Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cherry Ames, Student Nurse (Cherry Ames #1)

Cherry Ames, Student Nurse (Cherry Ames #1)
Helen Wells
Grosset & Dunlap, 1943

Genre: Realistic, Mystery


Cherry Ames is 18 years old and on her way to the Spencer School—one of the best nursing colleges in the United States. She is super nervous as she has always wanted to be a nurse but worries if she will have what it takes to succeed. She’ll start off on a probationary period and if she fails her first semester she won’t be allowed to continue. She’s done her research because she didn't want to go to a second-rate school and come out a second-rate nurse. Spencer has everything including recognized staff doctors, a sufficient staff of resident nurses, complete laboratories and hospital equipment and libraries, and a course of training that touched on every branch of nursing.

Cherry wants to be a nurse all because of her neighbor, Dr. Joe Fortune. He ushered Cherry and Charlie into the world and Cherry has always loved him. During high school his wife died leaving him alone to battle with a doctor's poverty, an unmanageable daughter, and a dwindling private practice. He spends more time doing experiments. We learn that “Singlehanded, with quiet courage, with endless patience, Dr. Joe was finding new ways to help and save human lives. After the night Dr. Joe explained to her what his precious drug was, Cherry for the first time took a deep interest in her biology and chemistry courses at school. And to her amazement, she was good at them, once she really tried. And after the long golden Sunday when Dr. Joe performed the miracle of the drug on Tookie the cat, Cherry knew she, too, must play some role in the world of miracles and life.” The drug he is working on is an anesthetic that would numb just the area being worked on allowing the patient to remain conscious during surgeries. Cherry realizes this drug would be a miracle especially in the battlefield at hospitals on the sidelines.

Cherry quickly makes some new friends. At dinner her first night at Spencer she notices that there are about 60 student nurses there—“tall girls, short girls, thin, fat, but all of them radiating eagerness and expectancy.” Cherry's attention is caught by one girl in particular whose “cold eyes and over-rouged mouth” did not seem to belong at Spenser. This girl is Vivian Warren—she will be Cherry’s nemesis.

Cherry enjoys her classes and her first assignment to the woman’s ward. However, Cherry does have a playful nature and she almost gets in trouble for a prank. As she is wandering down some halls she hears a British voice of an elderly woman call out for a nurse. However, there appears to be no one on the ward. Fearing an emergency, Cherry decides to go into the room and is shocked to see not an old woman but a tiny girl no more than six or seven years old. She has her leg bandaged and a cast and the girl asks if her mommy has come. She says she was asleep in their shelter and she got hurt and she doesn't know where her mommy is. Cherry realizes that this girl must be a victim of some bombings that have occurred in London. She could be waiting for mother who was killed. The narration tells us that “Cherry had read to children and wounded people being evacuated from the Allied countries. But the reality she saw before her now was so cruel it was almost unbearable.” The poor little girl says that she wishes she had a doll to keep her company and Cherry promises to get her one. Having no idea where she's going to procure a doll, Cherry suddenly get inspiration to borrow Sally Chase, the medical dummy.

Cherry tells her plan to Ann and Gwen. Ann is scared that they will get expelled for “kidnapping” Sally Chase whereas Gwen is totally open to the plan. Ann gets a housecoat, slippers, and a scarf and Cherry and Gwen go visit Sally. They dress her up in Ann's clothes, put her in a wheelchair, and take her to the private pavilion. They wheel Sally into the room and the little girl is super excited. Cherry tells the girl that the doll is special and that she can't tell anyone about her. She can play with her for a little while but then she has to go away and Cherry will bring the girl a new doll that she can keep permanently the next day. The little girl spends a few minutes trying to cuddle Sally and whispers confidential things to her. The narration reads, “Cherry had known there was a war raging on the other side of the world, but she had not thought much about it. Now it occurred to her that it was very much her business—her personal business and her business as a nurse to be.”

The girls hear Ann, who is keeping watch, talking to someone. She then tells them that it was the floor supervisor and that they better get out of there. That is when the little girl decides to mention that her doctor is Dr. Wylie. They begin to pack up Sally when the door opens suddenly. A horrified masculine voice demands, “What are you idiots doing?” Luckily the voice belongs to James Clayton. He informs them that the little girl is in the private pavilion because she's very nervous and is not supposed to have visitors. The little girl's name is Pamela and James also lets them know that they could be expelled for this little prank especially since her doctor is due there in less than five minutes and surely would have caught them. James calls for a wheeled table and he and Cherry pretend to turn Sally into a corpse to return her without anyone noticing. James warns her not to pull any more practical jokes at least not until she's off probation. Cherry thinks he's pretty dreamy.

Cherry gets on the bad side of Vivian. One day during class, Cherry asks what she should do if she has a very unruly and difficult patient. Vivian takes a stab at Cherry by saying that a patient's attitude usually has a lot to do with their nurse and also that dealing with an unruly patient is where the nurse's skill comes in to play. Cherry is furious at Vivian for trying to make her look like she's not a good nurse. Ann thinks that Vivian is afraid of something and that is why she’s so mean and distant toward everyone. Cherry wonders what it is she's afraid of. She just seems so desperate about not failing. Cherry ponders that “she acts as if failure would be a death sentence. She's willing to do anything to win her cap, as if—as if, should she get tossed out of here, she wouldn't dare go back to where she came from.”

Cherry knowing that she and Vivian are going to butt heads at some point designs to circumvent it by conducting a surprise attack on Vivian. Cherry goes to Vivian's room and proceeds to tell her that she does not appreciate the tactics she's using against her in class and that if she does not stop she's going to find herself in trouble. She also asks her why she's always alone. Soon Vivian is telling her own story. She came from a desperately poor and wretched family, her father is a horrible alcoholic, and her mother has given up hope. At school she'd been despised as a member of that “awful Warren family.” She'd grown up believing that she was not as bright as everyone around her and that she couldn't trust anyone. She worked for two years in a laundry to save enough money to enter nursing school. If she doesn't make it a nursing school she has nowhere to go. Cherry invites Vivian to come see a movie with the rest of the girls but Vivian is hesitant. Cherry tells her where they're meeting and leaves the room. After dinner as the girls are getting ready to head out to the movie Cherry notices Vivian awkwardly hanging around the elevator. Cherry openly welcomes her and the other girls follow suit.

During Cherry’s third, and final, month of her probationary period she is transferred to Ward 27 which is men’s surgical and happens to be the ward that Dr. Wylie is in charge of. One day, on a Thursday that would become known as Ames's Folly, Cherry is singled out by Wylie to help change a bandage on a patient in front of everyone and everything goes wrong. She's not ready with the surgical cart, she doesn't wash her hands quickly enough, she uses the wrong type of forceps, and she drops the soiled bandage on the bed. She gets so nervous she picks up the wrong forceps again and the doctor goes off on her calling her careless and saying that she should know such a simple elementary procedure. Cherry is pretty sure she's just failed. Dr. Clayton comes and finds her to tell her that he's pretty sure the doctor won't report her and that he himself can tell that she's going to be a good nurse.

Soon it is time for the caps to be awarded. The first probationer to pass is Vivian. Ann comes next followed by Gwen, and a dozen other girls. Cherry is getting nervous and she feels like everyone else was wondering about her. As the day wears on and more and more girls get called, two drop out, and Cherry still hasn't been called. She knows that she will never receive her cap. At 4:45 Dr. Clayton comes in and speaks with Ms. Craig who then tells Cherry to report to the student office. Ms. Reamer asks Cherry where her cap is and she has to tell her that she's not received it. Cherry feels horrible because she is now a failure. Ms. Reamer tells her there is been a terrible mistake and that she has passed second highest in her entire class. She learns that Dr. Wylie reported that she takes criticism well and Ms. Craig says that she makes a real effort to learn. Cherry is now officially a student nurse!

The girls get their first student nurse assignments. Gwen is assigned to skin, Ann has night duty, and Cherry is to go into the emergency ward. The girls notice that now that they have their caps the doctors and older nurses appear to trust them and no longer think they are nitwits. Dr. Clayton is coming down to cherry's Ward to treat a tuberculosis case. The lady is elderly and distrustful of hospitals. The narration says that Cherry “was acquainted by now with this ignorant attitude. She knew, too, that only as far back as the 1860s hospitals really had been terrible places, where patients were lucky to come out alive, and resorted to only by the helpless poor. But that was before antiseptics and sterilization had been discovered, and before Florence Nightingale had founded the first training school for nurses.” It turns out the elderly woman was literally carrying her life savings sewn into her clothes.

Her next case is of third-degree burns from a hot water boiler that exploded in the patient's face. They have to act quickly or he will have no face for the rest of his life. It is a boy who is only seven years old. The boy is named Winky and Cherry tries to calm him down to let him know that he will be all right and that he will look the same because the doctors will help him. It doesn't help that his father comes barging in yelling that he'll be a freak and no one will want to look at him and that he'd be better off dead.

Cherry was only on the emergency ward for three weeks when a nurse was needed for the bone deformities ward and Cherry was given the transfer because the TSO considered her good enough to meet the duties. While Winky is getting better, he is distraught at the thought of Cherry not being his nurse anymore. He is so distraught that his doctor reluctantly agrees to place him in a private room in Cherry's new ward. Unfortunately, Cherry has to deal with the wrath of Dr. Wylie when he discovers that his plastic surgery case has been moved to the orthopedic ward. The doctor is not surprised that Cherry is to blame and it is her fault. She decides to stand up for herself and she says yes she is to blame and that it is her fault if making a patient like her is a fault.

Four days before Christmas, Dr. Joe arrives for a visit. Dr. Joe says that he is there to have a hearing hopefully for his new anesthetic drug. He's gotten to the point where it needs to be tested and his lab isn't equipped enough to do it. Spencer has already turned him down but he is there hopefully to get them to change their mind. The next day she finds out that the hospital refused him again.

In April Cherry is transferred to men's orthopedic. This is the first time that she experiences relief duty and gets to work from three in the afternoon until eleven at night. After a week or so of relief duty she will then move on to night duty. Relief duty is supposed to prepare her for staying up all night. One night at about 10 p.m. one of the patients starts yelling that he is in terrible pain. He is on morphine but he's had his quotient for that day. She calls the supervisor who doesn't know what they can do to help him. It is at that point that Cherry thinks of the new drug Dr. Joe created stored in the laboratory downstairs. Unfortunately, the doctor says they can't use it because it hasn't been approved yet and they give him another dose of morphine. Before she goes off duty she reports back to the doctor that the extra morphine has not helped the patient. She later runs into Ms. McIntyre who tells her that the chemical laboratory tested Dr. Joe’s drug and it worked but they can't use it until it is accepted by the medical board. Unfortunately they don't meet until July and this is only April.

Cherry has her first night of night duty. The one poor patient is still in extreme pain. Around four in the morning Cherry hears the service elevator and muffled voices. Someone is being brought in on a stretcher alongside two orderlies and two men in business suits, one of which was Dr. Wylie. She sees the doctor unlock a door marked “broom closet” which opens up to reveal a fully equipped hospital room with bed and bathroom. The doctor calls for her and the men he's with hide in the shadows. He asks her to go into the room and remake the bed. He asks if she has seen Ms. Hall but Cherry tells him she's never even heard of Ms. Hall. He also warns Cherry to not say a word of this to anyone. After she's done he tells her that if the number three rings on the call board to ignore it and to not let anyone in the room. He will stay with the patient. If Ms. Hall shows up she's to wait in his office. He warns her once more not to tell anyone or else she will get expelled.

Cherry thinks about the clues she has gathered about the mysterious patient. He clearly came from outside the hospital as evident from the secrecy and the luggage. She still has not seen this Ms. Hall. She also hasn't seen the doctor go in the room so there must be another entrance. Since there was a second room beyond the bathroom she is guessing that Ms. Hall is now living there. Every night around midnight she hears a number of masculine voices coming from that room and once she saw a man wandering around the corridor as if he were lost. That had to mean that the patient was receiving visitors. Later that night a flash came from number three on the call board. The doctor had not had it disconnected. Occasionally over the past few nights it would flash a few times but tonight it was so persistent it worried her. When the night supervisor comes to check on her and she asks if the call board is broken the nurse tells her that the number three is just an error is it only connects to the broom closet.

Cherry finds the elevator operator who tells her of helping a strange nurse go down to the lab. She clearly didn't find what she was looking for and insisted he take her to the lobby for her to possibly go to another hospital for what she needed. She attempts to get a hold of the Dr. Wylie but does not succeed. The room’s light has been flashing for 15 minutes now. She goes to the supervisor again who admits that there used to be a suite of rooms there but the private pavilion never used it because it was expensive and inconvenient so it was closed up about a year ago.

She tries to get Jim to help that he doesn't believe her either. So she decides that the patient must be saved at all costs and this is where she will get herself expelled. She slips out onto the fire stairs and finds the secret door that she knew must be there. She tries it and it is unlocked. It leads into the room that must be Ms. Hall's bedroom. Inside the patient's room all the curtains are drawn and all over the walls are large maps. There is a special outside telephone. There is also shortwave radio, which Cherry knows from Charlie's military manual is used to receive messages in code. There is also a briefcase and revolver. She realizes suddenly that the man in the bed is a soldier and must be an important one. She takes his vitals and knows that she has to help him.

She leaves the room and tries to call the doctor again. She is a calling Jim and convinces him to come up to her ward. She takes Jim to the room where he examines the man's wound and says that he is experiencing an internal hemorrhage and needs an operation at once. Jim knows that he is no authority to operate but he feels that he has to but unfortunately they need a local anesthetic and this is one of those rare cases where they can't use novocaine. He's heard of some new Russian anesthetics that are over at City Hospital and they realize that that must be where Ms. Hall has gone. Cherry tells him about Dr. Joe's drug and says that it has been tested and that it is the man's only chance.

Dr. Wylie finally shows up and Cherry fills him in on everything that she knows. The doctor tells her to go get the drug, get the equipment, and be prepared to operate. As they get ready to operate the doctor tells them, “'Do you know who this man is? He is General –,” and “he spoke a name which Cherry and Jim heard with the profoundest respect, one of the greatest names of their time. He had been wounded and had been flown to the United States.” Once they finish the operation, Ms. Hall arrives with the three other businessmen. One of the uniformed men starts yelling about Cherry and Jim being in the room but the weak general says that “the little girl saved his life.” Dr. Wylie warns them not to talk about the room because if his army knew that he was temporarily not in command it would do their courage no good and if the enemy found out it would be a signal for attack.

The next morning Cherry awakens to find a note asking her to report to the TSO. Ms. Reamer had known about the patient from the beginning and has just been informed by the doctor of Cherry's involvement. He called her a spunky young woman even if she was impertinent but he does say that she is to be congratulated on her courage and initiative. Ms. Reamer decides that because of all her excitement she should take her month's vacation a little bit earlier.

Later as Cherry and her friends are walking the halls she sees a maid approach the broom closet. When she opens it the room is full of pails and brooms and ironing boards and the secret suite of rooms is gone.

A little while later Cherry is told to report to the TSO again where she sees Dr. Joe. Dr. Joe is going to come to the hospital and work in their laboratories. Ms. Reamer tells Cherry that it has been arranged for her to take her month-long vacation by going back to Hilton with Dr. Joe.

The book ends with, “Yes, she would always go back—to the vast busy fortress of a hospital, to her friends, to her patients who needed her, to the nursing work that was the most exciting and important thing in her life. Cherry thought back fleetingly over the last year. Any last lingering doubts had been erased now, she had proven herself worthy, and she felt joyous and confident. Cherry knew, finally, that she was truly a nurse.”

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

For an early series book series, Cherry Ames was pretty well-written. It is probably one of the more literary titles I have read thus far.

Early on readers will pick up on the not so subtle message of the Cherry Ames series—that a girl’s highest aspiration (besides being a wife and a mother) is only to be, if she desires to work, a nurse. The copy on the dust jacket states: “It is every girl's ambition at one time or another to wear the crisp uniform of the nurse. The many opportunities for service, for adventure, for romance make a nurses' career a glamorous one. Certainly, girls everywhere love to read stories in which a nurse is the heroine. At least 1 million girls already know and admire Cherry Ames, and have laughed over her pranks and thrilled over her gay adventures and wept over her problems.”

Cherry’s whole family is pretty 1940s typical American, white, middle class. Cherry is described as “slender and healthy and well built; she moved with the proud erect posture that made her seem beautifully tall and slim. Her eyes and her short curly hair were very dark, almost black—the clear-cut black that glistens. . . . Cherry was as vivid as a poster in her red wool sport suit. And her face fairly sparkled with warmth and humor.” She often has super rosy cheeks that get so red when she’s embarrassed that the evil surgeon, Dr. Wylie, who everyone fears at Spenser, constantly is yelling at her and telling her to remove the rouge on her face!

Cherry has a twin brother, Charlie: “Strangers found it hard to believe that Charlie was Cherry's twin, for he was as fair as she was dark. He was a tall athletic boy with ruffled white hair and alert blue eyes. Charlie was entering the State Engineering College this fall.” Supposedly Charlie’s room is full of models and photographs and blueprints of airplanes. At one point in her studies, Cherry receives a letter from Charlie saying he was leaving the university to study flying and hoped eventually to join the Air Force. The narration says, “His letter was full of strange words like 'ferrying' and 'bomber command' and 'B-17s' and 'P-38s' and 'logistics.' Those words made Charlie seem very grown-up, rather far away, in a strange new world of his own choosing.”

Her brother calls her “Nurse Ames” and she laughs: “She had no right to title yet—but a little thrill shivered down her back just the same.” Readers are told that “she did not feel 18 and through with high school and almost a student nurse. For all her dreams and hopes, she still was not entirely sure nursing was for her. All the tales she had ever heard flashed through her mind—you see so much suffering, the scrubbed floors, you might give the patient the wrong medicine, and all other nightmares. Probably nonsense, the whole lot to them. Cherry wanted a profession of her own. More than that, she wanted to do vital work, work that the world urgently needs. She honest-to-goodness cared about people and she wanted to help them on a grand and practical scale. But did she have all that it takes to be a nurse? Could her dream survive three straight years of training? Well, she would learn the answer very soon.”

Her mother, before Cherry leaves for school, asks her, “If you—if you find you don't like nursing or if it's too hard for you, you won't be too proud to come home? . . . I feel you have chosen just about the finest profession there is. And just about the most necessary one in wartime. We're mighty proud about it. And we are both sure that you'll do good work and win your cap.”

It’s clear early on in this series that the gender roles are pretty straightforward. Charlie gets to be a pilot while Cherry has only has aspirations to be a nurse. It’s also shocking how many times throughout the story that people constantly discuss how noble it is to be a nurse—sometimes it borders on a propaganda advertisement!  

Ms. Reamer is the superintendent of nurses. During student orientation, she “started by telling them that from now on, they were professional women, and that their personal behavior must reflect the dignity of their profession,” and that “Spencer nurses were scattered in all far places of the world, doing their life bringing work, sometimes in the fire of the battlefields, blazing a path around the globe against pain and death.” She continues that “as nurses, they would rise in the presence of doctors and graduate nurses, in respect to their profession. Nurses relations with interns were to be purely professional. Nurses were not to wander around the hospital but go only to the wards assigned. Nurses must not wear the uniforms or caps on the street, nor wear street clothes on the ward. . . . No jewelry, no high heels.” If the girls can pass a three month probationary period they will win their cap and become full-fledged student nurses. She ends by saying, “Let me remind you that you are going to need good health, intelligence, unselfishness, patience, tact, humor, sympathy, efficiency, neatness, plus plenty of energy for hard work. But let me remind you, too, that nursing is the most rewarding of all professions for women. And frequently the most romantic and exciting.”

Whoo-hoo! Nursing is not the only career choice for girls outside the home but it is also exciting and romantic—so let’s teach our young female readers to aspire to be nothing but nurses, maybe work as a nurse for a few years, and then find her proper spot in society as a wife and mother because surely, since nursing has romance to it, she’ll find a nice doctor to marry!

During the girls’ first class, the teacher, Miss McIntyre, asks a few girls why they want to be nurses. Josie says that she just always wanted to be a nurse. When she was young she played with dolls and it was always in a hospital setting and she always liked helping people. Gwen says she comes from a medical family so the choice of nurse was a no brainer. Another girl says, “I want to do something useful. I found out that if you don't, you're bored and discontented and even lonesome. And I can't think of anything more useful than nursing.” Ann says her father was maimed in the last war and wouldn't have been so if there were enough nurses on the battlefield. Her two older brothers and fiancĂ© have enlisted so she is determined to be an Army nurse. Lastly, everyone is touched by the shy Mai Lee’s story. She wants to be an Army nurse too as two years ago when she went back home to her tiny Chinese village she'd been there five days when Japanese planes bombed it. Her family was killed and the village is no more.

These stories show girl readers the proper and acceptable reasons for wanting to be a nurse. Also, since this book was written around the time of World War II, it is one of the most important series to focus on the War and how series books showed boys going to fight for their country and girls becoming nurses to take care of the men.

At one point, Vivian is happy that she got her government scholarship and can continue her nursing studies. She tells the girls that a number of new students coming in are also on scholarships provided by the US Cadet Nurse Corps. She says, “They sure must need nurses to give training and maintenance free!” and that they “always need more nurses in wartime. Not only on the battlefronts either. Look at the shortage right here in Spencer, with nurses leaving for war fronts.” She also says, “No, no, not only because of the war! We'll be needed just as much after the war. Nursing isn't just a temporary war job. There's an awful shortage of nurses. It's a war job with a future.”

Minorities are briefly touched on in passing comments. During her first time working in a ward, Cherry notices an assortment of patients: “It is a Jewish grandmother, an Italian woman with a smile like a sunburst, a tiny little Irish girl not much older than herself, a Slavic woman who spoke no English. What an assorted lot they were! And each patient's personality was so different, too; for each one, Cherry had to find a different approach. It was challenging, it was fun.”

When she moves into the outpatient ward we learn that “she was learning about medicine, but she was also learning about people. Cherry picked up enough pidgin Italian to soothe the worried little dark eyed mother, she persuaded a crotchety old man to walk without his habitual crutch, she calmed the terrified Jewish woman who was sure she was dying because the doctor had prescribed a dreaded medicine called Castor oil.”

The romance for Cherry comes in the form of intern doctor, James Clayton. She meets him on the first day of school when he helps her find the student office. She is shocked a month later to find him in charge of the first ward she’s been assigned to. We learn that “Dr. Clayton looked very tall and young and handsome, in spite of his matter-of-fact professional air as he glanced over the charts.” Ms. Baker, the nurse in charge of the ward, introduces Cherry and Josie to Jim with whom Cherry feels a current of recognition and friendliness run between them. Cherry at one point attends the fall term dance were Dr. Clayton spends half his time dancing with Ms. Baker and half this time dancing with Cherry. A lot of other young doctors and interns also pay her a lot of attention.

One night Cherry tells Jim about Dr. Joe's drug. She says that Dr. Joe discovered it because of the war and how the quinine supply was cut off because the area where it grew fell into enemy hands and so many researchers set about looking for a substitute. Dr. Joe found one but his substitute also had a byproduct and it was that byproduct that makes his new anesthetic work. Instead of paying attention to her, Jim blatantly flirts with her calling her pretty and saying that he might be in love. Cherry is pretty sure that he has to be referring to Ms. Baker. She goes to talk to Ms. Baker and learns that Jim has confided in her including the story about Sally Chase. Ms. Baker implies that he's in love with Cherry.

At one point Cherry thinks to herself, “Jim . . . She really ought to stop thinking about Jim Clayton. Mooning around when she ought to be studying. And Jim would not have any use for her if she were not a good nurse. Cherry still had plenty of doubts about herself. There is over two years to go—would she make it? Would her dream of nursing hold up under the strain of such things as Dr. Wylie and cranky patients and that tough surgical clinic?”

After Jim and Cherry save the life of the General, Cherry returns to her ward exhausted. As she is making the rounds she is shocked to see Jim and Ms. Baker in each other's arms. Cherry realizes that the two of them are deeply in love but she is okay with it as she knows she and Jim will be good friends.

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