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An Inspired Life


Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), whose death anniversary falls on 13 August, was born into an upper class British family in Florence, Italy, and was named after the city of her birth. Florence Nightingale's greatest achievement was to raise nursing to the level of a respectable profession for women, as till that time it was held in poor regard.

One day when still a child, she was walking through the woods with a friend when she came across a small homestead. A shepherd lived there with his dog named Cap. Cap was the only family the shepherd had and Cap loved his master. Florence saw the shepherd without his dog and asked the shepherd,

"Where's Cap?”

"Poor dog. I may have to kill him."

"Kill poor Cap!" cried Florence . "Why would you want to do that? I know you love him so and he is a good dog."

"Oh, his leg was broken when some boys hit him with a stone."

Ms. Florence Nightingale

The shepherd looked very sad. With Cap gone, he would have no family at all.

"I am very sorry for you," said Florence. "But listen, at my home I have many animals and I take care of them. May I see your dog?"

The shepherd told Florence and her friend to follow him. He led them to where the dog was. Florence got some water and bathed Cap's leg gently. She found that it was not broken after all - just badly bruised. She took care of Cap with love and devotion, until he was well enough to guard the shepherd's sheep again. The shepherd was so happy that he had his dog back. This story of Florence Nightingale’s concern for the sick epitomises the thread that ran through her life.

When 17 years old, she had a strong spiritual experience, which directed her to a life of service to God. She was drawn to the field of nursing and received training at a nursing school in Germany in 1850.


During the Crimean War (1853-1856) fought by the British in Turkey, the temperatures were biting cold where the soldiers were fighting. Many of them were very sick and without nursing care because few ladies wanted to go. Florence decided to go and help the ailing soldiers. After many days of traveling she reached the far-away battle-zone with 38 other nurses and found the wounded soldiers receiving inadequate care by overworked medical staff. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected, and mass infections were common, many of them fatal. There was no equipment to process hygienic food for the patients.

Florence and her compatriots began by thoroughly cleaning the hospital and equipment and reorganizing patient care. However, during her time there the death rate did not drop; on the contrary, it began to rise. The death count would be highest of all other hospitals in the region. During her first winter, 4077 soldiers died. Ten times more soldiers died from infectious diseases such as typhus, typhoid, cholera and dysentery than from battle wounds. Conditions at the temporary barracks hospital were so fatal for the patients because of overcrowding and the hospital's defective sewers and lack of ventilation.

Helping the soldiers during the Crimen War

A sanitary commission had to be sent out by the British government in March 1855, almost six months after Florence Nightingale had arrived, which ordered the flushing out of the sewers and improved ventilation. As a result death rates were sharply reduced.

Nightingale continued believing the death rates were due to poor nutrition and supplies and overworking of the soldiers. It was not until after she returned to Britain and began collecting evidence before the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, that she realised that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor sanitary conditions. This experience would influence her later career, when she advocated the importance of sanitary living conditions. Consequently, she reduced deaths in the Army during peacetime and turned attention to the sanitary design of hospitals.

Florence and her nurses

Nightingale played the central role in the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army. She wrote the Commission's 1,000-plus page report that included detailed statistical reports (she was a talented statistician), and she was instrumental in the implementation of its recommendations.

The report of the Royal Commission led to a major overhaul of army military care, to the establishment of an Army Medical School and of a comprehensive system of army medical records.

In 1855, a public meeting to give recognition to Florence Nightingale for her work in the war led to the establishment of the Nightingale Fund for the training of nurses. There was an outpouring of generous donations and by 1859 Nightingale had £45,000 at her disposal from the Nightingale Fund to set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital on July 9, 1860.

Nightingale also wrote Notes on Nursing, which was published in 1860, a 136 page book that served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools. Notes on Nursing also sold well to the general reading public and is considered a classic introduction to nursing.

Nightingale would spend the rest of her life promoting the establishment and development of the nursing profession and organizing it into its modern form. Her life is one of selfess service, inspired and incessant. And it is because of people like her, some known and many unknown, that the world is still a beautiful place in this modern world. Lets us learn from her that life is not all about me and myself, it is fulfilling and complete only when we reach out to our fellowmen with love and joy.

- Heart2Heart Team

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Vol 5 Issue 08 - AUGUST 2007
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