Until the Last Patient is Home

Today the church honors a yet timely saint, Florence Nightingale, nurse and caretaker of humanity.

Born to wealthy parents, Florence was named for the Italian city in which she was birthed, though her parents formally lived in estates in Derbyshire and London. She was a quick study, and grew to know more than a few languages by the time she was twenty.

Unsatisfied with the kept and proper life, Florence said she heard God telling her to “complete her life’s mission,” though she couldn’t rightly determine what that specific mission was.

Her schooling made her an acknowledged expert on public health (and it appears that people listened to her!), and she became keenly interested in the Kaiserwerth Motherhouse of Deaconesses. She soon entered the school for training as a nurse, and in 1853 became the superintendent of the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen (brevity was not their strong suit when it came to naming organizations in those days).

Nightingale was dissatisfied with the hospital, however, and when the Crimean war broke out, she and 38 fellow nurses left for Turkey to lend their aid. There they found shocking conditions and misogynist doctors who treated them poorly. But as the war progressed, the pressing need of so many wounded forced the hands of the powers that be, and Miss Nightingale and her fellow nurses worked long and hard to tend to the injured.

From this scene came the iconic “lady with the lamp” depiction.

She eventually would rise in rank to become the superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the Military Hospitals of the British Army in 1856, and she wouldn’t leave Turkey until the very last patient left for England.

She was the last one in the field.

She worked against the political powers of the day to greatly improve the health and living conditions of the soldiers she worked so hard to heal.

Florence herself would eventually fall ill to chronic brucellosis, but even from her sickbed continued to advise and counsel nurses and doctors through letters and consultations. In 1860 she established the Nightingale School for Nurses at St. Thomas Hospital, and soon shifted her focus to changing the terrible conditions in the many workhouses in Britain.

In 1907 she was awarded the Order of Merit, the first woman to be given such distinction, and died in 1910 at the age of 90. Her grave marker simply states, “F.N. Born 1820. Died 1910.”

St. Florence Nightingale is a reminder to me that a life curved outward, rather than inward, can continually and forcefully change the situation of many in the world when consistently applied, especially in the face of the many “isms” of this world. The powers will pull out all the stops to thwart the efforts of those who would lift up the vulnerable in the world.

In these past few years of global pandemic, with so many nurses staying on the job until their last patient is sent home, she is not just worth remembering, but worth honoring and emulating.

One way to honor such a legacy is by following the advice of medical officials.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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