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.

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