12th May, 2020; 03.00 AM
Somewhere in the world
She woke up in a startle when the ward boy called her for the third time in almost a yell. She didn’t know when she had dozed off in the small closet at the Nurses’ station. It had been almost 55 hours now since she had seen her bed. She and all her colleagues, nurses, ward boys, technicians, paramedics, housekeeping staff, were on their toes since they assumed duty in this new ward, prepared on a war-footing to face the acute pandemic situation. She remembered when she saw her name in the list she felt so proud, like a soldier in the frontier. She knew things would be tough and grueling but did not know it would be emotionally exhausting too. She never realized the fragility of human life like she was experiencing presently. She went in the ward, helped the boy with a patient, pushed injection in another as instructed by the Doctor, adjusted the oxygen mask of the 12 year old and came back with all the data. She had to compile the vital readings of certain parameters for their job briefing later in the day.
“You know how important is the data to deal with such critical situations and the related research works? And you stay more with patients, taking care of their timely needs. So this little compilation will add up to your daily job.” The officer from the Health Department told them in the short training they received before being engaged here. “Also, you would be amazed to know, who was the pioneer in medical statistics and emphasized the importance of data in dealing with public health emergencies”, he continued before the curious faces, “she was a Nurse like you, the Nurse the world remembers even this day, Florence Nightingale”.
She knew this. She had particularly read everything about Florence Nightingale, first in her school and then in the internet search engine after she joined the profession herself. She knew she was named Florence as she was born in a city with the same name. Her parents were against her wish to take up nursing in her youth which she felt was ‘a call from her soul, the will of the God’. Her urge to serve the mankind, nurse the British Army not only in London but even on foreign shores, advocating for improved sanitation and hygienic situation have never failed to amaze her. Above all, what attracted her most was the analytical skill that Florence possessed! She had immense statistical skills in registering mortality, recording sickness and symptoms thus analyzing the data collected, representing them in graphical form like pie diagrams noting down every details in beautifully crafted calligraphy.
Her string of thoughts was broken with the sound of her mobile. “Happy Birthday! You never told me you shared your birthday with Florence Nightingale? Read today is her 200th Birth Anniversary! You were destined to be a Nurse it seems. Proud of you..”
A smile appeared on her lips as she read the message just when someone came and informed about a colleague being tested positive for the infection. “It means we all will have to go to quarantine!” the person was scared. She felt numb emotionally. “It means I will not have to search for a place to stay for the next fortnight”, she sighed staring at her belongings at the corner of the room which she brought along when her landlord made her leave the house couple of days back without notice. But her father in her hometown? Will she ever get to see him again?
12th May, 2020; 12.00 Noon
She was busy cooking rice in a big tumbler in the make shift temporary kitchen that her brother and her friends had set up outside the hospital. Her brother was an ambulance driver of that hospital. They decided to raise subscription and arrange for feeding the relatives and kin of the patients suffering from the virus admitted in there. When the brother told her, she was hesitant at first. Nowadays, she never felt comfortable going out. But then she remembered she could hide under the cover of a mask and eagerly agreed. She was enjoying her work now.
It was crowded today. A TV reporter came forward and the cameraman was shooting their kitchen. She turned her back to the camera instantly. She heard the reporter with the microphone talking,
“I am reporting from the hospital premises where the ambulance drivers and other stakeholders are jointly running a community kitchen for the patients’ relatives who had travelled from distant towns and villages for treating their nearest persons. On the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, it is heartening to see such an act of compassion. Florence Nightingale had also worked actively for women’s rights helping to abolish prostitution law and women trafficking……”
She slowly turned towards the reporter. She did not know Florence Nightingale but she certainly would never forget the pain of burning skin when the acid fell on her face. She was trying to flee when she was being taken to be sold for prostitution. Her hand automatically went over the mask on her face under which the scar was hidden.
12th May, 2020; 6.30 PM
Some other place
Finally she got the time. She took up her phone and dialed to connect a video call. Soon a young face of a 10 year old surfaced – her son, her world. It seemed ages now that she had physically taken him in her lap, cuddled him, read him a story or feed him. Since the break of this pandemic she had shifted in the official quarter of their hospital as she did not want to endanger anyone in her home. “Mom”, the kid was saying, “you know what I learnt today in school? A poem. Santa Filomena by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Lo! In that house of misery
A Lady with a Lamp I see,
Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And flit from room to room…”
Her eyes moistened. He always said his poems with actions.
“Mom, you also work in the hospital. Are you the Lady with the Lamp too?”
No she wasn’t, she thought. But as she managed the office here in the hospital every day, she saw these young girls, mostly in their early twenties, handling such difficult situation relentlessly. There was stress, fear, exhaustion, complaints but none of them had left the battlefield. The battle with this deadly contagious Virus was no less than the Battle of Crimea. Issues of sanitation, hygiene, isolation, documentation still exist even after over 160 years. The path was laid by the magnanimous Florence Nightingale, of care, of service and of course nursing when she moved around the wounded soldiers in the night, as all others slept, with a lamp in her hand. In fact she first sowed the seed of professional nursing with the establishment of Nightingale school of Nursing as early as 1860. Nursing in India also had traversed a long way; from the midwives to the female medical labour under British Army during the first World War moving towards the future of today’s extremely specialized professional nursing set up.
In memory of her great service towards humankind, the hospital administrator picked up her phone and ordered a special dinner for all the staff of the hospital. She wanted to share her gratitude with all the unsung warriors of her hospital on the International Nurses’ Day.
She tried to remember the poem,
“A lady with a lamp shall stand
In the great history of land,
A noble type of good,
Florence, Hope you continue to live in our services towards mankind, forever.
Srabanti Sen : A Tourism professional, passionate about travelling, exploring new ideas, ventures and deeply involved in creative arts practise which includes dance and writing. Also, a co-editor of Kothabriksha.