Florence Nightingale The Difference "one" Can Make

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President Hinckley

"I want to invite you, my young friends, to walk a higher road of excellence.  The other evening I picked up an old book and read Lytton Strachey's Life of Florence Nightingale.  I think books of that kind are not read very much these days.  I had read it once before, long ago.  But my rereading brought a new sense of admiration and respect for this great young woman of England who made a tremendous difference in her time.

"She was born to the upper class, to party and to dance, to go to the races and look pretty in society.  But she would have none of it.  Even her parents could not understand her.  Her great overwhelming desire was to alleviate pain and suffering, to hasten healing, to make less dreadful the hospitals of the day.  She never married.  She devoted herself to nursing and became expert according to the training then available.

"Britain became embroiled in the Crimean War.  She had friends at the head of the government and relentlessly pursued and persuaded them until she was appointed head of the hospital in Scutari, where thousands of the victims of the war were brought.

"The picture that greeted her here was one of absolute despair.  An old warehouse served as a hospital. The sanitary conditions were terrible. The cooking facilities were terrible.  Wounded men were crowded in great rooms that reeked of foul odors and the cries of the suffering.

"This frail young woman, with those she had recruited to go with her, set to work.  They beat down the walls of bureaucracy.  They beat on the heads of the bureaucrats.  I quote from Mr. Strachey:  "For those who watched her at work among the sick, moving day and night from bed to bed, with that unflinching courage, with the indefatigable vigilance, it seems as if the concentrated force of an undivided and unparalleled devotion could hardly suffice for that first portion of her task alone. Wherever, in those vast wards suffering was at its worst and the need for help was greatest, there, as if by magic, was Miss Nightingale."

"The beds that held the suffering men stretched over four miles, with barely space between each bed to walk.  But somehow, within a period of six months, "the confusion and the pressure in the wards had come to an end; order reigned in them, and cleanliness; the supplies were bountiful and prompt; important sanitary works had been carried out.  One simple comparison of figures was enough to reveal the extraordinary change:  the rate of mortality among the cases treated had fallen from 42 percent to 22 cases per thousand"  (Strachey, Lytton, Life of Florence Nightingale [1934],  1186).

"She had brought to pass an absolute miracle. Lives by the thousands were saved. Suffering was mitigated. Cheer and warmth and light came into the lives of men who otherwise would have died in that dark and dreadful place.

"The war ended.  She might have gone back to London a heroine.  The public press had sung her praise.  Her name was familiar to everyone.  But she returned incognito to escape the adulation she might have received.

"She continued her work for another 50 years, changing the hospitals both military and civilian.  She died at an advanced age, bedridden for a good while, but still improving the circumstances of those who suffer.

Perhaps no other woman, in the history of the world, has done so much to reduce human misery as this lady with the lamp, who walked through the vast wards of Scutari in the middle of the 19th century, spreading cheer and comfort, faith and hope to those who writhed in pain.  Her life was a life of excellence.

"The Quest for Excellence" - Gordon B. Hinckley - Sept. 1999 Ensign