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“Rather, ten times, die in the surf, heralding the way to a new world, than stand idly on the shore.”
An incredible surfer of her time, Florence Nightingale completely changed the nursing game. She is best known as “The Lady with the Lamp”, a nickname founded by soldiers whom she treated during the Crimean War. Encumbered by the conventions of the 1800’s, Nightingale’s dreams of becoming a nurse were oppressed and criticized for several years. However, she challenged the gender norms by pursuing her path in medicine regardless, and founded today’s modern nursing. Nightingale heralded the way for modern nursing and lead others off the shore, truly flipping the game of her time.
In October 1853, the Crimean War broke out and Nightingale was called to duty. 18 000 soldiers were admitted into military hospitals after being sent to the Black Sea, where supplies swiftly dwindled. At the time, female nurses had a poor reputation and had a bad name in the general public which led the war office to avoid hiring more. However, after the battle of Alma, the soldiers lack of sufficient medical attention was evident due to hospitals being severely understaffed which sent for Nightingale’s aid. Nightingale trained a team of nurses her book-sourced knowledge about medicine – nursing school didn’t exist – to help at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople.
The hospital and its patients were in horrible conditions: patients laid in their own excrement on stretchers in the hallways, basic supplies grew increasingly scarce, the contaminated building was teeming with infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera from battle. She decreased the rate of death in the hospital by two-thirds by instilling hygiene protocols and educating practitioners and patients the importance of sanitation. She was later diagnosed with Crimean fever (brucellosis), and other disorders from the war, and became bedridden at 38 years old.
Faith in God played a large role in Nightingale’s career. At the age of 16, she received a call from God into his service. Although she was initially unsure what form that would take, her faith in her vocation gradually led her to medicine. Although she came from a religious background, she was guided by rationalism – she denied the possibility of miracles and the existence of hell – which pushed her towards action. She believed that her call was, “to sacrifice whatever was necessary in order to do good”. This drove her to work despite her compromised health.
After earning the “Nightingale Jewel” and $250 000 from the British government, Nightingale heralded the way for modern nursing. She used the prize money to fund the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital along with the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. Nightingale ‘renamed’ nursing; it was no longer frowned upon by the upper classes, rather, it became an honourable profession. Despite being bedridden from Crimean fever, she continued to build her legacy from her bed. In 1859, she published “Notes on Hospitals” which was centralised on proper management of civilian hospitals. Her impact on nursing even reached outside the country; she served as an authority on public sanitation issues in India for both the military and civilians. Additionally, with the queen’s support, she helped create a “Royal Commission into the Health of the Army” where Nightingale analysed army mortality data. She found that more than 85% of the deaths were from preventable diseases, not from battle. She then visually interpreted the complicated data into a more inclusive polar area diagram, “Nightingale Rose Diagram”, which presented how the Sanitary Commission’s work decreased the death rate.
All throughout her life, Florence Nightingale has proved that she is not one to stand idly by the shore. The surf is unpredictable and can take many forms; for Nightingale, her waves were weights of expectations chained to her by society and her family. Sexism and prejudice constantly pulled her under to keep her from reaching her goals, drowning her. Yet, she refused to return to the shore and continued swimming to the surface, even though conforming to the ‘rules’ of society would’ve given her secure land to rest on. Over 8 million people are consumed by the surf of 2020 – the tyrant wave being a global pandemic. It’s easy to stay on the secure shore bank, watching the battle from a distance, and complain about the circumstances. But that wouldn’t change anything. Florence Nightingale would encourage us to herald a new path together in the surf, to overcome COVID-19. We can help each other by: buying groceries for those who’re immunocompromised, make donations to research centres and charity, or to simply check in on other people and their condition.
We should all emulate Nightingale’s passion and courage, especially during this pandemic, to overcome fear and fight together in the surf.
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