Nurses Three: A Very Special Girl (#3) By Jean Kirby

She had not expected to find romance on this assignment – but then, almost everything at the Indian Services Hospital had come as a surprise…

And we finish off the fall with another Whitman girls’ series by Jean Kirby, AKA Jinny McDonnell AKA Virginia Bleecher McDonnell.

Background: I’ve noted before the reasons for the enduring popularity of Nursing as profession for YA heroines, so it’s no surprise that in the mid-1960s Whitman would take a pass at the genre. To their credit, they came up with a rather ingenious marketing concept: three young-adult daughters of a world-famous widower-surgeon, who each answer the calling. The Scott sisters- Coleen (called Kelly), Penny, and Tracy, each star in their own adventures, which Whitman has conveniently color-coded for us in (respectively) turquoise, yellow, and pink covers.

The Plot: And I note again that it might be better to pick one sister and read all her stories, because going in order of publication jumps around with the timeline a lot: while the first book dealt with youngest sister Kelly’s first year of nursing school in Chicago, where she worries about being in the shadow of both her famous-surgeon father and accomplished older sisters; the second with Penny’s graduation from nursing school in Denver and the start of her career as a private-duty nurse (which involves missing heirs, attempted patricide, feral children and a full-on religious cult); finally with this one we get to eldest sister Tracy, a pediatric nurse who,as the book opens, has accepted a yearlong position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico.

Of the first three books in the series, Tracy gets the weakest into, without the wild adventures of Penny’s first assignment, and her roommate drama is a weak retread of Kelly’s clash with her bitchy/witchy roomie. And, unsurprisingly, most of the attitudes towards the native American characters can charitably be described as “outdated”.

But the main problem is with Tracy herself, who is unappealingly meddlesome, inviting herself into solving everyone’s perceived problems unasked, especially those of her native patients, giving little thought to culture, traditions or etiquette (or just holding those things in contempt).

The book opens with the arrival from the east of three red sportscars at the Indian Services hospital, located near the Navajo and Zuni reservations in New Mexico. The cars contain the young professionals: Tracy; the new chief of pediatrics, Dr. Dick Hardwick; and local boy Dr. James “Dusty” Meriweather, obstetrics.

Inside the hospital on the way to the nurses’ dormitory, Tracy runs into an escaped-child patient, whom she initially takes for a little girl, and her interaction with the native LPN in pursuit gives the reader an idea of how the rest of Tracy’s year with the BIA is going to go…

“Oh, this is no girl,” Tracy’s interpreter put in with a laugh. “This is Johnny Roanhorse.”

“Then I don’t see why you don’t encourage him to look like a boy the way the hospital authorities quite obviously wanted to do,” Tracy said impatiently. “See- it won’t hurt to cut them here.” Tracy reached down to pinch one of the braids above Johnny’s left ear.

The look of horror returned to the little boy’s face. He let out a long moan of terror.

“You obviously do not understand our people,” the young Navajo girl spoke in a low, reproachful tone to Tracy. “Since you are going to be on our nursing staff, I hope you will wish to learn our ways. They are not like yours.”

This happens constantly, and I’m not sure what the reader is supposed to take away from these interactions- other characters call Tracy out on her prejudices, but she NEVER LEARNS ANYTHING.

Tracy finally makes it to assigned dormitory room, where she meets the occupant of that fourth red sportscar, her new roomie Inez Moriarty, a real cold fish:

“I’m a sixth generation Irish gal, so don’t count on the proverbial Irish sense of humor. Things are generally unfunny, I’ve found.”

Dusty is immediately smitten with Inez, who “accepted his attentions with extreme rudeness and caustic comments”; the mystery further deepens when Tracy learns that Inez served in Anchorage, Alaska, with the unit’s senior nurse, Miss “Fergie” Ferguson, whom Inez openly engages with in psychological warfare.

In between romantic dates with young Dr. Hardwick, Tracy finds time to judge/meddle in the lives of a few special patients and colleagues, including Eddie Yazzie, a young child trampled in a stampede, still catatonic after a major surgery; teenage rock and roll Indian Irvin Atcitty, injured in a rodeo accident; and popular LPN Rose Tsosie. Tracy makes it her mission to bring Eddie back to reality, get Irvin to quit the rodeo circuit and go to art school, and convince Rose to study to become an RN. And she still has to solve the mystery of Why Inez Is Acting So Weird!

Tragedy briefly strikes when Tracy is blamed for a mix-up with a young patient’s formula which results in the baby’s death (!!!); she takes the black mark on her record, but Tracy suspects Inez was responsible.

While she has some success with getting Irvin to do unpaid and unauthorized art therapy with Eddie Yazzie, she experiences a setback in her meddling with Rose, who abruptly leaves the hospital to return to the reservation:

Rose of all the P.N.’s was one of the most modern of the Indian girls. Tracy just couldn’t imagine her going back to the life of the Hogan after experiencing all of the modern conveniences of her life at school and in town.

When Irvin is discharged, Tracy is so righteously inflamed with the need to get all up in his business, that on her weekend off she sets out for the Navajo reservation, both ignoring the weather forecast and neglecting to tell anyone where she is going. When she gets her car stuck in the snow, she has to make it on foot to the trading post, which is run by the Woodwards, a young married couple who take her in (and put her to work, sending her out on rounds in the stead of the Public Health nurse who won’t be around for another week).

The Woodwards are shown to have a friendly relationship with the local tribe…

Tracy could see that the Indians didn’t give the trader and his wife the same distrustful glances she encountered at the hospital. They respected Don’s way of bargaining with them for wool and jewelry and brightly woven rugs…

…but it is still a paternalistic one:

Sometimes he gave them cash. Sometimes he insisted that they take it out in trade for coffee and other staples.

“If they don’t provide for their family with food, I won’t give them cash to go squander it Saturday nights in town,” he informed Tracy grimly.

So Tracy could see that the Woodwards were more than tradespeople. They were benign parents who looked after their children’s welfare.

On her unofficial rounds to an (unrelated) Yazzie family, Tracy is super-judgey about the family giving coffee to their children (Don points out that the local water needs to be boiled to make it potable) and is disinterested in the experiences of students at the government-run Indian Boarding Schools (“It’s kind of tough on the mothers, isn’t it?”)

She finally catches up with Irvin, who is less than enthused about this white lady’s insistence that he should fulfill his promise as an art student (it’s native-speaking Don who talks it over with Mrs. Atcitty [MATRIARCHY!] who makes the decision that her son should attend college to continue the family’s artistic tradition)

Eventually Dick shows up in his new jeep to “rescue” Tracy, insisting that it was Inez who initially raised the alarm about her absence and sleuthed out where she might be.

But back at the hospital, Inez is as hostile as ever, and is starting to have a problem with chronic absenteeism. Still, she accepts an invitation to meet Dusty’s parents and spend the weekend at their ranch over Christmas, although she complains that Dick and Tracy invited as well.

Tracy continues to be annoyed by her patients reliance on traditional medicine and ceremonies, especially the Yazzies, who keep insisting on taking Eddie back to the reservation for a traditional “Sing” (scare-quotes original). She remains unmoved even after meeting Miss Coleman, the Public Health nurse who attempts to educate her about both non-western medicine and the psychiatric value of the traditional ways… although again, the attitude here is both paternalistic and unscientific:

“Often some of our Navajo friends become mentally disturbed, especially the school youngster like this one. Last week he simply flipped. That’s the only way to express it.”

IT’S A MEDICAL TERM.

Later, on a horseback tour of the Merriweather ranch, Tracy faints due to the altitude and annoyed by the attention both Dick and Dusty are paying her, Inez runs away and there is a whole bunch of nonsense over finding her, then Dusty getting lost and breaking his leg. When HE is finally rescued, Inez at last melts and accepts his marriage proposal.

This puts IDEAS into Dick’s head, and he puts the pressure on Tracy to get serious with him, demanding that she has an answer for him but the time her service is up in June. Whatever shall a girl do???

The mystery of What Happened With Inez and Fergie in Alaska is finally revealed (Inez thought she knew better than a doctor and made an unauthorized change to a patient’s diet, Fergie covered for her) (snore). The head of nursing gives EVERYONE a stern talking to about how even though they had good intentions about keeping secrets, taking blame and covering for colleagues that is in fact POOR NURSING DISCIPLINE and they need to KNOCK IT OFF.

Tracy gets one more chance to be judgey when a newly married and pregnant Rose Tsosie reappears as a patient in Obstetrics, totally uninterested in Tracy’s big plan to get her to go to nursing school for her RN.  The head of nursing finally tells Tracy to MYOB, pointing out that a lot of white women also decide to leave their careers and get married.

Speaking of, what about Dr. Dick? Fate intervenes at the end of Tracy’s tour of service, when she gets word from her father that the nurse for his practice is taking maternity leave and he wants her back in New York to cover for her. So like Kim Aldrich, the Scott sisters again avoid the matrimony question.

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7 Responses to Nurses Three: A Very Special Girl (#3) By Jean Kirby

  1. Uly says:

    Oh, god, Tracey, drop dead. Even if there’s no cultural significance to that kid’s hair, it’s not the hospital’s business to tell the parents to change it – and it’s certainly not yours.

    Also, if modern medicine hasn’t cured your catatonia patient, you might as well let his parents take him home.

    • mondomolly says:

      Tracy is literally the worst.

    • GailC68 says:

      That’s how it was back in the 1960s. Even now the government will use a hospital as a means to get a child to become more “Caucasian”, less “Reservation”. Also, this review has summaries but not spoilers. If you want to find out what happens with the patient, reread the book.

  2. Jen says:

    Dick Hardwick?? hahahaha…maybe Tracy should snoop around for clues about his adult film career.

  3. GailC68 says:

    Some parts of this book made me realize we have a much better attitude towards Indigenous and some made me realize there are areas that need to change. Also, though, it was somewhat discouraging to realize that not much has changed from the 60s to 2021. Women who choose to become a wife and mother are still looked down upon and regarded as a disappointment to those women who have a career.

    • mondomolly says:

      Thanks for commenting! How attitudes have and have not changed and how they are reflected in vintage YA lit is one of the most interesting aspects of reading and writing about these for me!

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