Friday, March 22, 2024

The Nurse with the Silver Skates

By Virginia B. McDonnell, ©1964
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Inga Larsen, showing a newborn babe to its father, a baby she had helped to deliver …Inga Larsen, soaring through the air on ice skates amid the gasps of thrilled spectators …
Which was she, student nurse or rink champion? And which was the right man for her? Scott Marshall, ice-skating master, idol of her childhood, or Dr. Thor Eriksen, whom she had secretly loved for three years? Inga Larsen just did not know, and both men were not making it any easier for her to find out!


One of my absolute least-favorite tropes is the nurse in love with a jerk. Here we have a Class-A example of Jerk Thor Eriksen, who has apparently never once been kind to Nurse Inga Larsen. “Thor Ericksen was the one man Inga could have loved deeply and personally and forever. It didn’t even matter that Thor Ericksen disliked her as a person.” How can that not matter? The man “bullies” her (Inga’s word), never has anything nice to say, and constantly criticizes her nursing ability and how she spends her free time (like it’s his business), and questions her dedication— “Perhaps if you knew a little less about skating you’d know more about nursing. The time you spend skating every day might be better used in studying,” he snaps—never mind that “the nursing staff considers you one of the top students”—because exercise is so bad for you! She understands that he’s way off base, at least, thinking, “Nursing’s a serious profession but you need relief for a few minutes each day. Otherwise you’d either become hardened to suffering or you’d be so torn up inside that you’d have no strength to give your patients.”

Anyway, right on page 10 she shows how wrong he is when she identifies a comatose patient as Scott Marshall, one of the best figure skaters in the world—she would know, because she’s a former junior national champion, coached by her father, but she gave up top-level skating to pursue nursing. Scott’s been in a car crash, and somehow landed at her tiny hospital in Wisconsin. Who is going to nurse him back from the edge of death?

Well, one morning when she utilizes the reflection pool in front of the hospital for a practice rink and is spotted by a local reporter. Now there’s a big article about her—somehow the press knows she’s the one who identified Scott—and she’s in hot water for bringing publicity to the hospital and making nurses look frivolous. Plus it puts a national spotlight on the fact that the doctors have not been able to bring Scott out of his coma! Curiously, after reaming her out for the article, the nursing supervisor makes her a special nurse for Scott, in the event that she can talk to him about skating and perk him up. “She just couldn’t win,” she thinks, and she is right.

She leaves her skates tied to the foot of Scott’s bed, talks to him of his past successes—and is “dreaming, just a little, of his opening his eyes, seeing her, falling in love with her? Wouldn’t it be the realization of a long buried wish?” But overnight Scott wakes up, sees the skates, and tries to slash his wrists with the blades. Now she’s in even more hot water, and off the Scott Larsen case—but the papers are now declaring that Inga and Scott are going to be married.

Meanwhile, Scott’s former skating partner, Cindy Meredith, calls Inga and asks for a meeting—she’s quit skating because she got married and her husband won’t let her work with Scott anymore because he’s “terribly jealous.” Honestly, the men in this book just make you want to become a nun. Scott wakes and asks for Inga—he’s paralyzed from the waist down, of course, though there’s no organic cause for his paralysis. So she’s back on Scott Larsen’s case, and trying to urge him to recover by talking about skating—and Thor again knocks her down, saying, “There’s not much point in your urging him to hope for that. If he can walk, that should suffice.” Then Scott starts moving his foot—and to celebrate he grabs Inga and kisses her. Then, with Inga to lean on, he is miraculously able to walk across the room!

Now he is bullying Inga, telling her, “If you walk out on me too I’ll wish I’d died back there in the crash. I can’t do it without you.” Inga, the dope, totally falls for it, thinking, “If she failed him now he might be lost for good.” So she takes a leave from nursing to become Scott’s skating partner, because he’s able to go from complete paralytic to a world-class skater with a woman who hasn’t skated except for fun in three years, with the aid of Inga’s father as their coach. She’s only in it out of obligation, and she is convinced that “a skating partnership would lead almost inevitably to another more permanent alliance.” It doesn’t take much to push these people into marriage, it seems.

The morning of the Sectionals competition—two weeks after they started practicing together—Inga’s dad tells them their skating lacks joy, so Scott proposes, and Inga agrees, because “I can help him, I can give him his heart’s desire, the championship. I have already given him back his reason for living. If I can help him that much I can love him.” Sure! Guess what—they win sectionals, and now they’re on to the Nationals and the Olympics—and there’s a guy from Hollywood offering a movie contract! But every now and then she stops and thinks, “She had only agreed to compete this one time. No one listened to her.” But she agrees to a test film—a live television event—on the reflecting pool in front of the hospital, which will be a benefit event for the hospital as well. She and Scott are giving the performance of their lives when Inga gets a phone call from Thor. He’s across the lake, and needs surgery supplies to perform a C-section or the mother and baby will die, and she’s—get this—the only person in an entire small town in Wisconsin who can skate the supplies over and assist in the surgery.

The ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion, with Thor being kind to Inga for the first time in 120 pages, giving the pair exactly 6½ pages to kiss, get engaged, and save Inga’s career as a nurse and the hospital to boot. The whole story is absurdly riddled with implausibilities—but the worst of it is how Inga time and again subverts her own feelings for everyone else’s. It’s hard to imagine how a woman at the top of her nursing school class can be so amazingly dumb, and how she can be in love with an ass like Thor. The descriptions of skating are beautiful—the only reason to consider reading this book—but at the end, it’s just not enough. Leave these skates hanging in the closet.


Saturday, March 9, 2024

Hurricane Nurse

By Joan Sargent
(pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham), ©1962 

A hurricane in Miami draws a cautiously mixed assemblage to the Flamingo Elementary School for shelter. Among them are: Donna Ledbury, red-haired school nurse, the current girlfriend of the school principal. Hank Fincher, who, according to the school grapevine, had a new girl each year, and who had just jilted Mary Hendley, first-grade teacher, who still carried a torch for Hank; Cliff Warrender, a “gangster” lawyer in Donna’s opinion, but whose worse fault was in defending the oppressed whether they were in the right or not; Melissa and Jack Hartson, whose first baby was destined to be born in the cafeteria of the school, with the aid of Donna and Baby LaRue, an ex-strip-teaser, now in her seventies, who welcomed the hurricane season as a relief from the humdrum of life; Old Dr. and Mrs. Ward, gentle people whose greatest fear was of dying and leaving the other alone—a fear that was never to be realized because of the hurricane; Dusty Hosey and his leather-coated gang of teen-agers, who came looking for trouble, but found their match—and incidentally, friends—in the school nurse and Cliff Warrender. There were others, of course, at the schoolhouse during those three days of the storm, but how the lives of these people were changed by a cataclysm of nature makes an exciting and intensely human nurse story.


“You’re polite enough for a divorced couple meeting for the first time in public.” 

“Nothing draws two people together like a common dislike.”

“Wouldn’t it be painful to be the complete lady all the time?”

“New lipstick had made the menace of the storm seem less imminent.”

“Even if you haven’t been here but a month, surely you have heard of hurricane parties? They’re one of the nicest features of our fair city.”

You’d think a major hurricane bearing down on a school full of frightened Floridians would make for an interesting book. Though there are quite a few adventures in this Hurricane Nurse (see also Peggy Gaddis’ version with the same title), unfortunately the story dwells mostly in stupidity—and the primary sinner unfortunately is our heroine, Donna Ledbury. She is a 22-year-old school nurse about to experience her first hurricane, which she did not realize means that she has to ride out the storm at the school with whatever refugees show up, though that seems an important part of a job description to neglect to mention to your new hiree. She’s not alone, though; principal Henry Fincher is there to lend a hand. He’s a rather hot guy, and the pair have dated a few times—and “she liked Hank. She always had fun when they went out together. But was that love?” Well, a hurricane is certainly just the ticket to help her figure it out!

So off she goes to the high school, unfortunately accompanied by Cliff Warrender. “He was a lawyer, not the sort of lawyer she wanted to know. ‘A mouthpiece’ they called his sort in gangster novels. He had got Genio (the Ox) Alcotti off from a bookie charge. She didn’t want to be friendly with Cliff Warrender.” She’s even scornful of the fact that he is well dressed, though “there was nothing garish about him.” The problem with him in my view is that he comes on too strong, constantly saying things like, “This is my girl, but she hasn’t caught onto it yet,” adding that he’s going to win her over despite her prejudices. She snaps back, for some strange reason, “If you are implying that red-haired girls are man-crazy—”. But Cliff just helps her into the car and off they go to the market where he purchases lots of helpful supplies, and everyone greets him like he’s their best friend. But she’s angry that he’s going to defend a woman who was arrested for shoplifting, even though the woman told him she did it. “She was disgusted with him,” we are told, but the sad part is that Cliff never is allowed to explain to this moron what defense attorneys do, that they are there to keep the system honest and keep people from being given unfair sentences if they are convicted. So her prejudice against his occupation is never dealt with in any satisfactory way, just swept under the rug.

Over at the high school, people show up—even after the hours after which the staff is supposed to turn away anyone seeking shelter, like that’s a good idea? There’s a 90-something couple married for 65 years, each expressing privately to Donna that they can’t imagine how the other will survive after the other dies. There’s a gang of “smart alec” “young squirts,” initially sassy to Donna, but quickly brought in check by Cliff, before he takes off on a run to the hospital to obtain medical supplies that Donna never thought to bring. Baby Larue, a 70-year-old former stripper, shows up in a tiny dress and three-inch stilettos, and carrying her mangy parrot, which Donna stuffs in a locker in the dispensary and promptly forgets about.

Once the storm gets underway, the hijinks ensue! A bunch of middle-aged men show up with cards and whisky, and spend about two solid days gambling, only to take a break for a knife fight, which Donna treats with a tourniquet. Later Donna hears loud voices in the hall and “resolved to do nothing about it.” It turns out it’s a married couple and the husband is beating the wife. With a crowd watching, the man “hit her with his fist with force enough to lift her from her feet. She fell several feet away, whimpering, accusing, begging somebody, anybody, to save her from being killed. None made a move. They only stood.” When Hank finally steps in and is knocked unconscious, Donna, too, just stands and watches. “She did not move to Hank’s side”; only Hank’s wannabe girlfriend comes to his aid. Which is appropriate for a woman who’s always saying that she’s not allowed to do anything unless a doctor tells her, but still!

Then one of the women staying there is robbed of $100, and one of the male refugees is found to have given the kids marijuana. But Donna, now back in her manic phase, insists that everything is fine: “We haven’t had any crime, not really,” she insists, “still argumentative.” “And we haven’t had a death,” she adds—but she should be careful what she wishes for, because while having cake with the old couple, a palm frond comes flying through the window and whacks the old lady on the head, killing her instantly—and her husband has a fatal heart attack at exactly the same instant. Donna’s first words after this calamity, interestingly, are, “I’m glad,” because now they won’t have to be alone. Awww.

You will not be surprised to learn that as soon as the lights go out, though, Donna falls apart. Her hands start trembling, and she’s convinced that everyone in the place is going to die, especially a young woman in labor who can’t walk from one building to another, yet is “pacing up and down, flinging her arms about wildly, moaning and muttering” during her contractions, wailing, “Why doesn’t my mother come? She would stop all this hurting. I want my mother.” Donna is equally helpless: “She had a sudden picture of the girl dying because she was inept, because she was ignorant, because it was dark.” Soon it’s “time for her to grow more nervous, to feel more helpless.” As Cliff heads off to let her deliver the baby in peace, she’s “fighting off the desire to cling to his arm, to beg him not to leave her alone with the responsibility that was hers.” Everyone really needs to pull themselves together! But Baby Larue shows up with some whiskey, gets the mother-to-be drunk—with Donna’s permission—and stays to help, proving to be of far more worth than Donna: “Baby had a good deal of practical experience with the work in hand. And best of all, she remained self-confident and cheerful.” In the next sentence, the baby is born, and now Donna starts worrying that the baby is being held by too many germy people. “I do hope she’ll stay well. We haven’t been able to keep her in sterile places, and she’s already been handled by unsterile people.”

Now one of the young kids in the place gets sick, and Donna promptly starts obessing again: “She fervently prayed that it would not turn out to be acute appendicitis, with an operation indicated.” Guess what? It’s not! But what is it? “Polio? Scarlet fever?” As more of the kids start dropping with the same symptoms, she spends literally two days worrying about what it might be—until the first kid gets a scarlet rash, and now she’s so relieved, because it’s just measles! Even though most of them have gotten their vaccinations!

Between caring for sick kids, she’s starting to flirt more with Cliff, who again and again proves himself to be useful and reliable. But “she didn’t believe that Cliff was the man for her. She honestly couldn’t approve of his idea of the practice of law. He spent most of his time defending criminals. The right sort of lawyer would defend the law, not support those who broke it.” Then, in a very bizarre scene, Donna joins the teenagers dancing in the gym and completely loses control while dancing with one of the hoodlums. When the dance stops, “she saw disapproval in hard adult faces,” and she’s pretty much shunned—Principal Hank even suggests that she may lose her job after such a shocking loss of decorum. “She had made a spectacle of herself. She felt shamed by the scorn of the older faces,” and for the rest of the book she’s apologizing for disgracing herself and the school. But what she’s really upset about is that Cliff had gone off to talk to another woman while Donna was dancing, giving her “a feeling of being lost in the great reaches of the universe, as lost as a child who knows not where to go. Somehow it was in the midst of that feeling of being lost that she knew she was in love with Cliff Warrender.” But wait! Two sentences later, “I can’t be in love with him. I have more sense than to get a crush on a stranger. Even a crush. Certainly I wouldn’t fall in love with one.”

Again and again while reading this book I was overcome with the desire to slap Nurse Donna Ledbury silly. She is badly trained and without the disposition to be caring for a complex group of refugees with few supplies and even less sense; she’s frequently telling everyone that she does not have the authority to dispense medicines, bandage wounds or practice any kind of medicine apart from taking temperatures—but she can’t sterilize the thermometers, so there’s only so many times she can do that. “Nurses don’t give whiskey to patients except on order from a doctor,” she says, after she’s already gotten the mother-to-be drunk. She is a complete disaster as a nurse and as a human being, and I could only feel pity for the man she ended up with. I don’t want to have to pity you, too, so take my advice and run for shelter if you happen to encounter this appallingly awful Hurricane Nurse.


Monday, March 4, 2024

Doctor’s Nurse

By Jennifer Ames
Maysie Sopoushek), ©1959
Cover illustration by O. Whitlock 

She promised not to marry … that was the condition on which Gail Stewart went with Dr. Grant Raeburn’s research unit to Hong Kong. Gail was as pretty a nurse as you could hope to see and Grant made her promise if she joined his staff not to marry for two years. That seemed easy for Gail loved Grant—and he never even noticed Gail as a woman! But when she met Brett Dyson in Hong Kong—well, things took on a very different hue …


“All men know whether or not they’re good looking, though they pretend they don’t.” 

Poor Nurse Gail Stewart is the victim of so many nurse novel tropes! She’s an orphan—her parents died in a war camp in Hong Kong when Gail was six, she herself having been packed off just in the nick of time back to Britain—and she is smitten with her boss, Dr. Grant Raeburn, who is one of those cool, aloof, driven men who has never looked at a woman in his life (is he gay or just autistic?) and is not especially kind to his staff; he is described as a “withdrawn and unsympathetic” “martinet” who “drove his staff hard, almost ruthlessly.” But he’s cute, so that’s OK! 

He is off to Hong Kong to do research for two years and has asked his office team to come along. There’s Dr. Bobby Gordon, the usual foil who is hopelessly in love with Gail and has absolutely no hope of ever being loved in return, and Mildred Harris, a plain spinster who types and is passionately in love with Dr. Raeburn. Gail is asked to come along, but she has to agree to a special rider on her contract: She is not to marry for two years, because apparently if a woman gets married she is no longer able to work. But it’s not a problem for her to make this agreement because “the only man she had ever dreamt of or contemplated marrying was himself.”

So off she goes to Hong Kong with a secret agenda stowed safely in the hidden compartment of her attaché case: She’s going to track down the man who betrayed her parents, who had gotten them locked up in that prison camp where they died, and the rat fink had stolen dad’s lucrative business to boot! “She had to make this man pay,” she decides, though she does not know who he is or even the name of her father’s business, and it was 16 years ago that all this betrayal transpired. But sweet revenge will be hers: She vows, “I’ll kill him with my bare hands!”

So off she goes, delayed by a month because her aunt gets sick, and meets a cute but lazy rich boy on the plane, Brett Dyson. He is going to Hong Kong with the intention of not working for his godfather, Tom Manning, as much as possible, and to marry a rich heiress. He is, in short, the antithesis of everything she believes in, and of course “She disliked him intensely.” But then, bizarrely, her plane crashes in Persia, and she spends a night delivering first aid while Brett very uncharacteristically acts as her capable assistant—and as the sun rises, she passes out and he carries her behind a rock and makes out with her when she wakes up and tells her that he’s falling in love with her because he’s so impressed with her strength and skill and stamina. Naturally he spends the rest of the book trying to bully and dominate her, insisting that she go out on this date or that drive and that she marry him immediately.

She, however, remains committed to Dr. Grant and her work with him, and of course to her plot for revenge! Even though she is “strangely drawn” to Brett and his kisses, she does ask herself lots of questions about whether it’s love or lust (Gail asks herself a LOT of questions). And though Grant tries to express an interest in Gail and takes her out to dinner, she allows herself to be dragged off by Brett, whom they naturally meet in the restaurant, and swoons over his rudeness: “She knew Grant didn’t like it, but for the moment she didn’t care. Her heart was singing; she was strangely, almost unbearably happy. ‘Is this love?’ she wondered,” even though she had just been thinking, after the doctor asks her to call him by his first name, that “intimate friendship seemed natural, love was a beckoning shadow lurking just around every corner.” Her behavior on this first date does cool Grant’s ardor noticeably, and he asks her if her penchant for late-night parties is going to impact her ability to do her job well. “She felt they were no longer friends—almost they were enemies,” and cries herself to sleep, but then goes out with Brett almost every night, even oversleeping one morning and angrily deciding that Grant’s insistence she not marry is unfair. Gail is, in short, an erratic, unstable character.

Butspeaking of erratic, unstable charactersout on a deserted island one afternoon with Brett, he presses her yet again to marry him, and when she refuses him, he takes off in the boat and leaves her there. She takes a nap in a cave while waiting for him to return, and when she wakes up, she is trapped by the tide—the waves eventually lapping at her knees while she clings to a cliff—until her screams attract the attention of a fisherman who takes her back to Brett’s godfather’s house, where she is tucked into bed for days, and one gets the impression that Godfather has no intention of letting her leave. But on the third day she’s home alone and heads off for the phone in his office, and while rummaging in his desk for a phone book, she comes across a large pile of passports. What could this be about?

Though she might have been drowned by Brett’s alarming stunt, Gail promptly forgives him—“Why should she hold this against Brett?” Ummm, because he almost killed you when you refused to be bullied by him?—and continues dating him. Now Gail decides she’s going to buckle down and find out what happened to her parents, so she goes around asking everyone at Godfather’s cocktail parties if they knew who killed her parents—it’s kind of a mood-killer, actually—and soon everyone is telling her that she’s in danger and she’s feeling uneasy all the time.

Dr. Grant, meanwhile, apologizes to Gail, telling her that he grew up poor and had to work two jobs to get through medical school, so he doesn’t know how to relax, and asks her for another date. He eventually tells her he’s thinking of leaving Hong Kong because his boss is thwarting all his research efforts, and he thinks his work is being stolen for other governments. Suddenly Gail realizes—and you will be stunned to hear this—that she’s in love with Grant, “something she hadn’t realized. She knew now that deep down within her she had been in love with Grant for a very long time.” Right, since that time it occurred to her on page 8.

Now we have only to clear up the mystery of who is the murderer—and since the list of suspects includes only three people, it doesn’t take long—Gail connecting some extremely tenuous plot points in order to do so, but leaving a larger number of mysteries for us to puzzle over once everything has been “resolved.” If Godfather Tom is already rich, why is he fencing passports? Why does she instantly abandon her life-long plan for revenge, not even pressing charges since he’s done a few nice things in his past, and is suddenly declaring he has been planning to return the company to her anyway—sure he was!—and even forgiving him, which she sees as somehow a prerequisite for her continuing to be friends with Brett—though it’s not clear why she wants to be friends with Brett at all.

Logic and common sense are not widely employed in this book, which left me mostly irritated with heroine Gail for being such a wimpy, gullible victim who all but begs for the bad guys to come bludgeon her over the head. Gail’s adversarial relationship with the secretary Mildred is a cheap, unfortunate side note, as the desperate spinster is too blatantly mean, when her legitimate feelings of jealousy toward the beautiful, popular Gail could have been explored with more interest if the pair had actually been friends. (And there’s a creepy twist at the end when Mildred starts dating Grant’s evil boss and is seen staggering out of a restaurant with him: “What had Dr. Kalavitch given her to drink? And to what purpose?” Even enemies don’t let other women get date raped.) The food and scenery in Hong Kong are beautifully and lovingly depicted, but the few Asian characters in the book are not drawn without prejudice, and Hong Kong is described as a city with a veneer of civility but “there are innumerable rackets; gangsters in high positions—gangsters who would stop at nothing, not even murder.” So it’s another contribution from the White Doctor Foundation from me. I had high hopes for another book by Maysie Sopoushek after her fabulous Doctor’s Wife, but Doctor’s Nurse was a profound disappointment in virtually all respects, and I will approach her next book with a bit less of Nurse Gail’s wide-eyed innocence.