Monday, August 13, 2007

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820, to Aug 13, 1910) was a pre-feminist, a theologian, a statistician, and a pioneer of nursing. Image: Susan Jackson of Sonoma College, for International Museum of Women

"She was not 'the lady with the lamp.' She was the lady with the brain-one of those rare personalities who reshape the contours of life." Sir Edward T. Cook, biographer, 1913

She was, in fact, born in Florence, Italy, and was named after that city. She was born to a very wealthy family. And in those days, nursing was not a prestigious profession at all, much unlike these days. When she announced her intention to enter nursing, her whole family was angry.

"When very many years ago I planned a future, my one idea was not organizing a hospital but organizing a religion." Florence Nightingale

However, Florence was not just a nurse. She had a vision for religion ... one that she was unable to realize at the time.

"The time is come when women must do something more than the "domestic hearth," which means nursing the infants, keeping a pretty house, having a good dinner and an entertaining party."

These days, nurses care for patients and carry out doctors' orders. Some nurses are nurse practitioners, who perform primary care services and often have the authority to prescribe medications. Some nurses are registered or certified nurse midwives, and they do a job that is probably as old as prostitution. There are indications, by the way, that lay midwives do just fine on uncomplicated births, and the insurance companies should consider cashing in. Giving birth with a midwife is usually more comfortable than with an OB/Gyn. Hospitals are sometimes organized more for the benefit of doctors than patients. Additionally, there are indications that C-sections are overused in hospitals ... that's major abdominal surgery.

The great reformers of the world turn into the great misanthropists, if circumstances or organisation do not permit them to act. Christ, if He had been a woman, might have been nothing but a great complainer. Peace be with the misanthropists! They have made a step in progress; the next will make them great philanthropists; they are divided but by a line.
The next Christ will perhaps be a female Christ. But do we see one woman who looks like a female Christ? or even like "the messenger before" her "face", to go before her and prepare the hearts and minds for her?

Nurses are also trained to look after patients' social needs. Doctors are not, and they do not have time to do so. We need clinical excellence in healthcare, but health is more than just about the body. It is also about the mind and the soul. Nurses social workers, and clergy are in a position to look after the latter two.

I might add, health is not just about the individual, it's also about the community and the nation. Environmental pollution destroys health. A lack of affordable housing destroys health. High inequality arguably leads to high crime, which destroys health.

The US has failed to realize this. Our health system is too oriented around acute care. As the population ages, and the burden of chronic disease increases, our system will be stretched to the breaking point if nothing is done. Other Western countries may not have the same flaws we have here, but they too are unprepared for an increased burden of chronic illnesses. Global South nations whose leaders are corrupt and have not prepared the country well will face death rates from acute causes like war and pollution on one hand, and an increasing burden of chronic diseases on the other. They will really be screwed.

We need reformers like Florence Nightingale to reform our health systems and our religious systems.

Please pray for:

Nurses and other health professionals.

Reformers in religion.

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