I am sure like so many others Thursday night at 8pm is when we all give a round of applause and thanks for health and care workers for their tireless work during this difficult time we are going through. It is also a huge testament to the NHS and their Army colleagues that in a matter of just a few days they were able to create from scratch their first pop up critical care facility, naming it the ‘NHS Nightingale Hospital’ in London.
It is very fitting that the hospital was named after one of the greatest female Christians, the founder of modern nursing and one of my personal heroines.
From a very early age Florence, born in Italy and growing up in Derbyshire, visited the local poor, read her Bible and loved collecting things and statistics. Being brought up in the 19th century though, as a young woman Florence was expected to find herself a husband and be a good wife and mother.
However, Florence, for whom her Christian faith was her driving force (“I promise to go to Church, to read, write and do the Bible”), felt from a young age that God had a specific Calling for her. Just before her 17th birthday she heard God telling her that she should be a nurse – something that middle-class women frankly did not do then.
She had several proposals of marriage from eligible men but she felt sure that God meant for her to be single but her family were dead set against that and Florence was forced to study nursing in secret and eventually she ‘trained’ in a religious community in Germany. There whilst learning about medicines, dressing wounds, amputations and how to care for the sick and dying she said that she never felt happier “Now I know what it is to love life”. This is what happens when you follow on the true path that God has for us.
Florence’s calling though became even clearer when the Crimean war (against the Tsar’ Russian army) took place and horrific reports came back that solders were dying in agony. Florence knew she had to go and help, so she bought together a team of 38 brave female nurses who sailed to the Crimea, and then like now, there were complaints of in efficiencies and lack of supplies, but undeterred Florence and her nurses acts of compassion, care and love made a huge difference to soldiers’ lives and the British public were in awe of what she had done.
Newspapers called her a “ministering angel” and reported that “as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her”. For good reason was Florence Nightingale known as the “Lady with the Lamp”.
What she discovered at the army hospital at Scutari was that 90% of soldiers died not from their war wounds but from poor sanitation and hygiene at the hospital. She implemented handwashing and other clean practices that are still such a Godsend today in the current outbreak. Her actions it is believed reduced the death rate at Scutari from 42% to just 2%.
But even after the end of the war, Florence was not finished. She realised that hospitals needed to be healthy places to minister to the sick. She introduced what is known as “pavilion style” hospital wings and full-length windows on wards to allow better light and ventilation. With huge public support, she opened the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas’ Hospital in London (it is still there) which led to the creation of nursing as a formal profession.
Florence died at the age of 90 in 1910- within 50 years the NHS was born. Florence’s contribution to the NHS that we now have cannot be understated. Her Christian calling about looking after a person’s mental as well as physical wellbeing, and to be sensitive to their needs is part of its cornerstones. She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women and to ensure healthcare for all -rich or poor.
Florence listened carefully and soulfully to God’s word and what He was calling her to do, and despite the difficulties of parental disapproval, and going against what society expected of her at that time, she persisted, and all of our lives have been affected by her Christian faith as a result.
We all make a difference. What is God calling you to do?