The Lady with the Lamp

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She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

The Times

On this day in 1820, a baby was born and named after the city of her birth: Florence Nightingale. Her parents were wealthy and distinctly upper class; Florence was something of a rebel and free-thinker, though she had strong religious convictions.

She became famous as a social reformer, fighting to abolish harsh anti-prostitution laws; she developed novel methods for the graphical demonstration of statistics; she strove for improved health care, hygiene and sanitation, and for hunger reduction in India. But it is as the Lady with the Lamp, visiting the sick and injured soldiers during the Crimean War for which she is most remembered today.

She developed the first proper school of nursing which opened in 1860 and which continues at King’s College, turning the profession from the caricature depicted in Dickens’ Sarah Gamp into a modern, respectable occupation for women. Today is appropriately celebrated as International Nurses Day.

Later in life she was bedridden for long periods; it’s now thought that she suffered from ‘Crimean Fever’, the undulant fever of Brucellosis which can be contracted from unpasteurised milk.

If you’ve ever been a patient or a visitor to the old Royal Victoria Hospital, and walked along the corridor from Wards 1 to 20, you witnessed a classical ‘Nightingale Ward’ design. The individual wards were longish rooms, with 10 or so beds arranged along each side; they were paired, the odd numbers for women, the even numbers for men. The nurses’ station, from where all the patients could be observed, was usually at the corridor end of the ward. The clinical room, just off the corridor, was originally an operating theatre. Florence’s inspiration for this design was the military dormitory.