N is for Nightingale

A nightingale is a bird well known for the beautiful song it sings. Unpaired males will sing at night to attract a mate while singing at dawn serves to protect their territory. It’s said that they sing louder in urban areas to hear their singing over the background noise of the city.

Nightingales are the inspiration for many poems, songs, fairy tales and books. From Greek mythology, the story of Philomena is just one example. She was raped and mutilated by her brother-in-law Tereus. He cut out her tongue and her sister turned her into a nightingale. In this context, the song is seen more as a lament than a beautiful song due to the context she’s singing in. Since she was made mute, she wasn’t able to talk just like the female bird in nature doesn’t sing.

A famous woman in history also has the name Nightingale. Florence Nightingale was a celebrated English social reformer, statistician, and founder of modern nursing.

Having been named for the city she was born in, she grew up with the feeling that she was supposed to help people and wanted to become a nurse. Her parents weren’t so sure that was a good idea, but wound up sending her to a school to learn some basic techniques.

She had gained some practical experience from a hospital in Britain when she was asked by the Minister of War to train some nurses to take with her into the Crimean War. They arrived at the front in November of 1854.

While she worked at the Scutari Hospital in Turkey, she found that poor care was being provided to the wounded by an overworked medical staff. Medicine was in short supply and good hygiene processes were not implemented. This led to mass infections being common in the hospital, many of them ultimately being fatal to the patients.

She was dedicated to helping people. Quoted from the British newspaper, The Times, this is how Florence Nightingale came to be known as the “Lady with the Lamp”,

“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.”

nightingale_ladylamp

Trying to make things better, she implemented basic hygiene processes like hand washing to help stop the germs from spreading  to fight some of the deadly contagious diseases.

She also tracked statistics of what was happening at the hospital like how many were sick, with what and if they died, what they died from. She put her statistics together and made a plea to The Times for some government intervention for better treatment of these patients. This data was then sent to the Royal Commission which resulted in a marked reform in military medical and purveyance systems.

International Nurses Day was just celebrated this month on May 12th. It also commemorates her birthday.

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