Heroes of the Past: Florence Nightingale

I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse” 

So said Florence Nightingale, social reformer and the founder of modern nursing. Born in 1820, into a wealthy British family in Florence, Italy, and named after the city where she was born, Florence experienced her first “call from God” in Embley Park in 1937. After a series of similar experiences, Florence felt that it was her calling to dedicate her life to the service of others.

She started working as a nurse in 1844, contrary to her upper-class status. This decision was violently opposed by both her mother and sister. She was initially respectful of their opposition, but rebelled, as she felt that her calling was so strong, it could not be denied.

Despite the restrictions imposed upon her by the strict social code women of her high status were meant to follow, she worked extremely hard to educate herself. Florence turned down a devout suitor who had courted her for nine years, Richard Milnes, as she felt that a courtship would undermine her dedication.

She traveled around the world with her friends, continuing to receive”calls from God” and writing in her letters sentences such as, “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”

Her greatest contribution came during the Crimean War, when she heard about the miserable conditions for the wounded through reports. Florence, along with a staff of 38 volunteer nurses that she personally trained, set forth to the Ottoman Empire.

Nightingale arrived in Scutari, Istanbul in 1854 and was horrified – her team found that poor care was being given, in the form of overworked staff, short supply of medicine and an all-around neglect for hygiene. The officials continued to remain indifferent.

As a result of these practices, mass infections were common and usually fatal. After Nightingale sent a plea to The Times, the British Govenment commissioned a prefabricated hospital to be built in England and shipped to Istanbul. The result was Renkoi, a facility with less than 1/10th the number of deaths as Scutari.

Nightingale reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by advocating the washing of hands and the maintaining of hygiene.

Due to her unfailing dedication and ceaseless efforts, she came to be known as “The Lady with the Lamp”. Her legacy still lives on, every time a nurse lends a helping hand. May she and every other nurse, who spare no effort to provide care to those in need be always known as our everyday heroes.


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