Florence Nightingale: The 200 Year Old Nurse Still Impacting Your Life Today
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Ok, so Florence Nightingale may not have been a scientist or among the famous microbiologists, but she did incredible things that are still impacting your life today. Her legacy will always be remembered and is especially important in the time of quarantine. She was a pioneer of her time, insisting on hand washing and keeping hospital clean as possible to stop the spread of diseases. But let's learn a little bit more about the great Florence Nightingale.
The "Lady With The Lamp"
The "Lady with the Lamp" was often caught at night strolling the empty corridors to console the tormented souls that lay in the hospital beds. It was the 19th century, before antibiotics, before modern medicine. For many, these hospital beds would be their final resting place.
Surrounded not by loved ones, but by the horrible stench of rotting flesh, hearing the moans of the wounded, and the taste of death permeating the air. The "Lady with the Lamp", the "Angel of Crimea", was not only a beacon of life and comfort to the dying men but a pioneer. Forever changing nursing, hospitals, and public health.
She was born to a wealthy family in Florence, Italy on May 12, 1820. Happy 200th Birthday, Florence! This girl lived to be 90 years old and never married, in a time where that was your only job as a woman! Talk about independence! Shy and never grasping for attention, Florence was a born philanthropist believing God put her on this earth to save people and become a nurse.
Much of her fame stems from the work she did during the Crimean war. Florence gathered a team of nurses and traveled to Scutari, the British-based hospital in Constantinople. When they arrived, Nightingale was appalled by what she saw.
The hospital was built on top of a cesspool. Soldiers lay in agony in their own waste waiting to die. If their wounds weren’t bad enough to kill them, the heavily contaminated water might. It was a breeding ground for pathogens, a purgatory to death.
Florence estimated 40% of soldiers who came to the hospital died. They laid in misery and agony waiting for the end to come. In many cases it wasn't any better then to just wait to die in the field where you wounded. If you contracted another disease on top of your wound, as many soldiers did, the Hospital might even be worse.
She believed the majority of the deaths were unnecessary, caused not by the war but by the unsanitary conditions rampant in the hospital. This may seem obvious to us know but this was a fairly novel idea at the time. She instructed her nurses to scrub every inch of the hospital.
It was a long and arduous process. For days the nurses scrubbed and cleaned and none were really sure if all this work was going to amount to anything. But then when the task was complete they looked back at the numbers.
Death rates dropped, morale rose, the hospital became a place to go to heal, not to die. Nightingale once wrote: “always have chlorinated soda for nurses to wash their hands, especially after dressing or handling a suspicious case. It may destroy germs at the expense of the cuticle, but if it takes off the cuticle, it must be bad for the germs.” So this whole hand washing thing worked 200 years ago....maybe it can work for COVID-19 too...
Before she was 40, Queen Victoria bestowed Florence the “Nightingale Jewel” and a monetary award ($250,000) for her achievements. And Florence, being the philanthropist that she was, used it to build the St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
Florence: The Statistician
Like a scientist, she took diligent records which she published. These publications fundamentally changed nursing and hospital procedures. She not only wrote about sanitation but also on the importance of ventilation, diet, and hygiene on the patient's health.
A lesser known fact about Florence, was her statistical prowess. She was the first to use coxcomb pie charts. She was not only the "lady with the lamp" she was also the "lady with the data visualization".
She looked at deaths within the hospital and categorized fatalities into death by battle or death by disease. Her conclusion showed that disease within the hospital caused 10x as many deaths as the war.
In 1858, her statistical ingenuity was awarded by becoming the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Statistical Society. And in 1874, she also became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.
Florence contracted Crimean fever caused by the bacterium Brucellosis. She probably also suffered from PTSD and some other psychological ailments, but we can not be sure as these are modern terms. This caused her (or gave this shy girl the excuse) to be bedridden, for the majority of her life.