By Marcia Ford
(pseud. Ruby L. Radford), ©1953
Also published as Dixie Nurse
When Nancy Craig set her heart on becoming a nurse, she had no idea of the petty intrigues that surround a large hospital, nor did she realize that a pretty young nurse is often at the mercy of a tyrannical and frustrated supervisor. Unjustly fired from the hospital, Nancy returned to her hometown, leaving behind all her dreams—and the man she loved. But a new life opened up for Nancy when she became the private nurse to a wealthy elderly woman who, because of her generosity, enabled Nancy to build a children’s hospital and to make her biggest dream come true.
“You could make a dying man get well with that smile.”
“Nancy’s heart always ached for a man at a time like this. There was so little that they could do to help, and their emotions were generally so inhibited by a fear of seeming weak that she knew they must suffer even more than a woman.”
Nancy Craig wants to be a pediatrics nurse, but no positions ever seem to open up. She spent her first year after graduating doing private duty nursing, then accepted a job at Downer Hospital, where she did her training, in the hope of improving her chances if a pediatrics job becomes available. Unfortunately, there she must suffer at the bony hands of Miss Phillips, the bitter spinster head nurse whose unrequited love for Dr. Barrow has transformed her into a crabapple. She especially hates Nancy because Dr. Barrow has taken an avuncular interest in Nancy’s career for years, and when a patient of Nancy’s vomits one morning, Miss Phillips whisks the vomitus off to the lab for analysis (it was not the salmon mousse)—and when the results are in, she declares that Nancy has given the patient the wrong medicine and fires her on the spot!
Nancy believes that she did not make a mistake—which means that Dr. Barrow, who had changed the patient’s medication order that morning—must have goofed his orders, but that “might ruin his reputation as a physician if it became known,” because no doctor has ever made a mistake before. Curiously, Nancy decides that rather than clear her name, or even have a conversation with Dr. Barrow to alert him to his possible error—which, left unaddressed, will only be repeated—she will take the blame for him, and decides to pack her bags and head back to her home town.
That means she is leaving Dr. Terry Fenton, the hard-working but dirt-poor pediatrician she has fallen for. He is one of those dopes who decides, “I can’t even look at a girl, or think of having a home of my own till I’m free of debt.” At least Nancy has the gumption to snap, “No girl would be worth having if she wasn’t willing to take you as you are!” and when he answers that his wife shouldn’t have to work, she bats that away with equal aplomb: “Oh, be your age, Terry! Suppose the girl doesn’t want to give up her career any more than you do? All women want to work and be independent these days.” You do have to admire Nurse Nancy Craig.
Except that she also has some annoying tendencies, such as to be a bit, well, uptight. When Terry comes to dinner at Nancy’s house, she—and her entire family, it must be confessed—is horrified when the maid brings a dishpan to the dinner table to clear the dishes. She also has a tendency to get very snappish at poor Terry at the least provocation, such as when he asks about other young men in her orbit—which she should, of course, take as driven by jealousy and seek to reassure the poor boy, but instead, “she was seething too much inside to trust herself to speak.”
Not long after she’s home, her father drops of a heart attack, and then she and the doctor conspire to finish him off by not allowing him to even sit up in bed for a month—even playing with his stamp collection is deemed too strenuous, and if the man doesn’t throw a major pulmonary embolism, it won’t be her fault. So she stays on for weeks, spoon-feeding Dad and reading him the newspaper. Nursing is hard work! But finally Dr. Barrow steps in to offer her a job nursing wealthy Mrs. Marshall (the poor dear has no first name) back in Summerton, so she can go home to her apartment—and Dr. Terry. There she gives vitamin B-12 shots and makes the woman take naps twice a day. And she dates Mrs. Marshall’s grandson Bert, who is a nice young man but something of an adventurer, and so has no appeal to Nancy—but he’s rich and handsome, and soon insecure Dr. Terry is convinced that Nancy is going to marry Bert, or Dr. Barrow. Nancy, of course, doesn’t help the man at all when he voices his concerns, snapping, “Why should I miss a good dinner or a show, to sit home waiting for the telephone to ring?” before gathering her “seething emotions” around her like a fox fur stole and flouncing out.
It’s not hard to figure out how the book is going to end—even if it weren’t telegraphed on the back cover blurb—and though that’s not a fatal flaw, the final scene lands pretty flat. Nancy herself is an admirable character, but the situations in the book often seem so flimsily contrived, with over-the-top reactions to a mild situation (such as Nancy’s horror that her sister Ellen wrote to Dr. Terry! The slut!). The story unrolls with few details of interest outside of the litigious way they practice medicine (Nancy saves a woman from strychnine poisoning by giving her morphine), and there’s just not much here to keep one’s interest. You could do worse, but if that’s not a great reason to read this book, I don’t have much else to offer you.