In observance of National Nurses Day celebrations across the United States I decided to write about nurses to honor my mother and my grandmother as well as to pay tribute to their work as nurses. Not to mention so many other nurses that I have met throughout my life in the course of my work as a hospital biotech specialist, as well as friends. Did you know that National Nurses Week is the birthday of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)? Florence Nightingale was born in Florence Italy, on May 12, 1820. Apparently, the city in which she was born is what inspired her name. Florence was evidently socially awkward and did not like to be the center of attention. From a young age, Florence took up ministering to the ill and poor people in her village. “She eventually concluded that nursing was her calling; she believed that vocation to be her divine purpose,” (biography). My mom used to tell me, “Those that make great nurses are choosing a career to walk alongside patients to help them during their difficult times is a calling.”
When Nightingale approached her parents about pursuing a nursing career, they were not pleased. During the Victorian Era that Florence grew up, she was expected to marry a man of means and not take up a nursing job as the upper social classes would see her as performing menial labor. Nursing was not looked upon as an honorable vocation back in those days. A young man courted Florence by the name of Richard Monckton Milnes, who had pursued her for years. She turned his proposal down, saying that although he stimulated her intellectually and romantically, she was determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents’ objections. She eventually enrolled in nursing school in 1850 at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany.
Nightingale went on to work as a nurse in London at Harley Street hospital for an ailing governess. They were so impressed with her performance that she was promoted to superintendent. She also volunteered at a Middlesex hospital at the same time when there was a cholera outbreak and extremely unsanitary conditions that assisted to the wide-spread of the disease. This did not stop Florence as she made it her mission to improve the hygiene practices to help lower the death rate at the hospital.
In 1853 the Crimean War broke out. “This was when the allied British and French forces were at war against the Russian Empire for control of Ottoman territory,” (biography). There were thousands of soldiers that were sent to the Black Sea, and supplies were diminishing. By the time it was 1854, approximately 18,000 soldiers had been admitted into military hospitals. They lacked nurses, and there were very few female nurses, and the hospitals were horribly understaffed.
Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to gather a group of nurses to take care of the sick and fallen soldiers in the Crimea War. He gave her full control of the operation, and she swiftly pulled together a team of almost three dozen nurses, and they sailed to Crimea several days later. They were told of the horrible conditions that they would encounter, but nothing could have prepared Nightingale and her nurses for what they saw when they arrived. Apparently, patients were lying in their feces on isles of stretcher throughout the hallways. The hospital sat on top of a giant cesspool, which contaminated the water along with the building. Rodents and bugs were running amuck throughout the hospital. Essential supplies such as bandages and soap were scarce, and the number of wounded soldiers steadily increased. Their drinking water had to be rationed. It seemed that more and more soldiers were dying from an infectious disease like typhoid and cholera than from their battle wounds.
Throughout all this no-nonsense, this did not scare Nightingale. She quickly jumped in and began working. She first started cleaning the hospital and scrubbed the hospital from the floor to the ceiling. Then she spent every waking moment taking care of the sick and the wounded. In the evenings she would move through the dark hallways carrying a lit lamp when she made her rounds. She would also minister when she would tend to each patient. “The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her “the Lady with the Lamp.” Others called her “the Angel of the Crimea.” Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds,” (biography).
Nightingale stayed and helped with the Crimean conflict until the war was resolved. She then left the summer of 1856 and returned to her childhood home in Lea Hurst in the United Kingdom. When Florence returned home, she was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Florence was not at all expecting this, and she tried to do her best to avoid all the fuss. Much to her surprise the previous year, Queen Victoria rewarded her work by presenting her with a beautifully engraved brooch that has since become known as the “Nightingale Jewel,” and this prize that was granted to her by the British government is worth $250,000.
The gesture so humbled Florence that she decided to donate the money to fund the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital and start a nursing school and name it Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She then became a public figure of admiration. There have been poems, songs, and plays written in her honor. Women from all over were aspired to be like her and as a result, began to enroll in her program. Thanks to Florence Nightingale, nursing was no longer a profession that was looked down upon by the upper class; in fact, it had become a vocation that is now viewed as an honorable vocation.
Sadly, Florence Nightingale contracted a bacterial infection known as the Crimean fever and she never fully recovered. She was only 38 years old, and she then had to be homebound for the remainder of her life. However, this did not stop her from improving health care, and her work in alleviating patients’ suffering as Florence would continue her work from her bed. She published “Notes on Hospitals” in 1859 which focused on how to run hospitals properly. She was also referred to on how to manage and run hospitals.
King Edward granted the Order of Merit in 1907 to Florence, as well as she received the Freedom of the City of London that following year. She was the first woman ever to receive such an honor. On her 90th birthday, she received yet another celebratory message from King George in May of 1910.
Florence Nightingale fell ill in August and seemed to recover. About a week later she began to develop an array of symptoms causing her to fall sick again. Then the next morning on Saturday, August 13, 1910, at 2:00 p.m. Florence passed away in her home in London. She did not want a lavish funeral. Her family respected her wishes and turned down a public funeral. Florence Nightingale was laid to rest in her family plot at St. Margaret’s Church, East Wellow, in New Hampshire, England. There is a museum where anyone can go and visit called “The Florence Nightingale Museum,” located at the site of the original Nightingale Training School for Nurses, which houses more than 2,000 artifacts commemorating the life and career of the “Lady with the Lamp.”
Nursing is an honorable profession that takes on the duty for the constant care of the sick, those that have been in a tragic accident and injured, those that are disabled, and sadly the terminally ill. Not only do nurse’s care for individuals who have been injured or who are sick, but they also advocate for the well-being of others to encourage good health.
For my mom being a nurse was not just following in her mother’s footstep; it is whom she was made to be. Throughout the book, “Blessed to Be Unwanted” Grandma and Mom’s nursing is scattered throughout the book. They both touched so many lives providing the compassionate care that nurses are so known for. My mother ultimately would work for a family practice physician in Danville, IL for nearly 29 years. She was revered as Dr. Hensold’s right hand serving his patient population ensuring that they worked together as a team to provide the best possible care during a patient’s difficult time. She may have retired from working with Dr. Hensold, but she continued her work as a nurse. She worked in skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, rehab facilities up until she was 76. Not because she had to, because it was her calling, she loved being a nurse!
I believe being a nurse humbles you. I am proud to be surrounded by so many beautiful nurses. I wish I could name all the nurses that I have crossed paths with during my lifetime and throughout my career. If any of you are reading this, know that I am honoring you on this day and this week for Nurses Week. I admire your hard work and dedication. I may not have followed in my mother’s footsteps, but I did work in the healthcare industry where I worked with many different nurses. This profession can be highly rewarding for any who genuinely cares about people, including the elderly and children. I worked primarily in pediatrics where children do not have a voice. I saw where the nurses provided comfort and would work long hours taking care of their patients.
I think back on that problematic 2 ½ long weeks of my mom’s final days, and the nurses were the ones who cared for my mom 24/7, but they also were there to calm my sister and me. As a nurse the qualities they possess are unsurpassable. A good nurse has excellent communication skills. It is probably one of the most critical capabilities of the job. I know that every day, I had so many questions and concerns about what was happening, and it takes excellent speaking and listening skills to communicate with patients and families.
As far as dealing with stress on a day-to-day basis, I am sure that all depends on the specialty, but either way can be stressful. A nurse must have the ability to deal with traumatic situations and accept suffering and of course the worst of all, death. Not saying that there are not heartwarming moments in nursing, for example, the birth of a baby and when a patient recovers. A good nurse can manage stress during sad and happy situations. Great nurses have empathy for the pain and suffering for all patients, and they can feel compassion and provide comfort. Being that link between the doctors and patients is vital and crucial to other member staffs. Let’s face it; nurses are the glue that holds the medical clinics and the hospitals together. Patients see the nurses far more than they recognize the doctors, so from experience of me being in the hospital from a tragic accident, I am looking for the nurse to be a friendly face. The doctor depends on nurses to keep them on their toes. Nurses have a great responsibility, but a great nurse balances all these needs to ensure that they are providing the best possible care to their patient and working in sync with the doctor.
I can remember a time when I was a young girl jumping up and down on my bed. My mom told me to stop and go to bed, but I did not listen. As a result, I fell and landed on the corner of my dresser, and my upper lip took a beating. My mouth split open, and blood was everywhere. I let out an anguished scream that escaped the house for miles to be heard. Mom quickly ran and grabbed a towel and put pressure on my mouth. She did not waste any precious time and loaded me in the car and took me to the office and she stitched me up.
Not sure why she did not take me to the ER. I did not ask any questions. I remember waking up the next morning with a huge fat lip, and she made me go to school. I suppose that was my punishment for not listening to her when she told me not to jump on my bed that night. I thought my lip would never heal and look healthy again. I was so embarrassed to go to school as it looked horrific. Each day I came home she cleaned and cared for the wound. She removed the stitches the swelling subsided it healed, and you would not even know that I had stitches in my upper lip. That incident not only was my mom being my mother she was my nurse! I love you mom for always being there for me and taking care of me in times when I was sick.
“Florence Nightingale.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 17 Apr. 2019, www.biography.com/scientist/florence-nightingale.