Healthcare in America is a mess. Thousands of good people are doing their best to care for their patients as corporations and politicians thrash about, generally making things worse. If it weren’t for America’s nurses, the healthcare system would have fallen to ruin decades ago. One person we have to thank for their good work is Florence Nightingale.
Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 to wealthy British parents while the family was living in Florence, Italy (hence her name). Luckily, she wasn’t born in any of these places. I don’t know that Bitchfield Nightingale would have done as well in the world. Raised in Hampshire, Nightingale was intelligent, educated and, after a long courtship, chose not to marry. Nightingale wanted to serve others and felt being married would ultimately hinder that goal.
Nursing, at the time, was not a respectable profession. Therefore it was seen as a decided step down for Nightingale since she was born into a respectable and wealthy family. That did not stop her. Nightingale trained as a nurse as well as learning many other aspects of what we would now call hospital administration.
And then came the Crimean War.
Let’s pause for a moment here to talk about the Crimean War (October 1853 to February 1856.) I used to think that World War I was the first time in hundreds of years that France and Great Britain did something together besides kill each other. Not true. The Crimean War, while an uneasy alliance, was indeed an alliance between France, Great Britain, The Ottoman Empire and Sardinia against efforts by Russia to encroach farther into Europe by way of the faltering hold the Ottoman Empire had on its lands. The slow and sure collapse of the Ottoman Empire was, among many other factors, one of the causes of the Crimean War. Another cause of the war “involved an argument over a key” and other murky, deeply misunderstood purposes that led to thousands of deaths and untold suffering.
Similar to World War I and the second Gulf War, those in power believed that the Crimean War would be a quick bash up in the fields of a country far from home and wouldn’t be that big of a deal. And, like all of those who came after them, the architects of The Crimean War were very wrong.
It was a mismanaged, ultimately pretty much historically useless bloodbath.
But it brought the world Florence Nightingale. When reports of the deadly squalor found in British hospitals reached England, Nightingale was sent out with 38 nurses. Arriving in the Balkans in November of 1854, Nightingale and her nurses focused on the cleaning and feeding of the patients as well as setting the hospital to rights.
Nightingale is known for making nursing into a respected profession but what does that mean? It means she taught doctors that there was a need for a bridge between doctor and patient. Nightingale codified the care patients would come to expect not only from nurses but from hospitals. “Wise and humane management of the patient is the best safeguard against infection.” It was in it’s way a holistic approach to healing. Paying attention to more than just the wound meant that a nurse could treat the whole person and not just the symptom.
Also, she pioneered the use of statistical data in healthcare and was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society (1858).
I wonder what Nightingale would think of modern medical practices.