We have all become even more aware of the dedication, importance and downright bravery of health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent article in Newsweek, the novel coronavirus has killed hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health care workers around the world, including more than 100 in hard hit Italy.
CEO of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), Howard Catton, said, “We have been concerned for some weeks now about how many nurses and other health care staff have become infected with the coronavirus. Nurses around the globe are working under extreme pressure for long hours without breaks and without days off, and it is taking its toll.” It is therefore very fitting that we are approaching International Nurses Day on May 12. This day was established in 1974 to highlight the important role nurses play in health care and this year, more than ever, we should be thankful for the nurses and healthcare workers among us. International Nurses Day coincides with the birth date of the British pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale, who was born 200 years ago next month, on May 12, 1820, and died at the ripe old age of 90 in London, England.
Florence Nightingale was put in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War, which raged from 1853-1856.
The allies (Britain, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire) ultimately defeated the land and power-hungry Russian Empire, but conditions were terrible and statistics show that more than twice as many soldiers died of disease than died in action or from their wounds.
Enter Florence Nightingale, a dedicated and experienced nurse in her 30s who spent many hours in the wards, especially undertaking the difficult night rounds giving personal care to the wounded.
In these pre-electricity and battery days, she carried an oil lamp to see by, so she began to be known as the “Lady with the Lamp” by the suffering soldiers.
Nightingale said the conditions she found were like the “Kingdom of Hell.” She established unprecedented standards of care in cleanliness, nutrition, and in meeting her patients’ psychological needs through educational and recreational activities. She also helped them write letters home. Nightingale became famous as a pioneer and founder of modern nursing. She truly was a woman who was way ahead of her time. Unusual for females at this time in history, she was highly educated, excelled in mathematics, spoke many languages, and insisted on attending formal nursing instruction in Germany. She combined her strengths and knowledge with her excellent people skills, which were demonstrated by how she dealt with patients and how she influenced the nurses reporting to her and the decision makers of the day.
Born in Florence, Italy (hence her name), to affluent British parents, she chose not to marry and have a family as well brought up young women were expected to do in the 19th century. Even more shocking was her desire to become a nurse and dedicate her life to caring for others. At this time nursing was seen as a lowly profession – a type of domestic service – and many nurses saw their work as an opportunity to steal from their sick patients.
Nightingale changed all this and was committed to turning nursing into a respected profession that positively impacted patient care. She had a deep and abiding faith in God and a commitment to learning.
In spite of contracting “Crimean fever,” which she probably contracted from drinking contaminated milk while nursing the soldiers, she remained dedicated to her profession. This chronic illness continued to plague her, and she suffered severe pain for most of the rest of her life. But this did not stop her.
During the war, she kept detailed records about the running of the soldiers’ hospital, causes of illness and deaths, nursing and medical procedures and supply issues. Nightingale’s expertise in statistics led her to analyze this data that was used as a basis for reforms in military medical and purveyance systems.
On returning to London, she was determined to formalize scientifically based nursing education in England, establishing the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860.
She also was instrumental in setting up training for midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries. She was the first woman awarded the British Order of Merit, presented by the King to recognize her achievements as a nurse, statistician and social reformer.
Nightingale’s statistical models used to assess mortality rates and her basic concepts regarding nursing remain applicable today. For these reasons she really was a pioneer and founding philosopher of modern nursing. There is much more information at www.Britannica.com.
I say goodbye this week with a quote from the great lady herself, which resonates with us very strongly today: “Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift – there is nothing small about it.”
God bless America.
Stay safe, stay well and stay positive.