Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing

By not listed [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale. Source: Wikipedia Commons

I have been reading through Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, which luckily is reprinted online through UPenn’s digital library. I was doing a simple search about the precautions taken when member of a household was ill (laying straw on the street below his window, etc.) and of course got completely taken in by this interesting manual. Nightingale has very definite opinions…

On the unfortunate character of female dress:

A nurse who rustles (I am speaking of nurses professional and unprofessional) is the horror of a patient, though perhaps he does not know why.

The fidget of silk and of crinoline, the rattling of keys, the creaking of stays and of shoes, will do a patient more harm than all the medicines in the world will do him good.

The noiseless step of woman, the noiseless drapery of woman, are mere figures of speech in this day. Her skirts (and well if they do not throw down some piece of furniture) will at least brush against every article in the room as she moves.

This was written in 1860, when hoop skirts were at their height — I read a report of a young lady whose fiery death was caused by a crinoline 3 yards across. While professional nurses were generally not allowed to wear hoops, Nightingale’s work was meant for anyone who might find themselves caring for the sick; she begins the work by stating that “all women are nurses.” But even without a six-foot hoop skirt in the way, all those petticoats and yards of fabric were bound to be noisy.

On beef tea, and regular tea, for that matter:

One is the belief that beef tea is the most nutritive of all articles. Now, just try and boil down a lb. of beef into beef tea, evaporate your beef tea, and see what is left of your beef. You will find that there is barely a teaspoonful of solid nourishment to half a pint of water in beef tea,–nevertheless there is a certain reparative quality in it, we do not know what, as there is in tea.

if you consider that the only drop of real nourishment in your patient’s tea is the drop of milk, and how much almost all English patients depend upon their tea, you will see the great importance of not depriving your patient of this drop of milk.

Beef tea and tea, check. What else can you feed your nineteenth century patient when they are ill? Blancmange? That sounds like a nice dish for an invalid,  doesn’t it? Mostly cream, really. And cream…

Cream, in many long chronic diseases, is quite irreplaceable by any other article whatever. It seems to act in the same manner as beef tea, and to most it is much easier of digestion than milk. In fact, it seldom disagrees.

So yes, blancmange. But not too sweet!

For instance, sugar is one of the must nutritive of all articles, being pure carbon, and is particularly recommended in some books. But the vast majority of all patients in England, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, hospital and private, dislike sweet things,–and while I have never known a person take to sweets when he was ill who disliked them when he was well, I have known many fond of them when in health, who in sickness would leave off anything sweet, even to sugar in tea,–sweet puddings, sweet drinks, are their aversion; the furred tongue almost always likes what is sharp or pungent.

So there are a few helpful hints on how to nurse in the nineteenth century. I highly recommend taking a look at the document. It’s not very long, and there are a lot of useful examples of public opinion, medical opinion, and examples of bedside manner, the sorts of questions a doctor might ask a patient, etc., that can come in handy to any historical author.

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