Sunday, October 29, 2023

Volunteer Nurse

By Arlene Fitzgerald, ©1967
Cover illustration by Mort Rosenfeld 

Why had she really come to Silver Creek? She knew she wanted to help people in distress. Was being a nurse the best way? Was it the way to escape Ron? Now she would have to find the answers for two other people: the man who had stolen her heart and the one who had claimed it.


This book was not bad, but reading a decent novel has seldom left me more disappointed. Author Arlene Fitzgerald has delivered the awesomely dreadful Harbor Nurse, so I had high hopes that I would encounter more fabulously bizarre plot twists like the nurse ziplining out to a fishing boat during a hurricane to help amputate the leg of a fisherman who was attacked by a shark. Alas, no such excitement befalls Nurse Glee Barlow, who has volunteered to spend a few weeks at the JCAHO-certified Silver Creek Clinic in Arizona in a town with a population of 525. Like many VNRN heroines, she has a fiancé she doesn’t think much of, yet cannot bring herself to decide she shouldn
t marry. Ron Snider is a “terribly spoiled” mama’s boy, the apron strings strengthened by the fact that mother is very rich. “Ron had been proposing regularly, and he felt that she would be willing to settle down to a husband and babies.” She, on the other hand, worked hard to become a nurse, and “wanted to be free to do as she pleased as a full-fledged R.N. and as a woman at least, for a while.”

En route to her clinic, Glee’s car is nearly hit by a horse-drawn carriage caroming out of a dude ranch. Slamming on the brakes and not wearing a seatbelt, she takes a blow to her sternum—or rather, “the steering wheel crushed the soft roundness of her breasts,” in typical Fitzgerald fondness for inserting sexual references into irrelevant descriptions. The carriage driver immediately pulls her from her car and starts fumbling with the buttons of her dress, insisting, “I’m not being fresh. I’m a qualified M.D.” Phew! Her relief is enhanced by the fact that Dr. Kirk Tesdal is one of those homely men who is nevertheless “unnervingly handsome,” and she drives off thinking she would like to see him again.

And she does! Because it turns out that he’s in town to interview for a job at the clinic, and though he’s superlatively qualified (his ineptness at unbuttoning blouses notwithstanding), he’s turned down for the job because he’s not married. Hmmm. When Glee arrives at the clinic, she finds that it’s holding a few cases of anthrax. You’ll be intrigued to know that Glee has a photographic memory, and recalls several pages of her medical textbook verbatim, even obligingly turning pages now and then for us, so we can appreciate the intricacies of the disease, which is treated with a lot of scrubbing up and incinerating clothes and bed linens, and injecting Dr. Tesdal with penicillin “into the firmness of his buttocks,” which Glee accomplishes while admiring his tan line and lean waist. 

The medical staff manages several crises including another horse-drawn carriage crash that results in one victim requiring a splenectomy, a car crash in which the driver’s arm is nearly severed and handily sewn back on, and a heart attack. We are treated to some of Fitzgerald’s usual tricks, such as her fondness for “slashing” with a “firm mental scalpel” at any inconvenient thought, and her reliance on “firm nurse’s discipline” to get through difficult tasks like crossing a raging creek (of which there are many in the Arizona desert) on a fallen log. But overall the authors idiosyncrasies, which have driven me practically insane in some books (see Young Nurse Rayburn), are infrequent here, and the worst sin she commits is the idiotic but unfortunately common trope of giving the heroine an unlikable fiancé yet rendering her completely shocked to discover in the final pages that she doesn’t really love the jerk after all. But there are some plusses as well, such as the fact that the medicine and surgery described in the book is detailed, interesting, and fairly accurate. Arlene Fitzgerald has given us one other B-grade book in Daredevil Nurse, so this completely readable and even entertaining book is not a total anomaly for her. But, paradoxically, I might have enjoyed a worse book more.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Nurse Lucie

By Georgia Craig (pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1964
Also published as Nurse at Guale Farms

Nurse Lucie Hatcher walked headlong into another world when she arrived at the small Georgia clinic at Guale Farms, eager to work with the skilled Dr. Wesley Warren. Lucie didn’t plan to get involved with the handsome young doctor, nor with the rich owner of the experimental farms, Perry Latham. But she did … with both. Then suddenly, women from Wesley’s and Perry’s lives appeared and disrupted Lucie’s paradise. Could she give Wesley up to the mysterious woman from his past? Could she fight the powerful and jealous Latham family for Perry’s love? Lucie’s paradise soon turned into a nightmare …


“You’re much too pretty to be working at a grim job like this.” 

“A job? My dear girl! That’s a nasty word. Go immediately and wash your mouth out with soap and water.”

“The one end and aim of every woman is marriage and a home of her own.”

“She’s really a looker, isn’t she, now that we’ve got her dried out and all?”

Lucie Hatcher has left Atlanta to come work in a small rural town, and a good number of the local folks are bewildered as to why she—or he—is willing to “bury herself in a place like Lathamtown. It’s just about the most lonesome place anybody ever heard tell of.” But it’s well paying, and she’s always wanted to experience life in the country, as she’s been a city gal her whole life, and now that she’s arrived in her “silly scrap of a yellow pillbox hat” she’s here to stay, dammit! 

She’s offered a ride from the bus station to the clinic by the pathologically angry schoolteacher Jane Berner, who warns Lucie that she’s to keep her mitts off Gareth Latham, who has just returned home after getting kicked out of college yet again. He’s the stepbrother of Perry Latham, who runs a large experimental farm in nearby Lathamtown and “doesn’t want anything that would bring tourists this way. He doesn’t want Graysville to install drive-in movie theatres, or taverns, or beer-and-wine package stores, or pin-ball machines; anything that might lure the young of Lathamtown astray. He’s not going to allow such devices within easy reach of his people.” Lucie lets this description of an oppressive local dictator pass with little comment or musing about how one person could possibly prevent the development of a whole town, and when she actually meets the tall, very good-looking man with a lean, sun-bronzed face, any further reference to this alarming aspect of Perry’s character drops away and is never mentioned again. As long as he’s cute, who cares if he’s fascist? It’s not long, of course, before he’s kissing her goodnight.

Perry has a stepmother, Belle, and she and Gareth “will never let Perry marry any woman.” When Lucie rightly expresses her incredulity that a grown man, especially a fascist, will be led around by his stepmother, she is told that Belle will “go after the girl. Once Belle gets the idea that Perry is seriously interested in any girl, she’ll sharpen up her knives until they’ll make every scalpel in the clinic seem dull.” Lucie also starts to question, when Jane puts the idea in her head, why “a doctor as young as Dr. Warren is and as skilled would be working in a small rural clinic instead of setting up a fine city practice somewhere or specializing in doing research.” But Dr. Warren is described as a local authority to whom other area doctors regularly consult, so his practice does not seem unsatisfying, if one is interested in primary care for an underserved community—and it’s curious that such a practice, today considered noble, would be scorned.

But Dr. Warren’s practice takes a considerable hit when Leonore Arnold, his fiancée, shows up in a rainstorm. It turns out the woman has gone insane after seeing her mother murdered by home invaders and has been committed to an institution—but has improved enough from her previously catatonic state to learn where Dr. Warren is, escape and find her way 20 miles to his door. Dr. Warren immediately tries to resign because when the town hears that “there’s a mental case here, the story will be built up that she’s a lunatic and her presence here makes everybody unsafe.” Perry insists that he stay, and that Leonore is sure to get well, even if she must never, ever remember that horrible incident again, because “her love will restore her to complete sanity.” Sure it will! Also, remember that since only the clinic personnel know she’s there, the secret won’t get out, “because nurses aren’t allowed to discuss their patients with outsiders.” Lucie, however, immediately lets drop in a packed waiting room that the doctor in charge of the sanitorium has arrived in the clinic to see a patient, and tells Belle that the patient “is no maniac,” just “a girl who is mildly ill mentally.” (And, it must be pointed out, she repeatedly tells anyone who asks about numerous other patients under her care.) So much for keeping a secret. 

Soon patients stop coming to clinic or calling for Dr. Warren’s services, and everyone, including Lucie, is perplexed as to how word got out, interestingly enough. Unfortunately, Leonore herself is one of those classic Peggy Gaddis characters, a beautiful, “bright-eyed, inquisitive child” who has no personality or brain whatsoever, and flings herself at poor Dr. Warren whenever he’s near, pleading, “Please, please, darling, let me stay here with you! I’ll die if I have to be taken away from you!” Not surprisingly, Dr. Warren at one point admits to Lucie that he no longer loves Leonore, but since the nutty shrinking violet is utterly helpless, he is soon declaring his love to her face and insisting they be married immediately. Another thorny issue raised and then perplexingly dropped completely.

Then Belle pops in to threaten Lucie, as promised, that she must not marry Perry, though she has absolutely no weapon to use against Lucie. Perplexingly, Lucie—who is now in love with Perry—tells Belle that she has no interest in Perry but plans to marry Gareth, which sets Belle back on her heels a bit, but then Lucie reverses course and says, “I wouldn’t marry either of the Latham men, even if they were the last men in the world!” Guess who has just come in the door behind her? The only possible way the pair could be reconciled is if Leonore, whose mental illness has mysteriously rendered her unable to walk, takes off into the swamp in her wheelchair and the rest of the gang is somehow unable to find her, and the overwhelming stress of the situation sends Lucie straight into Perry’s arms. The good news is that Leonore is found in a coma suffering from concussion, and the prognosis of her mental illness improves enormously because “a mild concussion might be helpful in restoring her mind. Perhaps when the concussion heals, she may be able to recall the past.” A couple of x-rays—a highly sensitive test for diagnosing mild brain injury (not)—“had been most satisfactory,” whatever that means, and a week later Leonore wakes from her coma!

The overwhelmingly bad medicine in this book is actually comical if you have any actual medical training or ever watched a few episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and it’s hard to understand why Peggy Gaddis, who wrote what feels like thousands of nurse novels, never bothered to learn anything about the subject. Her penchant for raising difficult problems—like a man whose leg is amputated after he is attacked by an alligator and whose wife leaves him because he’s “a cripple,” though Lucie indignantly protests that the young woman is only in shock and will come to her senses and return (she doesn’t)—and then utterly abandoning them unresolved is also infuriating. But overall this is far from the worst Peggy Gaddis novel I’ve met (that would be Dr. Merry’s Husband, which rated a D-), ranking in the top third of the 34 novels of hers I’ve reviewed to date (God help me, I’ve at least that many more to read before I can rid myself of Peggy Gaddis forever). So if you enjoy the occasional novel that you can chuckle at (not with) without suffering overmuch from aggravating writing and characters, this may be a good bet for you.

We can always count on Valentine
for a hideous cover illustration.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Second Year Nurse

By Margaret McCulloch, ©1957
Cover illustration by Ethel Gold 

From the window by her patient’s bed, Jan looked down on the entrance to the nurses’ home. As she watched, a familiar green car swung around the drive. A moment later Dorinda came briskly down the front steps and took her place beside the driver. “Dr. Bartholomew, the young surgeon, wasn’t it?” the patient asked. “I didn’t recognize the nurse.” So this was what the other nurses had been trying to tell her. Dorinda—her own roommate—was dating Hank Bartholomew too!


“I guess it’s all a part of growing up. Learning to like what you’re doing—instead of always doing what you like.” 

“‘Washington’s Birthday is such fun,’ she told Jan when she invited her. ‘All the cute little hatchets and cherries and things.’”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between VNRNs that are written for a teenage audience compared to those intended for adults. This is the third that I can recall having reviewed (see also Candy Stripers and Mary Adams Student Nurse), and they do generally seem more superficial, unsophisticated, and condescending than the grown-up variety, and the heroine never actually ends up with a fiancé, much less a serious boyfriend. And so I waded through Second Year Nurse, which needed its 222 pages to introduce us to at least 75 different characters (I lost count), many of them patients with stories only casually touched on before moving on to the next paragraph. Even patients who we are told affect our eponymous nursing student Jan Russell deeply, such as a young woman with an infant son and husband who dies inexplicably before her thyroidectomy, we receive in just a couple paragraphs, turning the page on them with no real experience of Jan’s feelings or any lingering effects of the tragedy.

Though most of the book is about the many, many other students and patients Jan encounters, she also has a few boyfriends. Her high school steady, Randy, dumps her early on when she leaves for nursing school: After she insists, “I’m crazy about my nursing and I’m going right on with it,” he snarls, “Go on back to your bellhopping and bedmaking! You might even catch yourself a medic. That’s all nurses go in training for.” So between hospital shifts and classes, she accepts a few dates with Dr. Hank Bartholomew. Though “it was still hard for Jan to call him Hank,” she decides that “recently there’d been an increasing depth in their relationship. Not that there’d been any mention of marriage,” we are told, because that’s usually what happens after the third date. Well, I could be wrong on that point because soon Dr. Bartholomew is dating her roommate Dorinda, the daughter of a wealthy woman who serves on the hospital board of trustees—not that that has anything to do with it—and eight pages after what is apparently Dorinda’s first date with the doctor, she is sporting an engagement ring, so maybe there is something to it after all.

Jan also has about three dates with Bruce Baird, who works in the lab and also as a janitor to earn money to put himself through medical school—and he’s hoping to become a general practitioner like Jan’s father had been. But he is usually pretty busy, so she doesn’t see him much. Then, toward the end of the book, Randy’s mother is seriously ill and Jan assists in caring for her, so now Randy decides maybe nursing isn’t so bad, after all. “I think it’s a marvelous thing for a girl to do,” he admits. “I was awfully dumb.” Which man will Jan end up with? Well, like I mentioned at the start, these teen books don’t really give you much of a love story to close the book on, so on the last page all we see is Jan is running down the stairs happily for her next date.

I’m not really sure what the focus of this story is, because it doesn’t offer many details about actual nursing, nor does it give you a romance. Essentially stopping in the middle, the book gives us no resolution to Jan’s plans for her career or her love life, and 222 pages is a lot to spend on a story that goes nowhere. I can only conclude from my admittedly small sample that teen readers weren’t taken very seriously in the 1950s and 1960s—I understand that attitude is what in part what inspired the Woodstock era—so I can’t recommend that an intelligent adult such as yourself spend your time with a book that doesn’t respect its readers.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Nurse in Rome

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adele Maritano), ©1967

For Ginny, Rome would mean Ilario—forever. Eleanor came to Rome for Ben—and was found by Ricardo. “He’s just a gigolo,” they said. But to Eleanor he offered thrills, glamour, and himself. He also offered escape from the memory of Dr. Beniamino Rossi, the man she had loved too well … and too late. Ginny Newhart and Eleanor Hill held the winning ticket to an adventure in Rome and took a trip that challenged their careers—and changed their lives.


Eleanor Hill has the best roommate ever—which means Ginny Newhart is smart, sassy, funny as hell, and homely. And, in this case, in possession of a winning lottery ticket that entitles the bearer to a three-week luxury vacation for two in Rome. So off the pair go! In a complete coincidence, Eleanor had been dating Dr. Ben Rossi, a native Roman, when he was in the U.S. for his fellowship year. “Love was as serious a matter with him as his profession. He had wanted to marry Eleanor,” but she was a farm girl loose in the big city for the first time and not ready to settle down. So she refused to commit and dated around because “he scared me, talking about marriage and a home and a family. I didn’t know how much he meant to me until it was too late,” and Ben went back to Italy to practice medicine alone. 

Arriving in Rome, the gals spend a few days touring the hot spots while Eleanor works up the nerve to call Ben. When she does call, it doesn’t go well. He’s put off by the fact that she took three days to phone, and lets her know he’s too busy to take her sightseeing. Brokenhearted, she plans to have dinner alone in the restaurant when she is approached by a suave gentleman named Ricardo Lienzo, who claims to be a rich member of a motor oil family overcome by her beauty. He wines and dines her—then discovers he’s left his wallet in the glove box, so could she pay for this ridiculously expensive meal he ordered? Sure she can! Gulping, she pays “a bill that would probably curl the hair of the Junior Auxiliary’s bookkeeper,” which comes to about $55. The dinner included a bottle of wine and one of champagne, so when she is staggering out of the restaurant on Ricardo’s arm at 3 a.m., Ben, who is lurking in the lobby in an attempt to apologize for his rudeness, decides not to bother and stomps off.

Meanwhile, Ginny has found herself an architecture student named Ilario and fallen hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, Ilario’s English is quite poor, and we are forced to endure a horrific accent: “Whatta you say we stop-a make-a da secrets, an’ we go, eh?” is just the first sentence that drops from his lips, and it gets worse from there (he cannot get the genders correcthe calls men “she” and women “heand cannot learn the difference, curious for a speaker of a language in which every noun has a gender). We also meet an Italian film director, Michael Orsini, who unfortunately monologues a lot in an equally terrible accent. It turns out Michael knows Ricardo, but as Eleanor continues to go around with the shallow, selfish, obviously phony cad, she keeps forgetting to ask Michael for a character reference.

In the meantime, Ilario introduces the ladies to a very poor family, neighbors of his, whose young daughter has been essentially catatonic since witnessing the death of her young brother. This is the excuse Eleanor has for reaching out to Ben again, who reluctantly agrees to treat young Anita. Eventually it is revealed that Anita’s illness is—surprise!—psychological, but Ben locates some top-notch psychotherapy for the girl, and on Anita’s road to recovery Eleanor and Ben manage to thaw out a bit; Eleanor even grovels a fair amount, pleading for his understanding and telling him that she is in love with him, just didn’t realize it until after he had left. When he tells her he has seen her with Ricardo and that he believes “you hadn’t changed a bit,” she retorts with a stinging tirade, calling him a self-righteous martyr who enjoys wallowing in self-pity. Still, she cant get over Ben; later that night, when Ricardo kisses her and asks her to marry him, “she felt wooden in Ricardo’s embrace.” But she remembers that Ginny has suggested that Eleanor is “the naïve victim of a slick gigolo” who is trying to marry his way to American citizenship, and this ironically somehow convinces Eleanor to accept the cad’s proposal.

Ginny, meanwhile, has accepted a proposal herself and is planning to marry Ilario and move to Italy until he completes his studies. Their engagement party is to be a picnic in the woods, with Ricardo as Eleanor’s date and Anita’s young brothers also in attendance. A simple countryside meal is not Ricardo’s best foil, and neither are the boisterous boys, and during the hours Eleanor suddenly realizes the obvious: that Ricardo is “a conceited phoney, a bore.” Then Dr. Ben drops by to say hello, and a disaster strikes … and another character stages a surprise …

There’s not much armchair travel in this book, but it is entertaining. Fortunately, apart from bad grammar, the Italians in the book are intelligent, hard-working people, and this may be the first VNRN I’ve read in which a female character actually marries a non-American man. I appreciated that Eleanor made no effort to hide her feelings from Ben, no matter how painful it was for her to be honest, as too many VNRN heroines simply wait around with poker faces, hoping the man will put the moves on; here she is truly the agent who brings on her own success. Overall this book is reasonably pleasant—again, if you can tolerate the truly awful accents. It was a tough slog for me, I have to confess, so depending on how tough your stomach is, you may wish to skip it. But if you can soffer through thee ogly diaologo withouta meesery, you mighta lika thees book.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Nurse in Doubt

By Isabel Capeto, ©1968

Nurse Gail was used to being called to the rescue by young Dr. Richard Charron, whom she’d known since childhood. The “emergency” was always the same: how to squash his Aunt Vanessa’s latest attempt to marry him off. But this time Vanessa Newton had really outdone herself—combining her passion for match-making with her passion for meddling in town affairs. She was going to finance a new Community Center for which she had already chosen the architect: lovely, talented Natalie French. When Gail saw Richard’s reaction to Natalie, she realized that Aunt Vanessa may have scored a Cupid bull’s-eye. But what really surprised her was her own reaction … her disappointment. After all, she and Richard were just “good friends” … or was there something more …?


“Lady, do you give all your patients the bum’s rush?” 

“‘Never throw the little ones back in. Use ’em to land the big ones.’ That was my daddy’s advice. Over the years, I’ve learned to apply it to more than fishing.”

“Wonder which has the higher alcoholic content—this guy’s blood or the wine he was swilling?”

“You know what a late-movie addict the Aunt is. She’s learned, via the great, glaring eye, that only evil lurks in a full, heaving bosom.”

“The trouble with you, Gail, is that essentially you’re too honest. You always level with people. I don’t, and life is far more exciting.”

“Brawn is a very unstable commodity.”

Nurse Gail Stewart is 23, and you know what that means—if she doesn’t land a husband soon, she’ll die an old maid, just like her roommate Peg, who being two years older is having to face a few hard facts: “When one’s on the wrong side of twenty-five, one learns to lower one’s sights.” VNRNs make marriage sound like a truly horrible institution, something of a meat market in which one is forced to sell themselves to the highest bidder. But our feisty heroine has a few more years to go before she gets desperate, and in the meantime she devotes a fair amount of time to rescuing her childhood pal Richard Charron from his Aunt Vanessa’s schemes to marry him off. 

This time, though, Vanessa has done the impossible: She’s found a woman capable of snagging the perennial bachelor’s heart. Architect Natalie French is a charming, extremely talented, sophisticated and highly likable woman—and it’s a rare treat to have the romantic competition be a person the heroine actually likes. Gail, who up until now has thought she viewed Richard simply as a platonic friend, now feels “as if she had received a blow to her solar plexus.” Richard isn’t the only one enthralled with Natalie; Natalie’s contractor, Bowen Merritt, is also hoping to win her heart.

Aunt Vanessa’s scheme to bring Richard and Natalie together involves funding a community center that Natalie will design, and much of the plot of the book hinges on watching the project unfold, with all the bumps in the road a development like this would necessarily be buffeted by. Richard and Natalie meet frequently for working dates, inviting Bowen and Gail along with them for their input, as Gail is becoming increasingly involved—whether it’s to further her pursuit of Richard or for its own sake is not clear. The love square, I guess it is, of the foursome involves Gail and Bowen watching with sad eyes as Natalie and Richard fall for each other, though Natalie does seem to keep the gents guessing about whom she is most fond of.

In the meantime, there is a fair amount of nursing in this book—Isabel Capeto was a nurse her whole life—and there are even a few traumas in the book that are creditably managed in the ER, a true rarity in VNRNs; our heroine even has the sense to slap an occlusive dressing on a sucking chest wound within seconds of meeting the patient (which may not be a big selling point for some, but it does irritate me when healthcare professionals at a trauma scene run around splinting and bandaging everyone before turning their attention to the patient who is going into hemorrhagic shock from a ruptured spleen). It’s also fun, if you are interested in architecture, to watch the project unfold, and the book’s attitudes about modern architecture are surprisingly very pro! Isabel Capeto is a humorous and witty writer, and her books are enjoyable. If the prose and plot aren’t exceptional—I also never really felt any real chemistry between any of the pairings in the storyline—I can overlook that for an otherwise pleasant story, and even if Nurse Gail has doubts, I can recommend this book without many.