Saturday, May 9, 2009

Florence Nightingale - the "Lady with the Lamp"

Tuesday, the 12th. of May is the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who was called in her day, "The Lady with the Lamp." "The lamp" title comes from the fact that in the army hospital, she allowed no other nurse on the wards after 8 p.m. and at night patrolled the injured soldiers' beds with an oil lamp in hand. She is remembered today for her work in the establishment of the nursing profession as we know it, largely because of her strong and dedicated Christian commitment. The title "Lady of the Lamp" was the "symbol of selfless, caring, tireless service" (1) that she pursued.

This coming week in Peterborough is known as "Nursing Week." I remember with gratitude the many health professionals including nurses who have together on many occasions given me "the gift of good health." I also think of the sadness felt when talking with a colonoscopy nurse one day to discover that she had three jobs to make ends meet ie half time at one hospital, another half time at a second hospital and a third shift at a nursing home. Why can't we get enough nurses? This is called lack of job security. It is a modern curse.

Back to Florence Nightingale. Most people do not know that after only 8 months of basic training in 1853, she persuaded a team of 38 nurses and auxiliaries of whom 10 were Roman Catholic, 8 Church of England, 6 from the St John Institute and 14 recruited from hospitals to go with her in 1854 to the Crimean War in Turkey. In the oil painting at right, called "Mission of Mercy," she is shown tending an injured man near the gate of the military hospital in Scutari in 1856. (2)

In those days, hospitals were often dark and dirty and the nurses untrained. Nurses were regarded with little more respect than prostitutes and women were resented in the hospitals of the day. Florence was known for her "dislike of the lack of opportunities for women." Her mother begged her not to go to the Crimea, but she was determined. She had a call to serve and refused to marry, much to her parents anguish. Wounded soldiers in the Crimea were uncared for - but she had to do what she could to help them.

Florence had been born on the 12th May in 1820 to a wealthy English family while her parents were on a trip to Florence in Italy. She grew up in the family home, Embley House, in Hampshire, England (shown at right). In 1837, she "experienced a Christian divine calling." Later at Thebes, she wrote of "being called to God." A week later her diary reads, "God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without recognition." (3)

Florence served faithfully in the Crimea, but then was confined to her home and bedridden for the second half of her life with what we call today, "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome." Even as an invalid she influenced nursing standards. She changed British military medical care, dramatically lowered mortality rates, spearheaded the first Visiting Nurse Association in 1860 and set up model nursing schools. She was a Pioneer of the Red Cross Movement and an advisor to both the United States Government for the care of wounded civil war soldiers and to the Franco-Prussian war. Though confined to her bed, she continued to work for the betterment of society and the nursing profession in particular. She died suddenly on the 13th August 1910 at the age of Ninety. She had refused an offer of a ceremonial burial in St Paul's Cathedral, London and was laid to rest in her home parish in East Wellow. (shown at right)

Her dedication reminds me of the words of Etienne de Grellet,

"I shall pass through this life but once.  Any good therefore, that I can do Or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, Let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, For I shall not pass this way again.
The writer to the Hebrews adds,
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers." (4) The nursing profession and every nurse deserves and is entitled to every respect and support for the wonderful work that they do. Thank you to each one and especially to Florence Nightingale.

That's what I think anyway,

Rev Ron
(1) Maryka Ford R.E.S.C.I.N.D. Inc. (2) "Florence Nightingale receiving the wounded at Scutary 1856" by Jerry Barrett 1824-1906 copyright London Fine Art Society. (3) Quoted by Edward Chaney in "Egypt in England and America - The Cultural Memories of Religion, Royalty and Revolution." (4) Hebrews 13:2

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dr Oz's Cadavers

I recently watched an Oprah Winfrey program in which Dr Oz was explaining, in such an excellent way, how the human body worked. It was a truly enlightening experience. As the program continued, he wheeled out two corpses both standing upright and preserved (he said rubberized) one of a male and the other of a female. These were human bodies which had been donated to science after the individuals had died. There was a wave of an astonished,  horrified gasp from the audience. It was a shock to Oprah and to many who watched and to myself and my wife as we looked on. The male torso had been split from the top of the scull to the bottom of the feet so that the internal bones and organs were revealed. The female torso seemed to be smiling, but her innards were opened outward for all to see.

This eerie experienced prompted me to think, "what if someone recognized the face of either one of these medical volunteers?" "What if a person was known to be some one's brother or mother?"

It reminded me of a true story I had read in a little book called "The Cemetery History Book" by Todd W. Van Beck, "tracing the history of burial and cremation practices from 62,000 B.C. to the present." It concerns John Scott Harrison, who was a President of the United States and who died in 1878 and was buried in the Congress Green Cemetery in North Bend, Ohio. "Soon after his death, a grave robber known as 'Dr Morton' stole the body and sold it to the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati. School officials, who regularly bought cadavers on the black market for use in training medical students, did not realize that they had a 'famous' Harrison body until one of John Scott Harrison's sons turned up at the school on other business and to his horror accidentally discovered his father's corpse dangling by the neck at the end of a rope hidden in a closet." (page 37). Soon after this incident, the state of Ohio made grave robbing a serious crime. (see the website for another intriguing account of this incident.)

My question here is how we should treat a human body after death? Leviticus states that "the life of a creature is in the blood." (Leviticus 17.11) So presumably, once the blood has gone then the life has gone. This is the verse, by the way, that Jehovah Witnesses use to refute blood transfusions and the reason why Jews carefully drain the blood from any meat they are to consume.

Paul, in regard to our bodies, reminds Christians when warning against sexual immorality, "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." ( 1 Corinthians 6.19, 20),

Out of human decency, we should care for and honor our bodies both before and I believe to a lesser extent after we have died. The burial place for our body or its ashes should therefore be reverently marked with our name and the date of our birth and death. We are not just a creature but a human being made in the image of God.

I would also therefore urge the medical community to mark each corpse used in medical research with the identity of its former owner. Dr Oz could have introduced us to the man and woman he was to use to teach us about the human process. Giving one's earthly remains for the benefit of medical science would therefore be accompanied by respect, dignity and honor. I think its good that Dr Oz used these cadavers to explain human anatomy, but I would have been happier to have known who had so graciously donated them to medical science.

That's what I think anyway,

Rev Ron

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Spirituality of Charles Darwin

The Beagle
Charles Darwin was born over two hundred years ago (12th February 1809) in Downe House, Kent, England. He is famous for his development of the idea of evolution, though many claim that it was his followers after his death who developed this theory from his work. He was an English naturalist who wrote two books, "The Voyage of the Beagle" and "On the Origin of Species"  After much thought about the fossils he collected on his voyage and discussions with several other naturalists he conceived his theory of natural selection together with a logical explanation of the diversity of life.

Many people neglect to realize that Charles Darwin was a deeply spiritual man who came from a wealthy Christian family. He was the son of a wealthy doctor and financier, Robert Darwin and grandson on his mothers side of Josiah Wedgwood, of Wedgwood pottery fame. He married his cousin Emma Wedgwood. His father who was a devout Anglican encouraged him to be a free thinker and enrolled him in the the Shrewsbury School as a boarder. In 1825, he spent time as an apprentice doctor with his father caring for the poor in Shropshire. He was sent to begin studies towards becoming a Priest in the Church of England at Christ College Cambridge, but was far more interested in plants and animals. He was impressed by Paley's book "Natural Theology" which"made an argument for divine design in nature" and "explained adaption as God acting through the laws of nature."

The Victorian era was one of great interest in all things natural. People were greatly interested in knowledge of the world stemming from a deeply Christian morality and belief. This was the backcloth to his epic journey on the Beagle and his subsequent writings. He never set out to create a theory of evolution which would be at odds with the Creation Theory, but simply to explain the natural world and its creation in his own words. 

On the voyage of the Beagle, he did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible but sought explanations in the laws of nature and saw adaption of species as evidence of design. He remained quite orthodox and would quote the Bible as an authority on morality. Like the rest of us, he questioned the cruelty of nature when seen in the light of an all loving God. One such example was  the ichneumon wasp which paralyzed caterpillars as live food for its eggs. Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver.

Charles played a leading part in the parish work of his local church. In 1879, he said that he had never denied the existence of God. The importance of Charles Darwin lies not in the divide between Evolution and Creationism but more in the Christian atmosphere that enable him to think freely and challenge the assumptions of his day. He was brought forth by God to help us think more deeply about the environment in which we live and breath and have our being, and for that he should be remembered.

That's what I think anyway,

Rev Ron