“Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift. There is nothing small in it.”
~ Florence Nightingale.
My first nursing experience was on a gynecology ward, run by an old-fashioned ward Sister (Nurse Manager, US style). She was close to retiring and had not changed the way she ran the ward in thirty years. She had signs posted in treatment rooms, in the kitchen, in the soiled utility room (which was called the sluice, another old-fashioned term). The one that made all young nursing students laugh was posted over the autoclave (sterilizing) machine which announced: ‘Everything which enters the vagina must be sterile!’
She also favored quotes from Florence Nightingale, a pioneering nurse who died in 1910. Many of my instructors, when they wanted to let us know how long they had been a nurse, would start out ‘back when I trained with Florence Nightingale…’ Yet I don’t remember learning much about her, apart from her walking the field hospital in the Crimea at night, carrying a lamp. But Sister Parry, a peppery older lady (probably younger than I am now), kept Florence alive through her words: ‘Unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that can be inflicted on the sick or the well.’ This sign was posted in the kitchen, a reminder to Marie (one of the many Irish Maries that worked in the hospital) that she should be as quiet as she could.
Sister Parry still informs the way I teach future nurses today. She is my example of the opposite of evidence-based practice, which is the key to every discipline today. We all should, I am sure, be practicing our skills based on that which is proved to be the most effective, whether it is in education, auto mechanics, or managing the environment. Sister Parry did not. She practiced according to her limited experience, and no one was allowed to suggest she was wrong. She believed in keeping patients in bed after surgery. For at least three days! Every novice nurse knows that prolonged immobility gives rise to any number of post-operative complications. I always teach that a good surgical nurse is a bully (in the best possible way of course, like tough love!) for he/she will make sure that you start moving early, to help you recover quickly and be home sooner.
This week we have been experiencing the full fury of Hurricane Ian. Mother Nature has demonstrated what she is capable of, and like any angry mother, we don’t want to see that again. And yet it appears that we are doing everything possible to ensure that we will see it again, and soon. The science shows us that global warming is real, that it has causes and consequences, and unless we change our evil ways, we will keep on reaping the rewards.
It is humbling to see the force of the natural world. I found myself transfixed by those brave/foolish reporters who feel they have to allow themselves to be blown to the ground to demonstrate the full force of the winds. Having traveled to Fort Myers, and spent time on the beach; having driven through Sanibel, peered at the gulf-front properties through groves of sea grapes; having wondered what it must be like to live within sound and sight of the soothing waves; I can only try to imagine the devastation and destruction wrought on those million dollar properties. Now all we can see are storm strewn piles of firewood and debris.
One thing I remember well from Hurricane Andrew (thirty years ago now) is that television cameras can only provide one tenth of the extent of the view. The human eye is amazing in its ability to survey 360 degrees of damage, to get the full impression of the power of a storm. For those who stayed in its path, I can only imagine the terror and existential threat that they experienced.
At a time of disaster, the best in humankind comes to the fore (along with the worst, as predators will emerge to try to make a quick buck off people’s suffering). But people will tirelessly work together for the good of all, will show kindness and generosity that ignores the current political, social and racial divides in this country. But what of the future?
When I heard of the ICU that lost its roof as Ian raged outside I could only imagine the organized chaos within the hospital as critically ill patients had to be protected. Once again we are reminded of the true life or death situations that nurses can face on the job. And that nurses (and other essential workers) consistently put the lives of others ahead of their own safety and wellbeing. I don’t know if Florence has a quote for that, but we call it ‘patient-centered care’. Current affairs provide the nurse educator with plenty of real-life experiences to inform those who are choosing to enter the field a reality check. Nursing is not for the faint of heart.
After the destruction there will in time come the rebuilding. Will those in charge take into account the new realities of our global climate? Will every opportunity be taken to choose renewable, sustainable materials and fuel sources? Will town planners change building codes to meet ever increasing temperatures and more frequent five hundred year floods? It seems as if each time we focus on repeating past mistakes, rebuilding in those oh so beautiful waterfront areas, stressing the natural world out even more.
Florida, this most beautiful state for near-tropical weather and powdery white-sand beaches, needs visionary leaders who can not only anticipate what the future may bring, but can implement innovative ways to correct the errors of the past. As part of the problem creators, how can we become problem solvers? Third world countries like Pakistan are paying a heavy price for global warming. Catastrophic flooding killed 1500 people, affected 33 million, and devastated crops. Ten days after Fiona tore through Puerto Rico hundreds of thousands of people are still without water and power. Climate change is real, it is manmade, and only mankind can implement the necessary changes to assure the survival of this beautiful planet.
This Friday morning I am thinking of the hundreds of thousands of those affected by Ian, and hoping that their suffering will motivate us to make changes in the way we live together on this planet. I hope that we are all using our special gifts to the best of our ability, to not only live our best lives, but to ensure that others can do the same.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!