Did Nightingale Influence My Family’s Use of Nature Before The 1918 Flu Pandemic?

At the turn of the century,  my mother’s family lived through the 1918 flu pandemic in Kansas where it was first reported.   My mother was born in 1916.  Before her birth, one of her older sisters had died at the age of 2 from the flu and pneumonia around 1914.

My mother’s older surviving sisters told a story about how they as  little girls slept outside all bundled up in a tent in the cold to avoid continuous exposure to their baby sister’s fatal disease.

I can only imagine the level of stress that the 1918 pandemic caused my family having already lost a child years before.

It’s interesting now reading what was understood about disease transmission at the time.

Nightingale’s Nursing

Nightingale reported in the mid 1800s that transmission, illness and suffering were related to environmental filth and decay.  Her view of nursing revolved around controlling the health of the environment and use of nature.

Nightingale explained that nursing attends to the health – illness continuum.  A disease or injury pushes one’s health into the illness end of the continuum.

Notes on Nursing focuses on illness prevention, and was designed for use in the home (at least initially) rather than the hospital.

Nightingale described healing as a reparative process regulated by the laws of nature.  She believed that nature alone cures; and that the purpose of medicine is to assist nature by removing obstructions (surgically or through medicine), and then the nurse’s job is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon them through observation, prevention and controlling environmental elements.

Nightingale’s environmental elements focused on:

  • ventilation
  • warmth
  • sick room management
    • visitor rules
    • calming patient’s anxieties
  • noise
  • light
  • color
  • diet
  • activities – such as
    • reading
    • crafts
    • access to the outdoors
  • bed and bedding
  • cleanliness of rooms and walls
  • personal cleanliness
  • observation of the sick

Nightingale believed that disease need not be accompanied by suffering

In watching disease, both in private houses and in public hospitals, the thing which strikes the experienced observer most forcibly is this, that the symptoms or the sufferings generally considered to be inevitable and incident to the disease are very often not symptoms of the disease at all, but of something quite different –of the want of fresh air, or of light, or of warmth, or of quiet, or of cleanliness, or of punctuality and care in the administration of diet, of each or of all of these.

The reparative process which nature has instituted and which we call disease has been hindered by some want of knowledge or attention, in one or in all of these things, and pain, suffering, or interruption of the whole process sets in.

Notes of Nursing, p 1

My question today

Nightingale’ Notes on Nursing was published in 1859 based on her Crimean War and hospital system’s observations and statistics.

Was my mother’s family’s use of nature in 1914 in preventing the spread of their daughter’s fatal disease to the rest of the family a result of distribution of Nightingale’s findings, or from the local army doctors and nurses in Kansas, or from my family’s own observations and common sense?

Viewing life of other times is fascinating to think about.  And here we are in 2020.


Notes on Nursing, 1859
Florence Nightingale by B.M. Dossey, 2000

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