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.


No comments:

Post a Comment