More often than not the odds against one person making a difference in this large blue planet of ours look insurmountable. But now and then a singular soul emerges and the world is changed – sometimes slowly, but always definitely and often, even dramatically.
One such who springs to mind was a woman of exceptional caring abilities. Undaunted by the death, destruction and despair faced by the recipients of so-called medical care, she totally ignored opposition by friends and the refined life she’d been raised to live by her wealthy family and willingly obeyed her own passionate gut feelings about cleanliness and nursing. Her oft-quoted creed was –
Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.
She was the Lady with the Lamp. Not the one in New York. This precious carer-cum-angel of mercy would shine her special light on the other side of the world – in the Russian Crimea, in the midst of a war between Allied British and French forces against the Russian Empire. Her name was Florence Nightingale and she changed the face of nursing and hospitalisation with her single-minded obsession to rewrite medical care. Little wonder the British Secretary of War had personally requested her to assemble a corps of special nurses and guide them through best ministrations in the Crimea.
A base principle – indeed the first requirement she demanded of a hospital was that it ‘should do the sick no harm’. Sounds reasonable, even slightly ridiculous to need to state such an obvious premise… but yesterday’s conventional medical wisdom offered little protection against infection to the thousands of soldiers admitted to military medical care. The truth was, more died from infectious diseases than from their battle injuries. The reviled Scutari, the British base hospital where Florence and her lady crew were assigned, was built above a cesspool contaminating the rationed water. Rodents and bugs were attracted to the barely bandaged patients laying in their own excrement on bloodied bedding.
Florence, her corps of female nurses AND the least infirm patients set to work scrubbing the hospital from floor to ceiling. Her newly established laundry made her demands for soap and hot water for the clean bandages and bed linens legendary. Soon this was matched by her dogged insistence on appealing food for all and the satisfying of dietary needs for many. In her mind, the classroom and library she created were incidentals by comparison, and yet no less important to this shining example of the benefits of education and voracious reading. And through it all, she would make her nightly rounds, lamp held high, tirelessly offering compassion and hope. In an amazingly short time span, Florence reduced the death rate of Constantinople’s Base Hospital by two-thirds. Little wonder the battle-worn and torn soldiers called her ‘The Angel of the Crimea’’.
Granted royal recognition and honour, plus $250,000 from the British Government, Florence used the money to establish the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. At last, nursing would be judged an honourable vocation suitable for inclusion in the proper upbringing of well-bred young women. Florence Nightingale’s massive research published reports and proposed reforms influenced and rewrote medical textbooks and nursing practice forever.
I look at my hands, often commented on about their smallness… and I’m humbled and challenged.
One small pair of hands CAN most certainly make a difference.
The Lady of the Lamp is the ultimate proof.
OMP Admin Note: Christine Larsen is a writer, farmer, wife, mother, and grandmother from Australia. She has never been homeless or had significant cancer – yet – but has had exposure to both – creating a great sense of empathy and desire to help in any way she can. She is humbled by the opportunity to give one of her stories to the sincerely worthwhile causes of Cancer research and Homelessness.
To find out more about Christine and her work:
Christine Larsen, Author
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