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Authors: Jane Rossiter

Tags: #romance, #nurse, #medical

Backstage Nurse

BOOK: Backstage Nurse
by Jane Rossiter








Avalon Books 1963
Scanned and Proofed by RyokoWerx







As Shirley Grant made her way up the steep, hilly street to Eastern Memorial Hospital, her attractive young face registered concern, caused by the confusion of thoughts that raced through her mind. She wondered why the supervisor had phoned her to come by for this early afternoon appointment. Miss Reed had been both insistent and mysterious, and finally Shirley had agreed to meet her at two-thirty.

She glanced at her wristwatch. It was two-twenty now; she had lots of time. As she neared the front entrance of Eastern Memorial, she felt a familiar warmness. She had made many friendships here—friendships that would last a lifetime. Here, in this fine old hospital, she had begun her career as a private-duty nurse.

Eastern Memorial was affiliated with one of the country's leading diagnostic clinics. They took no simple accident or minor illness cases. In fact, they didn't even have a maternity ward. Most of the floors were reserved for male and female surgical cases, and no case that came to Eastern Memorial was ever a simple one, most of them having been referred from other doctors and hospitals as too desperate for the ordinary practitioner to cope with. It was a haven of last hope. And so the many cures that occurred within its walls were accomplishments of which the staff were justly proud.

Only two days before, Shirley had finished looking after a patient with major brain surgery. Now she was relaxing between cases. She wondered why Miss Reed had phoned at this time.

The architect of Eastern Memorial had designed the main entrance and offices so that they were housed in a smallish red brick building that fronted the larger hospital buildings themselves and which were reached by long corridors. In doing this, he managed to give the reception area and the executive and business offices a remoteness from the hospital, imparting in them the feeling of a modern guest house.

The main doorway, which Shirley now entered, was of the white colonial type, and the reception room and waiting rooms off it were furnished with period-style furniture, the walls decorated with gay New England wallpaper. She made a right turn and went down the corridor to the second office on the left.

Supervisor Reed was at her desk when Shirley appeared in the doorway. She raised her white-capped head and, with a smile of greeting, indicated a chair. "Sit down, dear. I'll be right with you," she said. "I have to call the clinic first."

Shirley took the chair opposite Miss Reed and waited as the supervisor made her call. She had always been awed at Catherine Reed's grasp of her job. When she was on duty, there were rarely any staff snarl-ups at Eastern Memorial; although she was well along in years, the stoutish, pleasant woman had a real executive touch.

Finishing with the phone, she smiled at Shirley again. "Now I'll just leave a call for Dr. Trask," she said, "and then we'll get down to our little chat." She flipped the switch on her intercom and said, "Third floor. You can let Dr. Trask know Miss Grant is here in my office now."

Shirley felt a little shiver of excitement at the mention of Dr. Trask. She had never worked with the leading surgeon of the hospital staff, but she had met him frequently. And once he had lectured her class. She had great respect for Dr. Trask, and it seemed odd that he would want to see her Had she made some error in her work? Some mistake in caring for her last patient?

Apparently sensing her concern, Miss Reed smiled and said, "There's nothing to be upset about, my dear. It's just that I've recommended you to Dr. Trask."

Shirley's features relaxed. "Well, thanks—but I don't understand what this is all about."

"Of course not," Miss Reed said. "But you will. I must say, dear, that green dress you're wearing is very attractive. Suits your coloring, too."

Shirley blushed. Being a redhead, she had always been partial to green. "I'm glad you like it," she said. "I spent a long time picking it out."

"A bit warmish for a mild September afternoon like this," the supervisor smiled indulgently, "but you should get plenty of wear out of it. That's what working in the theater did for you; helped develop a flair for selecting clothes."

"I suppose it did help." Shirley shrugged. "I've never thought much about it."

"In fact," Miss Reed went on, clasping her hands on the desk in front of her, "that is why I called you in today. A nurse is needed for a case where a theatrical background should be a wonderful help."

Shirley was interested. "Who is the patient?"

"Oliver Craft. I imagine you've heard of him?"

"Oh, yes!" Shirley nodded. "I've often seen him in the movies. And I saw him twice here at the Colonial Theater when I was in training. I heard he was a patient in the Bernhard Pavilion section of the hospital. Pretty serious case, I understand."

"That's right." Miss Reed studied her. "I know I can depend on you to be discreet, whether you decide to take on the case or not."

"You can depend on that, Miss Reed."

"Fine. About Oliver Craft. As you know, he is an excellent actor, but I'm afraid he is also a very ill old man. Much worse than he seems to realize, or will face up to."

"He had some sort of surgery, didn't he?" Shirley asked.

"Malignancy of the pancreas," Miss Reed said solemnly.

"Was it successful?"

"Too advanced for any hope of a cure. Dr. Trask cleaned it up as well as he could. The old man's made a remarkable recovery. But there is bound to be a recurrence, and quite soon."

"Then it is only a question of time for Oliver Craft?"

"I'm afraid so." Miss Reed paused. "The problem is that he insists on going ahead with a tour of a play in which he starred in New York last season. You may have heard of it:
The Cardinal

"Oh, yes. He plays the part of a Catholic Cardinal in a small country in Europe that has gone Communistic. The reviews were wonderful." Shirley forgot, in her enthusiasm, that Oliver Craft was a dying man. Then, remembering, she stared at the supervisor in surprise. "But surely he isn't well enough to stand a strenuous road tour?"

"No. But he insists on doing just that." Miss Reed sighed. "So we have a problem. He still has a drain in his side that must be looked after and irrigated at regular intervals. His general condition must be continually checked so that we can give proper doses of medication. There will be times when he will require sedation as his condition begins to worsen."

"You mean you want a nurse, me, to go on tour with Oliver Craft and look after him?"

"That's exactly it. And since you were an actress for a few years, it seemed to me you'd be ideal for the job. That's why I want Dr. Trask to meet you."

"I don't know that I'd want to do it," Shirley said quickly. "I like it here in the hospital. There are so many complications and problems to working outside."

"But isn't that the true challenge of nursing?"

Miss Reed put the question to her. "Here is an opportunity where your peculiar talents are perfect for the case."

"I'm not as sure of that as you seem to be, Miss Reed." The rasping voice made Shirley turn with a start to the doorway, where Dr. Trask was standing staring at her with a grim expression on his face.

Imperious and tall, the gray-haired Dr. Trask was not used to having anyone else make his decisions for him. And Shirley could see that he wasn't taking Miss Reed's estimate of her ability; he would make up his own mind about her.

Miss Reed looked up at the doctor with a smile. "I still say she's your girl, Dr. Trask."

He appraised Shirley with sharp eyes. "Too young! Doesn't look a day over nineteen! Too pretty! More a fashion model than a model nurse! And she's a redhead with a snub nose! Redheads with snub noses are invariably stubborn!"

Indignation made Shirley find her voice. "I'm twenty-seven, and I'm considered rather homely by some people, even though my nose has only a slight upturn and isn't snubbed at all! And I'm always agreeable."

"Like now?" Dr. Trask smiled. "All right. I guess you're a good enough nurse. I've checked with some of the others. Hear you were pretty good in the O.R. Why didn't you stay with surgery?"

Shirley tried to find an answer that would explain her position without sounding sarcastic. She said, "Because working as part of the operating crew seemed too impersonal to me. The patients were just that, not really people to us. I mean, with a doctor, it's different. You get to know each one. I took up nursing because I'm interested in helping people."

Dr. Trask raised his eyebrows and looked at Miss Reed. "Delightful to find such ethics in the younger generation."

"I told you," Miss Reed said.

"I hope you're not making fun of me, Dr. Trask?" Shirley felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment as she asked the question, but she was sure she had noted a touch of bantering in the doctor's voice.

He immediately became serious. "Not at all, Miss Grant. In fact, I think Miss Reed was right this time. You are the very girl we need. I assume you've been given the background of the case. What do you say?"

"I'm not sure I'd like it," Shirley said. "It's quite a different thing to assume responsibility away from the hospital, where you're without equipment or anyone to turn to for help and advice. I don't know whether I'd dare try looking after Mr. Craft under those difficulties."

"It's part of your profession. The equivalent to country doctoring." Dr. Trask smiled again. "I tried that—once. Never sorry I did. Gives you an assurance you can get nowhere else."

"And Shirley is conscientious and careful, Doctor. That's so important. And in case of an emergency, she could always reach you, couldn't she?" Miss Reed waited expectantly.

The doctor nodded. "I'll always be as handy with advice as the long-distance telephone. And I plan to visit Craft at intervals along his tour. I'll fly in whenever it's necessary."

Shirley frowned. "The thing I can't understand is why he should try to go back to the theater at all. I mean, at his age and in his condition. It seems mad."

"For the answer to that one, I suggest you chat with Oliver Craft himself." The doctor pointed down the corridor. "Take the elevator up to the Pavilion and talk with him."

"That's what you should do, Shirley," Miss Reed agreed.

Shirley stood up. "Very well," she said. "I'll see him. But please understand I'm making no promises to take on this case."

Dr. Trask stood beside the doorway. "You see Oliver and then make up your mind."

As Shirley took the elevator up to the swank Pavilion section of the hospital, she tried to recall the last time she had seen Oliver Craft. It must have been three years ago, during her last year of training. He had seemed very old then. Oliver Craft was part of the tradition of the American theater. Really the last of the old-line personalities. He had done only a few talking pictures, but each of them had been outstanding filmings of his stage hits. He had a grandeur of manner and a rich, resonant voice matched by few of the stars of today. Yes, Oliver Craft was an interesting person.

But she had left the stage six years before, when she was twenty-one, certain that she never wanted to be backstage in a theater again. She had been too disillusioned with it all.

At eighteen, she had graduated from junior college. Her doctor father was still alive and he had given her the opportunity of going to drama school, as she wished to do.

After a year of study, she did a summer of stock theater on Long Island. The following winter found her in an off-Broadway show for a two-month run, and later a small part in a Broadway play that lasted only ten days. She had filled in the spare time with study and done a little television work.

Another season in summer stock and she tried Broadway in the fall. But this time, there was no work. Her father died that winter in a plane crash on his way back from a medical convention. They had been unusually close, since she had never known her mother, who had died at her birth. The shock of her father's death, and the sense of wasting her time trying to break into the theater, made her change her mind about a profession. And so, although she still loved the theater, she had decided to become a nurse. In this vocation, she could make full use of her time, follow in the footsteps of her father in being of service, and find a fulfillment she knew now the theater could never give her.

So she wasn't at all sure that she wanted to be around show business again. There was still a bitterness in her at having been rejected, even though she had made the final decision to leave the theater herself.

As she got out of the elevator, she saw that the head nurse on the Pavilion floor was someone she knew, a middle-aged veteran who had been at Eastern Memorial for more than twenty years.

She eyed Shirley with interest. "Hello, Grant. What are you doing up here?"

"Dr. Trask sent me. I'm to see Oliver Craft. What's his room?"

"Eight-oh-six." The head nurse studied her. "Thinking about taking on his case?"

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