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'The Lady with the Lamp' who created the nursing profession

Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi


June 22, 2019

Photo provided

Connie Brehm, center, in the persona of the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale, shared the life of the 19th-century heroine with the Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi. Left, Kiwanian Anne Marie Novinger; right, program coordinator Paula Steinhaus.

Connie Brehm, speaking and dressed as British nurse Florence Nightingale, gave the Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi a stirring account of the life of the woman whose 19th-century work established the profession of nursing.

Brehm is Professor Emeritus in nursing from Azusa Pacific University, and a Tehachapi resident for a year.

Nightingale, Brehm said, was born in 1820 in Florence, Italy during her wealthy parents' four-year honeymoon. Believing that women should be well educated, her father provided her with lessons and tutors in French, German, Spanish, Latin, Greek, history, political science, philosophy, literature, mathematics, statistics and the classics. As a young girl, she brought food and clothing to local villages where people were in need.

Nightingale had many suitors following her society debut, after which young women of her social standing were expected to marry. She turned down one suitor who persisted for six years. She felt that God had other plans for her. Battling objections from her parents, who believed that the job of nursing was beneath her, she attended nursing school in Germany. Upon returning to London, she accepted the position of supervisor of the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London. Hospitals at the time were unsanitary and staffed with unsuitable, sometimes criminal, attendants.

No-nonsense and efficient, Nightingale fired half the staff, trained others and revamped the environment, ushering in light, healthy food, clean linens and providing a laundry on the premises.

Instead of dying, the patients got well.

At that time, 1854, Great Britain – along with the French and the Ottoman Empire -- was locked in a vicious war with Russia in the Crimea. Wounded soldiers were dying of infections and disease in the inadequate military hospitals. A war correspondent from the London Times, writing stories about the deplorable hospital conditions, alerted the public to the situation. Secretary of War Sir Sidney Herbert reached out to Nightingale, asking her to take a group of nurses to a hospital at Scutari (in today's Istanbul) in the Crimea. Within a week, she had pulled together 38 carefully screened, trained nurses, money (including a donation from Queen Victoria), supplies, linens and food, and they were on their way.

"It was worse than we had been told," Brehm as Nightingale said of their arrival. "There were fleas, rats, the buildings were on top of cesspools, terrible food, no linens for the beds, no pajamas for the patients, no clean dressings, and it was understaffed."

The chief medical officer of the hospital refused to let Nightingale and her nurses enter.

"No woman had been in an army hospital," Brehm said.

But with the imminent arrival of 1,000 casualties, the medical officer was obliged to relent.

Nightingale cleaned the place up, installed a laundry, provided healthy food, secured medicine, moved patient beds apart and engaged the help of Sanitary Commission planners sent from England, who cleaned up the cesspool and provided fresh water. She got help from the patients who were able to work. She kept careful records and applied her knowledge of statistics to gauge the effectiveness of her reforms. She set up a coffee house in town to compete with the tavern, as patients would sneak out to drink. She established a safe mail system so soldiers could send their paychecks home. Nightingale provided a patient library and set up a reading program.

At night, when the hospital was quiet and dark, carrying a lamp, she would check on each patient, often spending time writing letters that illiterate soldiers dictated to her. They called her "The Lady with the Lamp."

Within six months, the mortality rate had dropped from 44 percent to 2 percent.

All the while, the London Times was keeping the British aware of Nightingale's activities.

After two years at Scutari, a truce ended hostilities and she returned home a heroine.

"I was very, very tired," Brehm as Nightingale said. Worn out and suffering from "Crimean Fever," she no longer was able to provide bedside care, and was herself often bedridden. Until she died at 90 in 1910, she was active in the issues of public health and safety, clean air and the environment, writing books and hundreds of documents. She established a foundation and a school for nursing. Her reforms were adapted by field hospitals during the American Civil War.

Florence Nightingale was such an icon that Queen Victoria came to visit her. She never married and is said to have remained chaste her whole life.

Kiwanis is a service club that works to improve the lives of children, locally and internationally. The club meetings are every Wednesday at noon at the Gold Mountain Sports Tavern, 20601 West Highway 202, Tehachapi. On June 19, Ilona Klar spoke about her experience as a freedom fighter during the Hungarian uprising of 1956 against the Soviet oppressors; on June 26, educator and care specialist Judy Ardray of the Alzheimer's Association will be the speaker. All are welcome. Guests receive a free lunch. Please call (661) 822-4515 or (661) 823-4848 for information.


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