Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Florence Nightengale's Birthday: May 12

Florence Nightingale lived a long and remarkable life. Although she is known as the founder of modern nursing and one of the most famous women in history, few people know that she spent the last half of her life confined to her home and often bedridden, suffering from an illness similar to what we now call ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

She was born on May 12, 1820 to wealthy British parents travelling in Italy. Named for the city in which she was born, young Florence never quite fit the mold of a Victorian lady. She was well educated in literature, music, drawing and the domestic arts. A women of her social standing was expected to marry and devote her life to her family, entertaining, and cultural pursuits.

However, she felt an early calling to serve, and refused to marry. When she attempted to go to work as a nurse, her horrified family repeatedly opposed her. In those days, hospitals were often dirty and dark and nurses were untrained, sometimes drunken women. Finally, at age 33 she was able to obtain some minimal training and begin her career.

In 1854, the British press began reporting that soldiers wounded in the Crimean War were being poorly cared for in deplorable conditions. Nightingale recruited and equipped a group of nurses and went off to Turkey to help. Her arrival was not celebrated by the surgeons there, who resented the interference of a woman. Undaunted, she worked tirelessly to improve conditions in the hospital. Her changes revolutionized British military medical care, increasing standards for sanitation and nutrition and dramatically lowering mortality rates. While visiting the front lines, she became ill and never really recovered.

Although an invalid for the rest of her life, Nightingale continued to have an influence on standards of nursing care and training. In 1859 she helped to establish the first Visiting Nurse Association and in 1860, she established a school that became a model for modern nurses training. She was considered an expert on the scientific care of the sick and was asked by the United States for her advice on caring for the wounded soldiers of the Civil War. Through correspondence and reports, she continued her influence throughout her last years. She was the first women to receive the British Order of Merit. In 1907 the International Conference of Red Cross Societies listed her as a pioneer of the Red Cross Movement. She died in 1910 at the age of ninety.
Florence Nightingale was known by the British soldiers in the Crimea as the “lady with the lamp” because of the late hours that she worked tending to the sick and wounded. Today, she is remembered as a symbol of selfless caring and tireless service.

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