Willa on Wheels (1976)

Sample Images

Willa 1

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Willa 2

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Willa 3

Publication: 12 June 1976 – 28 August 1976

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Willa Keen is a student nurse at Larkhill Cottage Hospital who is determined to become a fully-qualified nurse. But when a timber lorry crashes and she goes to the aid of a trapped passenger, the timber falls on top of her and damages her spine. Now she is confined to a wheelchair, and her dream to qualify as a nurse depends on whether she will walk again.

When Willa saves and revives a drowning girl during physiotherapy, it fires her with a whole new determination to walk again and become a nurse. The trouble is, the same determination leads to her making single-minded and stupid decisions to prove herself, and that wheelchair not only limits her access to the wards but leads to some accidents as well. The crunch comes when a patient with angina has an attack. Instead of calling the night nurse, Willa resolves to tackle it herself in order to prove she is still a nurse. And then she finds she can’t access the patient because of her wheelchair and her legs are useless. She falls and knocks herself out, and this puts the patient in even more danger and valuable time is lost. The patient is saved in the end, but Willa is in big trouble for not taking the proper course of action in calling the nurse. However, the board goes too far; they tell Willa she is just not capable of helping right now because of her condition and she must face the fact that she is not a nurse anymore. This shatters Willa and sends her into deep depression.

Then Mr Leggett, the truck driver from the accident and his son Teddy step in and offer to take Willa on a holiday away from it all. Willa goes, but is in a state of deep depression and shows it by flinging her nurse’s uniform out the window. She is just as bitter and bad-tempered at the Leggett household and tries everyone’s patience. When asked to cook dinner, she grumpily refuses. So Teddy tries to cook dinner himself, and the result is fire in the kitchen. Another accident because of Willa’s attitude, and she herself realises it. But when she has put out the fire, she finds herself standing on her own two feet! It looks like she has made the breakthrough, and it is the end of her bitter attitude. She now has fresh hope and is more cheerful.

Things are looking up. Willa is given a puppy, Benje, and asked to help out at the play-school. There she exhibits her nursing skills with first aid. But she is still wheelchair-bound and her legs give way under her. Then Willa gets a letter inviting her back to the hospital and there is a job waiting. Willa goes, eagerly anticipating a return to nursing.

But she gets a nasty shock when she finds it is a clerking job! She gets all depressed and the staff realise they have made a mistake. Willa gets off to a bad start in her new job because her heart is not in it, but she soon picks up when the manager tells her it is not all just bits and pieces of paper – patients’ problems are in there too. She also meets Jim Cooper, a man disabled like herself but is being trained as a masseur. Despite his blindness, Jim soon finds he can play football with his other senses. This inspires Willa to sit the nurses’ exam, although she is not supposed to. This comes to a head when Willa is asked to come up and help with the blackboard. It means Willa has to walk up there – but can she?

Her friend Gay manages to cover for her by taking her place. Willa comes top in the exam, but Matron says she still has to be able to walk if she is to be a nurse, and she is not likely too. This has Willa working far too hard in physiotherapy and collapsing. Eventually she manages to walk a bit, but then she overhears a surgeon badly needing a nurse for an emergency operation and none is available. Ever determined to prove herself a nurse, she steps in, determined to stay on her feet no matter what. She manages it and the patient pulls through, but then she collapses.

This time it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Staying on her feet throughout the operation has damaged her spine again – to the point where it is beyond repair and there is no hope of ever walking again. Willa is utterly depressed, and none of the people who helped her before seem to get through. Her depression results in yet another near-accident, this time to Jim, and she steps in to save him. It snaps her out of her depression. Then she meets a new patient, Pamela Sutton who is wheelchair-bound like herself and seeing a specialist. The specialist’s verdict is that Pamela is now capable of walking and just needs motivation. Willa starts using what she learned in her own physiotherapy to help Pamela, figuring it will be the next best thing to walking again herself. This sets Willa on a whole new career as a physiotherapist.

Thoughts

For some reason, nursing stories was one theme that Jinty was very short on. Throughout her entire run she ran only two nursing serials – this one and Angela’s Angels. When readers in the 1980 Pam’s Poll asked for a nursing story, Jinty’s response was to repeat Angela’s Angels rather than publish a new nursing story.

Stories where heroines are determined to make their own miracles with comebacks after an accident are well established in girls’ comics. But this story seems to be making a statement about what can happen when determination is not combined with common sense and crosses the line to pig-headedness and stupidity. Willa is so fixated on proving herself a nurse and gets so depressed when she can’t that she puts herself and others in danger several times. She realises her mistakes afterwards, but continues to make them because she is so hell-bent on proving herself a nurse. She doesn’t understand that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is very weak after the accident, and she should concentrate on recuperation before looking at nursing again. And in the end, it is that same reckless determination that destroys her chances of recover altogether, when she takes on the job in the operating theatre when her body was just not ready for it.

It is not all Willa’s fault; some of it the way the medical staff handle her psychologically; at the board hearing they go too far and crush Willa’s confidence completely, just as she is feeling very bad over the angina patient (but will continue to make the same mistake). There is no counselling or psychological treatment for her depression and the mental impact the accident has had on her.

The ending is a surprise; instead of the clichéd one where the heroine beats all odds and makes her comeback, Willa becomes permanently crippled but discovers a whole new vocation in the field of medicine. The skills she had learned in her own road to recovery are now being applied to others. But Willa is applying them in a more sensible manner than when she did with herself and, through the patients she helps, makes her own comeback. So Willa can be said to be a “comeback” story that is a very refreshing and even surprising take on the formula of “comeback” serials. It breaks all the clichés and gives us a heroine who is very human.

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One thought on “Willa on Wheels (1976)

  1. This is the sort of story I tend to find more annoying than engaging, as the heroine does all the wrong things stubbornly, but I do like your take on the ending of this. In principle nowadays so much of this would be handled better – with counselling, and with better possibilities of getting back to work despite being in a wheelchair. (Of course in practice things aren’t always so rosy.)

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