VEN as a child Florence Nightingale loved to care for the sick. Once, when a little girl, she found a dog badly hurt by some rough boys. Its master thought that he would kill it to put it out of pain, but she bandaged its leg and the dog got well. As she grew up, she helped at home, taught in Sunday school, and visited the sick, but she wanted to do more than this. She wanted to be well trained as a nurse, so that she could help sick people in just the right way. When she was eighteen she met Elizabeth Fry, who gave her life to helping prisoners, and Dr. Howe, who was devoting himself to the blind, and she asked them whether she could not be a trained nurse. There were no thoroughly trained nurses in England then, but in Kaizerwerth, Germany, there was a private hospital for the poor, in which she could be taught to help the sick. Miss Nightingale studied there and in the hospital of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris. When she came home to England, she was given a position at the head of a home for sick governesses.
Before long the great war between Russia and Turkey broke out, and England took part in it. Many wounded men were brought to the dreary military hospitals. It was then that Mr. Sidney Herbert, the Secretary of State for War, asked Florence Nightingale to get nurses together and go to the war.
“It will be a hard task,” he said, “and very painful; but if it succeeds it will do good now and multiply the good to all time.”
Miss Nightingale accepted at once. In six days she was ready. By 4th November she was at the Barracks Hospital at Scutari. It was a shocking place when she came; no vessels to hold water, no soap, towels, or cloth; the wounded men still in their stiff uniforms and covered with blood and dirt. The doctors were working bard, but there were not nearly enough of them. Everyone felt hopeless. The air in the wards was stiffing; the sheets were of stiff canvas; the corridors were crowded with sick and wounded, lying on the floor, with rats running over them. The food was cooked in great cauldrons by soldiers, and was unfit to eat. There was no laundry and almost no clean linen. And what made things even harder, the doctors and the officers did not want Miss Nightingale to come. They thought a woman would be in the way.
Just twenty-four hours after Miss Nightingale came there was a battle at Inkerman, and hundreds more wounded men came in. They were laid everywhere, indoors and out. She set to work at once, and sometimes was on her feet twenty hours a day! She went to every severe operation, so that the sick men might have the comfort of her sympathy. Five men were given up by the doctors, and left to die. Miss Nightingale took charge with one of her nurses, and fed them hour by hour till they recovered. In ten days a kitchen was in operation and instead of rancid butter, sour bread, and leathery meat, the wounded men were given beef tea, chicken broth, and gruel. Miss Nightingale had brought all the stores with her. Next, she hired a house for a laundry, and there five hundred shirts and many sheets were washed each week.
Meanwhile, at home, the Queen in her palace, and the poor women in their cottages, were all making lint, bandages, shirts and socks, pillow-cases, blankets, and sheets for the soldiers.
On and on Miss Nightingale and her nurses worked through the long snowy winter. There was sickness everywhere, and three nurses died of fever and cholera, but Miss Nightingale held out. At last even her strength gave way and she lay desperately ill with Crimean fever. She was convalescent after two weeks, and insisted on going to work till the war ended. Then she returned quietly to England, not letting anyone come to meet her.
Queen Victoria sent her a red enamel cross on a white field, and on it were the words, “Blessed are the Merciful”.
The people of England subscribed £50,000 as a testimonial to her work, and the whole of this she gave to found a “Nightingale” Home for Training Nurses.
Miss Nightingale knew that she was tired, but she did not realise that she had worn herself out—she had given her life. She was never strong again, but from her sickroom for over fifty years she helped thousands of soldiers; and through her advice, great training schools for nurses are at work all over the world. She poured out her strength to the last drop in a time of great need, but her influence is like a fountain of living water, springing up anew in other lives.
She continued to live in London for the rest of her life, greatly respected and loved. When King Edward VII created, in 1907, the “Order of Merit”, she was one of the ladies honoured by being made a member, the Queen being the other. She died full of years in August, 1910.