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