The narrator, an author, is accosted by his friend, Sam Nolan, who has just had his appendix taken out and thinks his experience would provide useful information for one who writes stories: Sam says he has discovered how and why male patients fall in love with their nurses. Sam's experience of being hospitalized is at first like being caught in a machine, he says. This changes after the surgery, when the nurse becomes his caregiver and rescuer.

He feels a great tenderness for what he calls the "beauty of her efficiency." He denies being in love, blaming the morphine and fever for his attachment, but he tells how he did not want to see his wife when she visited, and when he describes giving the nurse a parting gift, a pair of gloves, the narrator sees tears in his eyes. According to the narrator, Sam's story is in fact about his "terrible wife," and she is the reason "it [falling in love] has happened."


This intriguing story is carefully limited to the points of view of the two male characters. We have no unmediated access either to Sam's wife or the angelic nurse. Sam, as a patient suddenly vulnerable and needy, infantilized even, finds in the nurse a female ideal, especially contrasted with his wife, who begins to make demands on him as soon as she arrives to visit.

In Sam's response, the story captures the complicated identity of the nurse at a time when nursing was very clearly women's work: she is an ambiguous combination of professional and natural female roles, bringing out a confused romantic response in the patient. This story would be useful for the discussion of emotional connections--of transference, even--between patients and caregivers, and of the gendering of care.


The anthology is part of a Garland series, The History of American Nursing. Story reprinted from The Best Short Stories of 1927.

Primary Source

American Nurses in Fiction: An Anthology of Short Stories



Place Published

New York




Barbara Melosh

Page Count