difficulty, and learns the reason for the secrecy behind this patient. There are 20 more pages to get through, mostly hashing out the political ramifications of the event, which aren’t especially satisfying until, of course, the last five.

The ending is especially disappointing because up until the little scene, the book is absolutely top-notch, with complex, spunky and beautifully drawn characters—including a wonderfully witty roommate—and a strong heroine who is a lot of fun to watch. If only author Dorothy Fletcher, who is an absolute favorite of mine, had been able to sustain the level of excellence, this would easily have been an A-grade book. But in spite of the disappointing ending, this book is a real joy for the first 130 pages, and I still recommend that you read it—you will be the richer for not running away from Nurse Turner.

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