Cherry Ames 02 Senior Nurse (16 page)

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voice, “Jack’s been shipped out. All I know is that he’s somewhere in the Pacific. And it’s going to be a long war.”

“Annie,” Mai Lee said, trying to sound casual, “we’ll enlist in the Nurse Corps together.”

“It’s a date,” Ann tried to smile. She stood up suddenly. “I have to run.” She disappeared, looking very sober.

Cherry said thoughtfully, “I had letters, too, this morning. One from my brother Charlie and one from my mother. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go into the library and read them.”

Charlie’s letter was terse, determined, right to the point—like himself. It was written from an Army Air Force training field in Texas. He had enlisted this winter and now he had successfully completed his training as an aerial gunner. “At first they wanted me to be a chauffeur—pilot to you—but I think this job is more important, defending the plane and crew so the bombardier can get there and drop his eggs. Then they argued I was too tall for the gunner’s nest. But I knew what I wanted to do. Now I’m all set to go upstairs. Our crew is a fine bunch of men, we stick together like brothers. Our plane is quite a baby, a four-motor B-17

with a wing spread almost a block long. This will be the last letter I’ll write you from this base. Can’t give you any address, yet. We’re going out soon. Don’t know
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where, but anywhere we can eliminate a few Nazis is all right with me. Glad you’re enjoying the perfume.

Don’t worry about me.”

Don’t worry, he said! Cherry thought wryly she had better do something more constructive than worry.

For the first time, it seriously occurred to her that she could become an Army nurse. But what about her decision to nurse here at home? She frowned. This was going to be a hard choice to make. The restlessness surged up in her, stronger than it had ever been.

Confused, she turned her mind instead to her mother’s letter. The firm but delicate handwriting was comfortingly familiar:

“Hilton is so changed. . . . That little old airfield at Wabash City is being enlarged, and is teeming with Army men. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Charlie could be stationed there? But I guess that won’t happen. . . .

Dad is very busy these days. He spends more time selling war bonds than real estate. Dad and Midge help me with our Victory garden. . . . Midge and I are going to put up cherries and corn as soon as the first crop is in, and this summer we will can vegetables. It will save our ration points. Midge is a great comfort to have around in this empty house, but I must admit she is a handful too. . . . The clinic here has asked me to be a nurse’s aide and I am going to see if I can’t make the
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time for it. Midge wants so badly to be a nurse’s aide. . . .

We had another air-raid drill two nights ago. We sat in the dark most of the evening and the puppy barked the whole time. . . . Well, dear, this is all for now. Keep yourself well, and try to have some recreation. . . .” That showed Cherry nurses were needed at home, too. Home front? War front? Which sort of nurse was she to be? She started off for her ward, thinking hard.

c h a p t e r x i i

Madame Zaza

after those letters, cherry found contagious Ward boring. When she thought of what Miss Mac was doing, all these isolation techniques and anti-contamination techniques seemed tiresome. Of course it was important to keep diseases from spreading, for an epidemic could take as many lives as a battle. It was important to learn how to protect herself and other patients. But Cherry was heartily sick of all this painstaking routine; sick of scrubbing herself endlessly after touching contaminated linen or dishes; of burning germ-laden matter and then scrubbing again; of remembering to turn her face away from the patient, remembering at every move to take precautions lest she carry diphtheria or pneumonia or typhoid germs out of the sickroom with her, and infect others.

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April dragged along. Cherry was working away quietly one afternoon in Dr. Joe’s laboratory. She missed Lex dreadfully. Since their last bitter conversation, Lex made it a point to be out of the laboratory when Cherry was likely to be there. It made Cherry feel very badly, but she determined to let Lex sulk it out.

“What was wrong with everybody, anyway?” Cherry wondered. Even Dr. Joe didn’t look his usual absent-minded self. Dr. Joe was worried about something.

When Dr. Joe looked up from his microscope, Cherry listened to him anxiously. “Cherry,” he said, “Dr. Wylie’s leave came to an end today and he has left for the front.” Then with a worried frown, he continued, “Before he went he had a talk with me . . . alone. He was very much annoyed. The whole hospital is talking about the drug—

news has somehow leaked out. Dr. Wylie can be a very stern disciplinarian, as you know.” Cherry nodded. She remembered only too well what he had threatened at Mom’s operation. Dr. Joe continued, “He has insisted that I take more precautions about safeguarding the drug or else . . .”

“Are you doing that?” asked Cherry.

Dr. Joe looked at her helplessly. “Somehow, child, I don’t seem to be able to think of practical things!”

“But you must, Dr. Joe!” Cherry warned. “You do want to send this new penicillin synthesis to the battle areas, don’t you? You said it’s even more urgent than the
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quinine. Please be careful with it, Dr. Joe,” Cherry pleaded. “You must! Especially now that the whole hospital is gossiping about it!”

“I’ll be careful,” he promised. “But I can’t understand how word leaked out . . . ” Cherry started to tell him about the cleaning woman, but Dr. Joe had turned back to his table, and was bending over the microscope, already absorbedly interested in what he was studying.

Cherry, knowing that he had completely forgotten her presence, shook her head hopelessly and walked dejectedly out of the room.

Cherry had more than just the worry for the safety of Dr. Joe’s new drug on her mind these days. She was constantly being reminded of the crying need for medical care in the battle zones, and her restlessness grew. Everywhere she looked the urgency of war nursing confronted her. New probationers were coming in now and more than half of them were going to complete their training in twenty-six to thirty months, instead of the usual three years, and their total expenses were to be paid by the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.

On the other hand, more and more nurses and doctors were streaming out of Spencer Hospital for the battle fronts. There had been a farewell party for a dozen of them only last week. The shortage of nurses was already acute and Cherry knew that as the war progressed, this condition would grow worse. She fully realized the
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dire need for nurses on the war front, and at the same time, she could not erase from her mind the picture of all those helpless patients, right here, who needed nursing care. Torn between the two, Cherry worriedly debated where she would be of more service after graduation—on the home front? or on the war front?

Cherry ached to talk her problems over with Lex, but he was still avoiding her and she was too proud and too stubborn to seek him out.

So Cherry did not consult Lex, and decided the best thing she could do was to get along with her studies.

The senior class was now having lectures on neurology and psychiatry which would continue throughout May.

Cherry learned that just as people’s bodies became ill, so did their minds. In studying case histories, Cherry summoned up enough imagination to understand what was going on in those injured minds, those twisted emotions. And, not surprisingly, all this gave her a clue to Mildred’s mixed-up attitude.

She seemed to understand a little better, now, that Mildred was afraid, and probably starved for affection.

But her lack of self-confidence blocked her ability to give and receive affection. What the cause of this

“emotional blockage” was, Cherry did not know and could not guess. This fear, which Mildred made up for by pretending boldness and indifference, might have stemmed from her unattractive appearance, or from the
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fact that she was only a mediocre student. But Cherry did not honestly understand, and at any rate she had made her decision. She was going to see Miss Reamer.

It was a lovely afternoon at the very end of May, when Cherry at last found time to go to Miss Reamer’s office.

Tender new leaves blew on the trees, filmy clouds drifted across a light blue sky. It was too beautiful a day for such an unpleasant task. Nevertheless, Cherry marched firmly into the Superintendent’s office.

Miss Reamer was in her inner private office, seated behind a desk. She looked capable and dignified in her white nurse’s uniform. She welcomed Cherry and asked what she had come to discuss.

Cherry recounted to her, just as they had happened, her difficulties with her adoptee. She made it clear that Mildred was a conscientious student, a responsible member of the School, and got along smoothly, if not very cordially, with other students and staff members.

Miss Reamer listened in silence. When Cherry had finished, she said coldly:

“So you’ve failed!”

Cherry was startled. She hardly knew what to say.

“But I tried—I tried my very best.”

“No, you did not, Miss Ames. You and I have discussed this several times before, and I warned you it was your own fault. I know Miss Burnham. She is rather difficult. But so are a great many people. It’s possible—

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as well as necessary, especially for a nurse—to find the right ways to deal with them. But it takes a great deal of understanding and patience, and that must be where you failed.”

That was what Mom had said. Cherry tried to esti-mate honestly the effort she had made with Mildred.

It seemed to her she had made her maximum effort.

“It’s true I don’t understand Mildred,” she admitted to Miss Reamer. “I’ve come to certain conclusions about her”—she told the Superintendent what she thought—“but I don’t know how accurately that describes her.”

Miss Reamer nodded. “I think that’s very accurate.

Mildred wants to be friends with you—she showed you that when she made a birthday gift for you—but she doesn’t really know how to be friends. Yes, I think you do understand Mildred. But I think—as I’ve said before—that you’ve been intolerant and impatient with her. I suspect, Miss Ames, that when you believed you were thinking about Mildred, you were really thinking of reasons to justify your own attitude.” Cherry felt a sharp pang of shame. Miss Reamer was right. Cherry had wrestled with her own intolerance, and instead of facing it, here she was trying to escape and excuse herself.

The older woman smiled at her. “I have had several talks with Mildred, on routine matters, and she has
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never failed to express her gratitude and admiration for you.” Cherry was astonished. “Yes, really,” Miss Reamer said. “You see, Mildred thought you didn’t like her—and you didn’t. You hurt her. That’s what caused all your trouble.” She smiled comfortingly. “Don’t feel so badly.

You’ve really had quite a problem to handle there. Do you still want to give up?”

Cherry flushed. “I’d like to try again. But how shall I start?”

Miss Reamer pushed her chair back from the desk, and considered. She said slowly, “First, you must really like her. Your mind has been working on this problem, but your heart hasn’t. Then you must realize that Mildred likes you—you’ve been cagey and defensive yourself, you know.” Cherry remembered how she had curbed her enthusiasm when she wrote the note congratulating Mildred on winning her cap. “I wager, Miss Ames, that if you give Mildred the chance, she will
prove
her devotion to you! And then—” Miss Reamer frowned, thinking “—you must be friendly enough for two. Why don’t you ask Mildred to have dinner downtown with you and spend the evening doing something you’d both enjoy—see a show or you can shop on certain evenings or attend a radio broadcast or take a boat ride up the river. A change from the hospital atmosphere might help. And do it several times. You can’t help liking people with whom you have pleasant times.”
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Cherry listened to these suggestions eagerly. Then her face fell. “Mildred will refuse. She always refuses my invitations.”

Miss Reamer threw back her gray head and laughed.

“Then insist. Put her hat and coat on her, and take her by the hand. I assure you, she’s longing to be asked!” Cherry got to her feet, feeling much better. “Thank you, Miss Reamer,” she said, and Cherry was genuinely grateful for her understanding help. She went off immediately to see Mildred. She realized both she and Mildred were on trial—a trial of good will.

She knocked on Mildred’s door. Her adoptee’s room was on the ground floor of the residence hall for first-year and junior students, which faced Lincoln Hall.

Mildred let her in, looking puzzled.

“Change your dress and put on your hat and meet me in the rotunda in ten minutes!” Cherry announced. Her black eyes were dancing. This was going to be fun, at that.

“What? Why?” Mildred looked at her suspiciously.

“Because it’s such beautiful weather, we’re going on a spree! We’re going out for dinner and then I’ve some grand ideas for the evening. Hurry up!” Mildred mumbled something about having to study, but Cherry’s high spirits were catching. “If you don’t show up, I’ll come and get you!” Cherry told her.

Mildred looked bewildered but pleased.

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Ten minutes later Cherry arrived at the rotunda, in a red wool suit, her cheeks red with excitement, a tiny red cap on her black curls. There was Mildred, waiting for her, dressed in her very best, looking expectant. Miss Reamer was right!

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