The Heart of Healthcare
The year 1854.
The sound of gunfire and the stench of blood fill the air. A small hospital, overrun with wounded, dying soldiers. No matter what the outcome was on the battlefield; here, the war was lost already.
Until the tide turned. A lady with a lamp, and her group of nurses scrubbed the walls clean, of both the germs and the remnants of hopelessness that had been clinging to them. Day after day, night after night, they nursed, until Death bowed her head, and the mortality rate plummeted.
The year 2020.
Not many sounds percolate through the mask created by the whole world holding its breath in fear. The world stands changed; there’s a silent killer among us. In wards teeming with the virus, where even family members cannot step in, they are there. Nurses, at the frontlines, with weapons of nothing but bravery and care.
Centuries can pass, but the dedication and commitment nurses show shall remain unchanged. Not only do they hold a patient’s life in their hands, but they also ever so often put their own on the line, all in an effort to save another.
Nursing has existed, in some form or the other, ever since humanity has. As the Oxford Dictionary puts it, it is the act of providing care for the sick and the infirm. It came into existence as a profession — one of the noblest ones there is, at that — during the Crimean war, helped to its position with the help of Florence Nightingale.
Like guardian angels, a nurse enters a patient’s life. Brimming with sincerity and compassion, irrespective of gender, money, status or age, they care. Day in and day out, promote health, prevent disease and help patients cope with illness.
The daughter of a wealthy family, the well educated Florence Nightingale was a far cry from the crowd of people that gravitated towards nursing in those days. Social conventions deemed it improper for a lady of her status to spend her days nursing people. And yet, her beliefs were so iron-clad, that she broke free of all the societal norms, and pursued nursing — a decision the world is eternally indebted to her for.
Nightingale believed that well-educated women, using scientific education and proper knowledge about healthy lifestyles, could radically improve the care of sick patients. Moreover, she believed it could provide women a new source of income and freedom, as they had very few such sources at that time.
In 1854, these beliefs of hers were proven true. She, along with a group of nurses, was asked to go to Scutari (present day Üsküdar, Turk) by the British Government to help the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War. Within days of their arrival, the entire barracks hospital had been born anew, and in terms of 19th Century science. The walls had been scrubbed clean for sanitation, windows had been opened for ventilation, and nourishing food was prepared and served regularly. Proper medicine was administered and treatment was ensured, such that within weeks, results were seen. The death rate reduced drastically, and fatality due sanitation, or lack thereof, was no longer an issue.
The world soon came to know of the “Lady with the Lamp,” who made nightly rounds around the barracks, ensuring the health and safety of every soldier.
By the end of the 19th Century, the Western World agreed with Nightingale’s views — Nursing had to be paired with science, care and education, and given the respect it deserved. Her work lifted the reputation of nursing from lowly and menial to a respectable profession to which many upper-class women aspired, and set the stage for it to become the highly respectable and noble profession it is today.
Nursing forms the core of the International Red Cross, having always been an integral part of all its operations in times of war, disaster and disease. In the 19th century, not only did they become the public faces of the Red Cross (owing to their distinctive uniforms), but also, they were instrumental in setting the stone for important organisations and initiatives aligned with the movement.
The founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Harlowe Barton is one of the most honoured women in American history. She is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work and civil rights advocacy at a time when women did not have the right to vote.
Clara was a Christmas gift to the earth and she was born on December 25 in the year 1821. With the outbreak of the U.S civil war in 1861, Clara found her true calling and worked relentlessly to provide supplies and support to the wounded soldiers Towards the end of the war, she was instrumental in establishing a way to reunite missing men with their families. She travelled to Europe and continued her work by assisting with the preparation of military hospitals during the Franco — Prussian war. Barton was inspired by the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, which she worked with while in Europe, to form the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. The American Red Cross has grown to become the largest humanitarian organisation providing emergency assistance and disaster relief in the United States.
Yet another formidable personality in the field of nursing, is Jane Delano. She single handedly created the American Red Cross Nursing Service; her dedication and energy make her an inspiration to all Red Cross nurses worldwide.
Not very far from mainland India, there is a unique story of courage and passion. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami had a devastating effect on the “Onge Tribe” of Andaman and Shanti Teresa Lakra is considered to be its knight in shining armour.
With just 78 remaining in the tribe, Lakra left her newborn child and the entire family to nurse the people suffering from respiratory and skin diseases. The tsunami swallowed the entire island and pushed them into jungles. She dauntlessly stayed in open tents and catered to their needs by feeding the mentally ill people with her very own hands. She would trek through dense forests and cross rivers just for her sheer passion for service to humanity. She was honoured with the Florence Nightingale Award for her impeccable compassion.
“We’re all part of one team — the cleaner is just as important as the doctor” quoted a nurse who worked during the pandemic.
Wearing PPE suits in the scorching sun, dripping with sweat, they relentlessly served, assisting the doctors and sometimes taking charge themselves. Unable to meet their families or even touch their own children, they stayed away from their nearest ones, when the whole world was in lockdown.
Countless nurses even lost their lives bravely battling the microscopic virus. Right from following social distancing measures in terribly tiny tents to wearing masks for several hours at a stretch, they gave it their cent percent. With the healthcare system struggling, they had to take many tough calls by attending to the most vulnerable patients. The pandemic would have never come under control if not for them.
Words wouldn’t suffice the contributions made by the nurses to their profession, and to society as a whole. Their unconditional care, compassion and passion towards their service truly makes them the HEART OF HEALTHCARE!
Written by Arkapriya Chakraborty, Darshni S and Shristi Gairolia