I like many other children went through a phase of wanting to become a nurse as testified to by my water-soaked teddy bears who obligingly drank their “medicine” in copious amounts! I am sure my mother was relieved when my aspirations moved on and the washing line could be used for things other than my bears.
Fortunately for all of us there are many who do follow their dreams and become nurses, many of whom follow lifelong careers in the caring of others and as we have seen in these recent times are selfless and dedicated in their vocation.
All of those who do qualify take the “Nightingale Pledge”, and the Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve. Both awards named after “The lady of the lamp”, who gave nursing a favourable reputation during the Crimean War and established a framework of training for nurses that is still recognised around the world today.
Whilst we know Florence Nightingale for her impact on nursing there are some interesting facts about her you may not know.
• She was born in 1820 in the Italian City of Florence and named after this city.
• Born into a wealthy family Florence received an excellent education and developed an interest in nursing early in her life but was expected to follow the restrictive social code for affluent young English women of marriage and children.
• While in Greece she rescued a baby owl from children who were tormenting it. Florence called the owl Athena and it travelled with her until it died just before she went to the Crimea.
Florence travelled on to Egypt and this is probably the least know part of her life and yet it was here that was to have the most profound effect on her. Her writings on Egypt recorded in her letters mostly to her sister are testimony to her learning, literary skill, and philosophy of life.
Arriving in Alexandria, Egypt in November 1849 she travelled by boat to Cairo, the city she called “The Rose of Cities”
“No one ever talks about the beauty of Cairo, ever gives the least idea of this surpassing city. I thought it was a place to buy stores at and pass through on one’s way to India, instead of its being the rose of cities, the garden of the desert, the pearl of Moorish architecture, the fairest, really, the fairest place of earth below. It reminds me always of Sirius; I can’t tell why except that Sirius has the silveriest light in heaven above, and Cairo has the same radiant look on earth below; and I shall never look at Sirius in future years without thinking of her.” Florence Nightingale November 1849
Whilst visiting the Citadel in Cairo, she wrote; “From the terrace of the mosque is what I would imagine is the finest view in the whole world. Cairo, which is immense, lies at its feet, a forest of minarets, domes and towers. The Nile flows his solemn course beyond, and the three Pyramids stand sharp against the sky. Here Osiris and his worshippers lived, here Abraham and Moses walked; here Aristotle came; here, later, Mahomet learnt the best of his religion and studied Christianity; here, perhaps, our Saviour’s mother bought her little son to open his eyes to the light. They are all gone in body; but the Nile and the Pyramids stand there still”. Florence Nightingale 1849
Florence then travelled from Cairo aboard a traditional Dahabiya sailing the Nile all the way to Abu Simbel. Here she wrote in January 1850, “Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering … not a feature is correct — but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined. It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”
Florence always attributed her nursing career to a calling by God which she first experienced at her home in Embley Park, Hampshire and yet few realise that is was her experience in Egypt that seems to have settled her resolve that her life would be dedicated to the service of others.
At Thebes, now Luxor she wrote of being “called to God”, and a week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”
Florence Nightingales obvious legacy is her outstanding contribution to the world of nursing however the impact of her travels and experiences these provided, shaped and strengthened her views and provided the foundation for one the greatest women contributors of her time. Would our travels impact and help us to contribute back even in a small measure as it did for her?
Nightingale, Florence (1987). Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile 1849–1850