Nurses Three: On Call For Trouble (#4) By Jean Kirby

Why is Linda so angry? What can I do to help?

nurses 3 on call

Another week in October, 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.

As I have ALSO noted over the past three years, you might be better served by picking a sister and reading her adventures one after another, rather than trying to get your mind around how the series skips around in time if you proceed in order of publication.

What I’m saying, Constant Readers,  is that we are FINALLY going to unravel the mystery of What The Hell Is Up With Linda Koenig.

The Plot: Coleen “Kelly” Scott, you may recall, is the youngest of three sisters who answered the call to nursing, daughters of famous surgeon and widower Dr. Timberlake Scott (his wife died in childbirth, a trauma that Kelly never really gets to address).

Kell is determined to make a name for herself in the profession, and as the book opens is still in the midst of her freshman year at Midwest General. Having mended fences with her witchy roommate, Rhoda, after a misunderstanding involving a kleptomaniac nurses’ aide, Kelly is finally able to turn her full attention to solving the mystery of what went wrong with their friendship with Linda Koenig, another student in her class that had been the best of pals at the beginning of the year.

Well, sort of turn her attention to the Linda-mystery. I feel like Kirby/Bleecher-McDonnell’s editor at Whitman could have taken another pass at this one, because she piles on way too many patients, hospital faculty, relatives and potential love interests for the reader to keep track of, many of which we may or may not have read about three books ago.

We do learn at some point before the story opened, Rhoda had “happened” to buy three World War I helmets on sale and she and Kelly work up an elaborate joke, circulating a story that the hospital will require all student nurses to purchase a helmet “as a precaution against nuclear attack or tornado.” Only Linda falls for the gag:

Linda became the laughingstock of the Home. Unfortunately, she proved a poor sport about it. For a perfectly obvious reason, her anger was directed not toward Rhoda, the perpetrator, but toward Kelly.

Kelly concludes:

Something was bothering Linda for sure; it was up to Kelly to learn it was.

Um, maybe the whole “laughingstock” thing, Kelly?

The barrage of patients whose lives Kelly has to meddle in is relentless, starting with a wealthy, elderly man who “expires” after a long illness, and whose widow charges Kelly with calling her step-daughter, Gladys, with the news. Some chapters later, Gladys will end up in Kelly’s ward after she is in a terrible car accident and has to have her leg amputated (!!!)

Kelly is also on rotation for a room that houses a Korean War colonel and Vietnam veteran-slash-poet who can’t stop bickering with each other, and has taken on the cause of a nervous new mother who is convinced that her husband isn’t bonding with the baby. There is also a random little girl running around charming everyone (her sister is yet another patient) and a glamourous Hollywood star recovering from cataract surgery and a fairly tasteless interlude in which Kelly and Rhoda have to weigh a very fat man on the Hospital’s kitchen scale.

Dr. Timberlake Scott also puts in an appearance, which seems to greatly unsettle Linda, who is already acting pretty weird. Also, again, the editor could have taken another pass so we don’t have to try and decipher what this even means:

“Shelby? No, I don’t believe I do. Splendid-looking man.”

“He’s one of the most beloved men on staff,” Kelly said, nodding and smiling as he reached them.

He stopped “Pardon my wide-eyed appraisal,” he said, glancing from Kelly to her father. “But you. Sir, so shockingly resemble the best friend I ever had… Timberlake Scott, isn’t it?”

What? Ok, eventually we find out what Dr. Shelby means is that Dr. Scott physically resembles his deceased BFF, a certain Dr. Linden Koenig. Hmmm….

Linda begs Kelly for an introduction to her father, but the awkward interaction seems to unnerve her even more, and Dr. Scott warns his daughter off her:

“Her glance was inimical. Sure she’s not a little bit neurotic? I hope I’m wrong, but…”

A few days later Linda deliberately sabotages Kelly’s work in the microbiology lab, shoving her Petrie dish right off the counter and getting Kelly a stern lecture about how she has probably released a biohazard into the whole hospital.

Kelly and Rhoda still find time for romantic misadventures, starting with an invitation to the estate of Rhoda’s wealthy and eccentric bachelor (read: probs gay) Uncle Horace for dinner party. “Uncle,” as he insists upon being called, has procured two eligible escorts for Kelly and Rhoda, and Ken, Kelly’s date, is of course instantly charmed and ready to propose marriage and also arrange a musical career for her.

Kelly has a knack for getting herself into these “casseroles” as Rhoda constantly points out, and not just in her personal life.

Kelly is summoned to the chaplain’s office after she suggests to the nervous new mother that she might pray on her dilemma, and gets a bad reaction (I guess she’s a godless Communist?); but it actually turns out that he just wants her to go visit with Gladys, whose boyfriend was driving the car that resulted in the leg-amputating accident, has left her for another girl. Because Kelly CLEARLY does not have enough to do, she volunteers to give Gladys guitar lessons.

Kelly also gets assigned to the geriatric ward, where an innocuous-looking grandma mistakes her for her husband’s mistress, and in an empty corridor holds Kelly in a death grip. Linda stumbles upon the scene but only cackles like a maniac before abandoning Kelly. I will say it again: WHAT IS UP WITH LINDA KOENIG????

Once Kelly has the veteran-poet and colonel getting along, she frantically throws together YET ANOTHER benefit, this one for Korean and Vietnamese war orphans, the men’s favorite topic of conversation, constantly squabbling over

[W]hether the Korean or Vietnamese orphans were the most pathetic- the Koreans bellowed, the Vietnamese whispered

Ken Morrison arranges for a theatrical agent to attend and be wowed by Kelly’s folksinging act, and he whisks her off to a local nightclub to catch Griselda, his latest discovery.

Kelly momentarily has her head turned by the idea of a glamorous career… when Griselda suddenly faints on-stage! Kelly of course attends to her in her dressing room, and Griselda warns of the toll show biz takes, leaving one prematurely aged, cynical, and freaking exhausted. Kelly informs the infuriated agent that NURSING is the only career for her!

Kelly also lets Ken down easy, saying that she’s not interested in a relationship with him. Woody Saunders, the hunky, Hef-schmoozing law student also briefly turns up for a date, which Kelly cancels due to hospital duties. She’s married to her CAREER, gentlemen!

Kelly is finally successful in goading Linda into paying a visit to Gladys, although Linda darkly hints that she’s just going to make her feel worse. When Kelly shows up, she finds Gladys badly shaken- because Linda arrived just in time to save her from choking on one of the peppermint candies she is constantly crunching on!

Kelly finds Linda in Gladys’s bathroom, having some kind of breakdown because of a flashback to caring for her ailing father before his death, and the German nurse who taught her a proto-Heimlich to use on him when he choked. Kelly convinces Linda to go with her to see Dr. Shelby, who explains to Kelly that Dr. Scott’s resemblance to her beloved late father is what drove her over the edge into “neuroticism.”

But! There is hope! Dr. Shelby prescribes “counseling”:

“It employs many of the principals of psychiatry but it’s a milder form of help available to the students.”

Kelly decides to try some of this “counseling” herself, to see if she can get past the mental block she has in her physiology courses.

Once again, Kelly’s adventures are neatly wrapped up… until she receives an airmail letter from her long-departed roommate and close friend, Mimi Pelham, who decamped nursing school for marriage and life in Peru before the series began.

“What does she say?” Rhoda waited a minute. “What does she SAY! Your first roommate coming back to finish her training?”

Kelly didn’t answer. She hadn’t even heard the question.

And on that cliffhanger, we END. While readers would get one more Tracy story and two more Penny stories, this is where we leave the youngest Scott sister forever!

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4 Responses to Nurses Three: On Call For Trouble (#4) By Jean Kirby

  1. I was about to comment that it seems the author of these books was making it up as she went along, when I realized that’s what writing is. But I’m surprised I don’t remember seeing these for sale at our local discount department store back in the 1960s.

    I was more of a Trixie Belden fan, though.

    Love the cover art!

    • mondomolly says:

      Thanks for commenting! The art is great, especially the somewhat disembodied illustrations on the back cover that show key plot points!

      I am alsoa huge Trixie Belden fan!

  2. Susan says:

    Definiitely different from my beloved Cherry Ames!
    I wonder why I didn’t find many Whitman books in the libraries that I used.

    • mondomolly says:

      I’m not sure when Whitman stopped publishing these hardcovers, I THINK that Kim Aldrich was their last original series (although there may have been some TV tie-ins after that). My public library had one Whitman Trixie Belden volume, and that was it!

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