IN WOODY ALLEN’S RECENT FILM, Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett (playing Jasmine) is trying to rebuild her life after the collapse of her husband’s business (and death). When her sister’s boyfriend (who is a male nurse) suggests nursing as a career for her to consider, she dismisses it derisively with a wave of her hand, typical of the socialite she was not so long ago. This one minute frame captured for me the general lack of respect accorded, quite unfairly I must say, to the nursing profession. It is a remarkable coincidence that the day I viewed Blue Jasmine (yesterday) was also International Nursing Day which coincides with the birthday of the most celebrated nurse of all time, Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910).
IT IS NOT GENERALLY KNOWN THAT while serving at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, Turkey, treating wounded soldiers in the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale’s first requisition was for 200 scrubbing brushes besides insisting that the filthy clothes of patients be washed outside the hospital. She also ensured that the hospital wards remained off bounds for women after 8.00 pm taking it upon herself to make the rounds of the hospital wards inquiring about the welfare of the wounded army men. This incidentally earned her the nickname “Lady with the Lamp”. In 1907, she was conferred the Order of Merit – the first woman ever to receive it. The Nightingale School of Nurses attached to St. Thomas Hospital in London is the first of its kind in the world and established Florence Nightingale as the founder of trained nursing as a profession for women. In 1860, GBP 45,000 was handed over by her for establishing the above School of Nurses from out of the Nightingale Fund subscribed to by the public to commemorate her work in the Crimean War.
NURSING AS A PROFESSION HAS REGRETTABLY not received the respect and attention it deserves considering how critical nursing functions are in any clinic or hospital. Millions of lives depend on the quality of attention and services rendered by nurses. Yet, like Jasmine in the above named Woody Allen film, the profession is considered as a menial one and it is also not free from exploitation by the medical establishment. This is also compounded by the fact that in most countries like India and Philippines (which also incidentally provide the largest contingent of nurses worldwide), nursing is resorted to as a profession that facilitates an escape from poverty. Ironically, it is also true the nurses who earn very decent salaries overseas still have issues in finding suitable life partners back home, given the prejudice towards the profession.
AMONG THE HOME NURSES WHO HAVE served my 93-year old mother back home in Kerala, one has come across individuals who are in the profession to pay for their children’s higher education, clear housing loans, escape ill-treatment from their husbands or quite simply to remain independent and lead their own lives. As in the case of any profession, the quality of service has ranged from excellent to indifferent. But our lives depend on them !
NURSES OUGHT TO BE TREATED WITH greater degree of respect and empathy. For the work they do, particularly in hospitals and private nursing homes they appear to be inadequately paid. On the occasion of the International Nursing Day that has just gone by, one fervently hopes that they have better tomorrows, less exploitation and honor for the noble profession they are in.