Monday, December 26, 2016

Catherine Reef's "Florence Nightingale"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, and reported the following:
A painting in warm tones dominates page 99 of Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. It depicts a scene at Scutari (the Üsküdar district of Istanbul) between 1854 and 1856, during the Crimean War. Sick and wounded British soldiers have arrived at the army’s Barrack Hospital. Most are ambulatory, although this often was not the case, and one reclines on the stone floor. The men likely waited days for transport from the camps and battlefields where they were stricken. Florence Nightingale is at the door, receiving them.

Most images of Nightingale created at this time were fanciful, romanticized presentations of a selfless, dedicated lady bearing an oil lamp and bringing kindness and comfort to ailing men far from home. The painting on page 99 [inset,left; click to enlarge] is different because the artist, Jerry Barrett, journeyed to Scutari and sketched from life. His is the real Nightingale, businesslike and plainly attired in a brown dress and white cap. She is flanked by Charles and Selina Bracebridge, her married chaperones. As important as she was—keep in mind that she was in charge of nursing in the British military hospitals in Turkey—Nightingale was still a Victorian lady, and it was improper for her to travel alone.

The scene at the Barrack Hospital is at the heart of Nightingale’s story. She spent her first thirty-four years preparing for it by studying hospital reports and tackling subjects that made up a man’s curriculum, such as algebra and chemistry; by resisting pressure from her family and society to marry and live a conventional life; and by answering what she believed was a call from God to pursue nursing, then a lowly line of work. As a result, when Britain was at war and her government appealed to her for help, she was ready.

Ignorance and mismanagement had allowed the nation’s military hospitals to become places of suffering and filth, where thousands of soldiers were dying needlessly of infection, disease, and neglect. There was “but one person in England” capable of assembling a skilled nursing team and turning such a horrific situation around, Secretary of War Sidney Herbert knew, and he reached out to her. He warned Nightingale that the task would be “after all full of horror, & requiring besides knowledge & goodwill, great energy, & great courage.…” Nightingale was undaunted.

By page 99 Nightingale has won over the doctors who initially rejected help from her female nurses. She and her staff have cleaned and dressed many wounds, replaced foul bedding, and scrubbed the wards. Morale is improving, and the death rate is falling. But shortages persist, and providing palatable food remains a problem.

Twenty pages later, with the coming of peace, Nightingale will return to England. For the remainder of her long life—and the book—she will work for the public good, improving health for all Britons and elevating nursing to a respectable profession for women. As she professed, “Constant progress is the law of life.”
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

My Book, The Movie: Noah Webster.

--Marshal Zeringue