Transforming Nurses' Stress and Anger: Steps toward Healing

By Sandra P. Thomas | Go to book overview

Preface

I have been to Scutari, to that immense and formidable hospital where Florence Nightingale cared for thousands of British soldiers wounded in the Crimea. Prior to my visit, I had read all about what happened there, but the written accounts of Nightingale’s wartime experiences did not adequately prepare me for the emotional impact of being in this place. As I walked through the long dark corridors, the anguished cries of the sick and dying men still rose, reverberating against unfeeling stone. I could see them piled like so many bloody discarded rags, thrashing and moaning. What consternation Nightingale must have felt upon finding 3,000 men crammed into the Selimiye Army Barracks that served as the hospital. Four miles of beds, tightly crushed together, held the mutilated bodies awaiting Miss Nightingale’s ministrations. The “hospital” had no kitchens, no laboratory, no operating table, and no bed linens. It is hard to imagine the conditions at Scutari.

There were no basins, no towels, no soap, no brooms, no mops, no trays, no plates … no
knives or forks or spoons. The supply of fuel was constantly deficient. The cooking
arrangements were preposterously inadequate, and the laundry was a farce. As for
purely medical materials, the tale was no better. Stretchers, splints, bandages—all were
lacking; and so were the most ordinary drugs…. The very building itself was radically
defective. Huge servers underlay it, and cesspools loaded with filth wafted their poison
into the upper rooms … the walls were thick with dirt; incredible multitudes of vermin
swarmed everywhere. (Strachey, 1918/1996, pp. 16–17)

Have any of us in modern nursing ever faced such appalling conditions? So daunting a task? Probably not, unless we have nursed during primitive wartime conditions. Yet all of us can readily empathize with the enormity of Nightingale’s workload. So many patients, so many urgent needs. Compounding the difficulties presented by the sheer volume of work at Scutari was the scathing hostility of the men in authority. The intrusion of Nightingale and her small band of nurses into the all-male military environment was greeted with derision. Obstacle after obstacle was placed before her by the unyielding army bureaucracy. Even today, we can identify with such obstacles. We decry “the

-vii-

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