I think it’s important to get this out of the way right from the start: Florence Nightingale had a big nose. Some would call it noble, perhaps Roman, even stately but, when it comes down to it, it was big. Fortunately it wasn’t big and wide, plastered across her face like an unattractive dumpling. It was finely chiselled. Even so, it was big. Perhaps this explains why she wasn’t that keen on having her picture taken or her portrait painted. I rather wish a few modern celebrities were of the same mind.
Incidentally, she was named after Florence, in Italy. Maybe this was a homage to her Romanesque nose…I have no evidence to support this assertion. Which prompts me to tell the story of her parent’s honeymoon. It was a grand tour through Europe and described in the guide book as ‘leisurely’. Given that Florence’s sister was born during the honeymoon indicates just how leisurely it was! I’m assuming she was conceived within wedlock, of course.
Why Florence Nightingale? Well, today, after a lovely Italian lunch with Mirinda, I visited her museum at St Thomas Hospital. It’s a bit of a shrine, really. Decorated with tiles, it resembles a mausoleum. This isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, it gives it a nice reverence.
The whole thing with museum design is interesting. The Hunterian was, basically, a lot of very tall glass cabinets with glass containers of body bits and looked very clinical and scientific. Dr Johnson’s House looked like…well, a house. And (Saint) Florence has a Victorian tomb.
While Flo’s museum is a lovely celebration of her amazing efforts to improve nursing, I noted with interest two facts. Firstly, she wasn’t the first. Apparently the French and the Russians had female nurses tending to the sick and wounded in the Crimea before she turned up.
Secondly, there was an amazing woman called Mary Seacole who made her own way to the Crimea and set up a ‘hotel’ for soldiers to come to in order to receive herbal remedies, general supplies and any unofficial surgery they might have wanted. She had largely been forgotten (I don’t think Florence rated her very highly because she didn’t take her on at Scutari) under the shadow cast by Florence’s brilliant light but she was a great Victorian woman as well. Actually, if you read about Mary here, you’ll realise she did an awful lot but was (seemingly) rejected because she was black.
But none of this should take away from the fact that Florence Nightingale was amazing. While she tended the sick and dying, going without food and sleep in order to comfort and cure, she also worked tirelessly to improve the lot of soldiers in war zones and nursing in general. She really was amazing. And she had a very tiny waist, as evidenced by her uniform which is on display at the museum.
Also on display is her bed which has to be one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever felt. Honestly, I’ve slept on ground more comfortable. Maybe this is why she didn’t bother sleeping most nights.
A cute but not necessarily useful gimmick at the museum, is the use of stethoscopes. These are used to channel the recordings which are normally in talking sticks at tourist attractions. I’m sure kids love them but, in order to accommodate all size heads, they are quite tight. Mine tried to meet in the middle, squeezing my ear drums together. I gave up listening after a while and just hung it round my neck like a doctor out for a stroll.
Something that wasn’t really mentioned was the fact that Florence was a bit mad. I’m pretty sure she’d not have been able to accomplish most of the things she did had she been completely sane. The museum does mention her declining health, mostly brought on by a germ she picked up in the Crimea. This, apparently, made her irritable and short tempered. I reckon that could have been her nose, too.