Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I go with the Flo.


In the forties we student nurses were taught to revere Florence Nightingale and she was always a hero of mine. I even wrote a play about her – just before it became fashionable to denigrate her place in history. In my opinion they were missing the point; Florence was the last person to see herself as a ministering angel. Even Parthe, her sister complained bitterly after a spell in bed,

Florence is a dreadful nurse.’

She had that rare combination of great intellect and the will and the power to get things done.

As a young woman she had an epiphany in the garden when she was told she must do God’s will. This resulted in her sacrificing marriage to a man she loved, and pursuing a nursing career at a time when a nurse was a Sarah Gamp- like figure – a blowsy drunk - and no parent would allow their daughter to dream of becoming a nurse. Florence persisted and ended up at Scutari in the Crimea. The tragedy was that the hospital was built on a sewer and the drinking water was polluted by remains of a dead horse which resulted in many deaths and severely damaged her own health

This knowledge nearly destroyed Florence and she wanted to bare her soul but was prevented by the Government, led by Palmerston who wished to keep the scandal quiet.

Norman Stone’s play on BBC 1 last Sunday evening focussed on the period after her return from the Crimea and ended 54 years before her death. I had found trying to cover her long life in one play extremely difficult but it seemed a shame to just give details of the most important work she did in a footnote to the play.

She lived the rest of her life as a semi reclusive invalid and from her sofa campaigned for public health reforms and the recognition of the nursing profession and worked relentlessly for reform in hospital, in the army and in public health. Although she never went to India she had a profound effect on welfare in that country. She was a brilliant statistician and wrote 200 books.

Stone in an interview quotes an NHS nurse who maintained that if everyone had followed Florence’s maxims as far as standards of cleanliness is concerned there would be no MRSA in this country. We certainly followed them in the fifties. When did it all change?


Kim Ayres said...

I guess that would be before saving money became a priority over saving lives

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Very interesting about Florence Nightengale....I have not known a lot about her history...(Polutted by a Dead Horse???HELP!)
I often wonder myself when and how Hospitals became such a dangerous place for sick people to be? I have been told over and over that for me with my compromised lungs, The Hospital is the WORST place for me to be. (I had an infection that people only get in Hospitals and I wasn't even in one...!)
Your question is a really good one, Pat, When DID it all change?

Guyana-Gyal said...

My cousin studied nursing at the university hospital, attached to the university I attended. I learnt quite a bit about the profession from her and her friends...to this day, I have great respect for nurses. I saw my cousin working in the ward with wellies and lamp after a hurricane, not a word of complaint from her.

I think there was a Jamaican woman, Mary Seacole who also worked with Flo.

Have things really changed today in the nursing profession?

PI said...

Kim: an unpalatable truth I fear.

Naomi: I didn't realise you had the same problems over there until I read Joan Didion's book when her husband and daughter were in various hospitals and they had the same bugs.
I think it's best we all avoid them if possible - especially at our time of life.

GG: A good nurse is pretty special, a bad nurse is a disgrace. The hospitals have gradually deteriorated over the years IMO. It is still possible to get excellent treatment but the whole atmosphere has changed; the attention to detail, the respect demanded by the uniform seem to have disappeared.
Some time back it was the fashion to denigrate Florence and extol Mary Seacole which was unfair to both of them. I visited the Nightingale Museum about that time and they were very upset about it. They shouldn't be treated as rivals; they were both very special women.

kenju said...

When the bottom line became the most important aspect of a hospital, is when things changed.

PI said...

Judy: I think that's true here also.

Eryl Shields said...

Tragically I'm sure Kim and Kenju are right: when money ceased to be a means to an end and became the end in itself is when everything changed.

Nurses seem to be treated abominably by hospital management these days. What is needed is a modern day Flo.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

You medical types know everything. So what is MRSA? Measles?

PI said...

Eryl: if only!

Hoss: may you never come across it. It is a 'super bug' also known as 'scourge of the wards'.
It is increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. SA is commonly found on people's skins but this variety is very difficult to treat.
Bet you wished you never asked.

R. Sherman said...

There's no question, that various drug resistant critters have cropped up in hospitals and can be dangerous to those who are already infirm. However, consider this: Sixty or seventy years ago, many people would succumb at a much earlier age to maladies which today are easily treated. Our advances in medical technology have led, in turn, to advances in longevity, which cause us to become susceptible to diseases and conditions which were heretofore "rare." It's not that the disease is rare, it's that we didn't live long enough to contract it because we were dropping off from T.B., polio and the like.


PI said...

Randall: that's true; I remember pneumonia being a killer. I do think we live too long now. But standards have slipped and I for one no longer regard hospital as the safe place it used to be.

problemchildbride said...

I was never one who was scared of hospitals really. Now I am. MRSA sounds horrific.

I didn't know that about the horse. How dispiriting to have that happen after all her hard work to keep people alive.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I agree, they both worked TOGETHER, and that's what people forget.

PI said...

Sam: it nearly finished her. She took the resulting deaths from infections as her responsibility.

GG. glad we are as one on this and let the rabble rousers get on with it.

Nea said...

This is making me all political...
Boo to privatization!

Well, when it comes to health, education and transportation anyway.

PI said...

Nea: good for you! You'd have my vote.