The healing light of nursing

Florence Nightingale, widely identified as "the lady with the lamp," literally established nursing as a profession. Prior to her outstanding work in the Crimean War (1853-1856), nurses were often drawn from the lowest sorts of women. They were believed to be prostitutes and drunkards, and in many cases, these charges were true. Miss Nightingale set a high moral and working standard for her nurses, one that changed the outlook on nursing forever. And she lived up to this standard herself.

One biographerCecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale 1820-1910 (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1951) . writes of her work during the war: "When a flood of sick came in, she was on her feet for twenty-four hours at a stretch. She was known to pass eight hours on her knees dressing wounds. 'She had an utter disregard of contagion [wrote one contemporary] .... The more awful to every sense any particular case, ... the more certainly might her slight form be seen bending over him ...'"(pp. 141-142).

In a pamphlet that was published some years later, she wrote of the mental influences on the sick: "Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion." And also: "It is commonly supposed a nurse is there to save physical exertion. She ought to be there to save (the patient) taking thought" (p. 229).

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Each one, a nurse
March 10, 1997

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