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The Journal of Florence Nightingale
12th May, 1837 – It has been quite the day, both in optimistic and pessimistic ways. Not only from the gift of this journal, but the death of an innocent man. A morning of sullen weather was hardly surprising when living in this region from a young age. Although I was hoping that the weather, with her overwhelming power to cause beauty and depression, would grant me the luxury of some early summer sunshine on my birthday. My sister, Parthenope, was clearly excited. As she entered my room she wore a weak, but visible, blush while carrying a delicately wrapped package. She wished me many happy returns and handed me the gift, a journal. This was, I felt, more of a gift for her as she had an intense passion for writing. Nevertheless, I accepted it with fervour. The voluptuousness of the crimson leather that covered the notebook was appealing.
Breakfast swiftly went by, with my mother giving me a copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as a gift and my father presenting me with a new frock, which I was to wear for dinner that night. And as an extra gift, he stated “Florence, you are seventeen now, coming to adulthood and as such I shall treat you as one. I shall even aid you in search of a betrothal.” I had not even thought about an espousal at all, but I shouldn’t be surprised that it came from his mouth. My father has incessantly mentioned marriage to me since the age of fifteen. I simply nodded in reply.
I decided to spend the day visiting Doctor Elizabeth Harley at her residence. She was a third guardian to me, perhaps for the reason of my intense passion for medicine or perhaps for her kind and loving nature toward everybody she treated or was acquainted with. Her house was a beautiful Seventeenth century cottage with the smell of lilies in the main corridor and the smell of death upstairs in the small infirmaries.
“Ah! Florence, there you are. I have something new to teach you.”
That was always what she said to me, when I entered her small laboratory, besides the lounge. Today she allowed me to view tubercle bacillus cells from her precious, rare microscope. She allowed me to study it, its shape, the symptoms it causes, how to treat it with acid or alkali based medicine. I told her what I had learned from looking at the bacterium and she seemed mildly impressed. She then led me to one of her infirmaries, where I found to my misery a blood splatter floor with patients in vermillion stained clothing. Doctor Harley looked at me, but I already realised this was a result of the bacterium I just saw. The disease of Tuberculosis was ravaging the room. She took me away to the lounge, for fear I might faint over the excessive amount of blood.
“So, I gathered that today is your birthday?” she said.
I looked at her in sheer surprise; I had never mentioned the date of my birth to her. She continued before my speculations were over.
“I purchased this for you.”
She passed a reasonably large cardboard box with purple wrapping covering it, the same wrapping that she used to cover dead bodies. After ripping it with care I removed the lid and saw a glistening microscope with my name engraved on the top of it. Out of all the gifts I had received today, this one was by far the most considerate. As my tears drizzled onto my gift, the doctor got up and embraced me with the love of a mother to her daughter.
The sun was subsiding now and so dinner seemed to be near. I thanked Doctor Harley for all that she had done for me today and invited her for dinner. She accepted the offer and informed me that she would meet me there. So, I skipped along the street to Embley Park with a jovial happiness in my step. Each step brought a tap to my ear, tap, tap, tap. I stepped to my right and a thud came to my ear, followed by an insatiable groan for help. I stepped back, my footsteps made splashes. I barely made out the pool of thick crimson liquid, which stained my stainless white shoes. Blood? I fell on my bottom, with sheer shock paralysing me. The groans became clearer.
Crawling towards the hurt creature, I saw that a knife was thrusted into his kidney; the source of the pool seemed to be spouting out liquid as the pool was turning into a lake. I rushed to the person’s side to treat his critical condition.
“How horrible this is. Who did this to you?” I asked.
“Some thieves. Please help me.” He pleaded.
“Of course, yes.”
I struggled to approach his wound. It was so terrible. The perpetrator purposely twisted the knife, so no one could take it out without causing more damage. But I had to stop the blood flowing, otherwise he would die. I panicked and tore pieces of my cyan gown in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Trembling, I struggled to apply firm pressure, tearing more and more. I was able to bandage his wound with my weak fabric, but it still wasn’t enough, the fabric couldn’t stop the bleeding, no matter how tight the bandage was.
“Thank you.” He feebly said.
He was unaware his life was still in danger, unaware that the wound was still spitting out blood and could be infected. I had no choice; I needed to take him to Doctor Harley. However, the short journey to her house was elongated by the man’s weight and his groans and screams of pains hindered me to go any further without giving him rest. I feared for his life when I saw the trail, no, more like the river of blood behind us. We were only a few yards away Doctor Harley’s house, yet I felt a disturbing feeling that he was going to die tonight, whether I get him to Doctor Harley’s house or not.
“DOCTOR HARLEY, PLEASE HELP ME!” I cried in fearful desperation, the mixture of blood and tears on my face became emotionally overwhelming.
A figure comes running to the window facing me, a woman in a dress; Doctor Harley.
“Florence! What happened?” She asked as she opened the door, wrapping her arms around the injured man, taking us inside.
“I found him like this. He’s lost so much blood, I don’t know if he can make it.”
“Calm down, Florence. You’re only making him more anxious.” I glanced at him and see how apprehension permeates his eyes at my statement.
“Don’t worry; you’ll be fine with Doctor Harley taking care of you.” I mouthed at him, in a feeble attempt to slow down his fast beating heart, which became audible to my ears.
We placed him on a table, blood still flowing fast. I’ve never felt this sacred as I’m always used to seeing ill people, coughing up blood, all the time. But I’ve never seen someone injured like this. Darkness pervades my mind’s eye as I lose control over myself. My hands shiver uncontrollably and my body follows suit. I feel something forcing its way up from my stomach, tearing through my oesophagus. I drop to my knees, vomiting a vile-coloured liquid, while crying at my inability to handle a situation which is not out of my reach. Doctor Harley notices and orders me to go to the bathroom to clean myself up. Dragging myself to the bathroom, I wonder if I am really fit to be a doctor. My performance back there suggests otherwise, but I really did try to hold together. The mirror in the bathroom reflects someone I don’t know, a terrified little girl. Her cyan gown, now unrecognizable from stains of blood, vomit, tears and sweat, ruined. I clean most of the muck off and it does help in calming me down. So I return to the Doctor Harley, in the hope that she has saved the young man. But I fall to my knees when I see that she is covering the young man’s body with a white musty cloth.
“I’m sorry, Florence. I did everything I could. The bleeding was too much.” She looks right at me, firm in her position as a doctor and unaffected by the death of the innocent.
“It’s my fault. I could not stop the bleeding fast enough.” I say in a tremulous voice, unable to look at her and unfirm in my position to become a doctor.
“Can you take me home, please?” She simply nodded. Taking me upstairs to her bedroom, she lent me a burgundy dress to replace the atrocity I wear. She puts on her coat and envelops her arms around as we leave her house.
She holds me tight as we cross the night, empathetic to my trauma. Shortly, we reach Embley Park and I turn to face her.
“I’m sorry for…” I break down grabbing her in a forced embrace “I felt so scared! I didn’t know what to do! Please, don’t be disappointed!”
I expect her to reply, but she just cuddles me caringly. One phrase comes from her mouth. “You have nothing to apologise for.” Softly letting go of me, she kisses my forehead and disappears into the night. Standing by the front gate, I feel reassured by her presence in my heart. I go in, skipping my birthday dinner, and head to bed. Exhausted.
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