Tanka : Florence Nightingale

life’s a splendid gift
greatest things grow from smallest
discipline shapes lives
distill words into action
live your life while you have it

tanka by M. Nakazato LaFreniere

May 11th was International Nurse’s Day.  To celebrate, Kristjaan Panneman, an oncology nurse, wrote up Florence Nightingale’s bio and challenged us to create a poem from her quote:

[…] “Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift. There is nothing small in it. Far the greatest things grow by God’s law out of the smallest. But to live your life, you must discipline it.” […] Florence Nightingale

I needed a 5th line so I went looking for one more quote.  Nightingale also said:

I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.

How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.

Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.

The world is put back by the death of every one who has to sacrifice the development of his or her peculiar gifts to conventionality.

The greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.

I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.

Photograph portrait by Henry Hering, circa 1860, National Portrait Gallery, London via Wikimedia Commons

She was a very remarkable woman.  Panneman’s bio of Nightingale makes good reading.  I knew about her and her crusade for hygienic practices but I associated her with the United States Civil War but turns out she was only a consultant for that.  She became actively involved in the Crimean War when more than 18,000 men were admitted into military hospitals but were dying more often from the unsanitary conditions than from their original wounds.  In 1854, she recruited three dozen nurses and together they arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital at Constanipole located over a cesspool.  Her reforms and appeals to the Times brought in more supplies, a new hospital,  a kitchen to cook in, a library and classrooms for the patients and reduced the death toll from 42% to 2%, in a huge team effort that even engaged patients in scrubbing.

Florence Nightingale posing with her class of nurses from St. Thomas’ Hospital and Sir Harry Verney, an active supporter of the nursing school.

While there, she was infected by the Crimean Fever and would never fully recover.  Despite being bedridden often, she carried on her work designing sanitary hospitals and introducing sanitation to working class homes until she died in 1910, including founding a hospital and a nurse’s training school with £45,000 Queen Victoria gave her in honor of her efforts in the Crimea War. She implemented professionally trained nurses to take care of the poor. In her time, it was thought people could only be infected by touch, a theory called contagionism.  She advocated sanitation to kill germs which was a thought well before it’s time.  It was not until Pasteur’s and Lister’s work in the 1860s that germ theory started gaining traction. She pushed through legislation that owners of private homes had to pay to put in drainage with local authorities in charge of enforcing the new compulsory sanitation measures.  Historians now believe that this change contributed to the sudden increase of 20 years in life expectancy from 1871 to the mid-1930s.

Classic book on nursing
by Florence Nightingale

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Florence Nightingale

Second Life photography by M. LaFreniere, featuring avatar Kayla Woodrunner

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