A Hero To Hold | Memories | Research
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This scene is set in 1848, nine years prior to A Hero to Hold. Lieutenant David Scott and Lieutenant Lord Miles Wakefield, both age twenty-one, compete for a regimental championship.
THE HORSE RACE
I know it as surely as I know my name. I’m about to win the 11th Hussars’ Finest Horseman title for the second year running, and Lieutenant David Scott will be inscribed on the cup.
The field has been narrowed to four—Pierce, Jamison, Wakefield, and myself. The others are excellent horsemen, men I’m proud to ride beside, but with complete honesty, my besting them is a foregone conclusion. Once I win today’s contest, a four-mile steeplechase race with target shooting, my narrow loss at yesterday’s jumping competition won’t matter.
We line up. There’s nothing I love more than being up on Alynore and facing a challenge. He’s eager to run, and I keep a tight rein as he dances, kicking up enough dust to dull the high gloss of my boots. Some spectators point. They’ve turned out in their finery to watch—most of the regiment and the officers’ families, plus area residents. It’s Alynore that draws their attention. He’s a spirited beauty—a coat like black satin, seventeen hands, and born to run.
The entire regiment is aware of how competitive Wakefield and I are, and the betting has been heavy. Put us on the same cricket team and we’re unstoppable, but pit us against each other . . . Well, we’ve been competing over pretty much everything since we were children at school together, and we’re fierce about it. I know Miles Wakefield better than I do my brother.
I study Wakefield’s horse. He’s not riding his regular cavalry mount, but a new acquisition, a hunter. The horse, Jupiter, looks fast, but he’s young and inexperienced. Yesterday he’d proven himself an exceptional jumper when he bested Alynore by one rail, but I don’t care how high he can jump. I’ve yet to find a horse that can beat Alynore in a steeplechase race.
A bugle call quiets the crowd and Sergeant-Major Burns takes his position, pistol held aloft. “On your mark,” Burns barks. I adjust the reins and lean forward. Alynore’s ears flick back. “Get ready.” The discharge of Burns’ revolver launches Alynore forward. Within two strides he’s stretched into a gallop.
Alynore is cavalry trained—trained to charge forward amidst gunfire and cannon shot. I revel in his power and speed. I raised him and trained him, and our connection is so astute I merely think what I want him to do, and he reacts.
The first target appears and I rein him in. I draw my carbine from its bucket, aim, fire, and urge Alynore forward again.
Right from the start it’s between Wakefield and me. By the time we reach the water jump we’re well ahead of Pierce and Jamison and our lead is increasing. My excitement spills out in a grin.
We’re two-thirds of the way ‘round and taking a hedge when we flush a pheasant. Alynore sails over the hedge, but Jupiter refuses, jumps sideways, and unseats Wakefield.
I’ve only got two jumps to go. The last of the course is flat, allowing for a strong finish. I look back, expecting to see Wakefield collecting his horse and remounting. Instead I see him lying on the ground, not moving. Off to the side, Jupiter’s grazing. I slow, still watching, and see Pierce and Jamison clear the hedge. They also look back, but don’t stop.
Wakefield has an uncommonly hard head. I can’t imagine his tumble caused any significant injury. I turn my attention back to the course. We take the last jump and the long finishing stretch is ahead. I look back again. I can’t see Wakefield any longer, but Jupiter hasn’t moved.
Damn it! I turn Alynore in a wide circle and head back.
I’m there within seconds. Wakefield doesn’t move, and my worry escalates. I rein in and jump out of the saddle. A wild burst of cheering comes from the stands. Pierce and Jamison have crossed the finish line.
“Miles?” I kneel and give his shoulder a little shake. He opens his eyes and relief floods me.
For a moment his gaze looks unfocused, then it sharpens. “You beat me?” he growls.
“I believe Pierce beat both of us,” I answer. He sits up, and I keep my hand on his shoulder. “You all right? You were out cold.”
He palms the back of his head and winces. I take a look. There’s a large lump and a small amount of blood. I help him to his feet. He wobbles a bit, then limps toward Jupiter.
As soon as he gains the saddle, I mount Alynore. Wakefield doesn’t know it yet, but I intend to be his nursemaid for the remainder of the day. I’ve never seen him lose a race and not offer up excuses, accusations and complaints. He’s also holding Jupiter to a walk, which in itself is telling.
“I had ten pounds on this race,” Wakefield grumbles.
“Surely not on yourself.” The amused disbelief in my voice is calculated to irk him.
“You didn’t imagine you were going to win, did you?”
“I did at least stay on my horse.” My smug tone works. He shoots me a disdainful look and Jupiter’s head lifts. We’ve come to the finishing straight.
Wakefield digs his heels into Jupiter’s sides and the horse explodes forward. “Race you,” he yells over his shoulder.
I spur after him, bend low, urge Alynore full out. Wakefield’s mistaken if he expects any quarter from me. We pound toward the finish line and a great satisfaction wells inside.
We’re dead even, and only the last second will tell the winner.
As a nurse, I always thought the most rewarding moments came when I was able to touch someone’s life. I’ll never forget the hug a sexual assault victim gave me as I discharged her or the tearful gratitude of a patient I talked down from an asthma-induced panic attack. But after thirty-five years of nursing, one patient and her husband stand as sentinels in my memory. They taught me it’s not always what I do for someone else. My most cherished nursing memory is because of what a patient and her husband shared with me.
Years ago I was on duty in Emergency when Susie arrived by ambulance at two A.M. Her husband Dan accompanied her. For many years Susie had suffered from Scleroderma, a connective tissue disease, and now was dying. Although Susie and Dan had anticipated this night and planned for her to die at home, Dan found the reality difficult to cope with. “I just couldn’t stand it,” he told me, his eyes beseeching my understanding. He explained he wanted to make sure Susie’s passing was as easy as possible for her, but he’d also needed to have people around him.
I had never seen a person in such an advanced stage of this disease. Susie appeared petrified—her skin leathery and firm to the touch, unable to speak or move any joint. Her eyelids were the one part of her body still under her command. Susie blinked at Dan, and by watching her blinks, eye movements and emotion expressed by her eyes, Dan knew what Susie was saying. They had a personal sort of Morse code.
Susie lived at home and her person was immaculate. Her styled light brown hair, perfect makeup, and manicured and polished nails and toenails attested to the kind of care she received. In spite of her underweight frame, her skin appeared healthy and intact. She wore beautiful jewelry. She even smelled good.
Dan hovered over her and stroked her face. “I love you, darling. I love you,” he told her over and over. He thanked her for their life together, for the joy she’d given him. Susie gazed up at Dan, and even I, unfamiliar with her method of communication, saw the love she expressed.
He moistened her lips with gentle fingers, asked if she were in pain, made certain she felt comfortable. He didn’t bother to wipe away the tears that ran down his cheeks. They cried together. Their outpouring of love was mesmerizing, yet I didn’t feel like a voyeur. They welcomed me as a participant in this, their last journey together.
Dan stayed at Susie’s side as her breathing grew increasingly shallow, until her lungs ceased their movement.
When her eyes closed for the final time, I accompanied him to the Quiet Room. “Isn’t there a friend or pastor you can phone?” I asked.
“I called our best friend to stay with our nine-year-old son. There isn’t anyone else I’d ask in the middle of the night. And it’s Sunday morning. My pastor will need to prepare for services.” Dan clutched my hand. “How will I tell our children?” he asked.
“Your heart will show you the way,” I said.
“When we didn’t have children, we adopted our daughter. She’s a missionary in Europe now,” Dan said. “Then after Susie was diagnosed, she got pregnant. It couldn’t have been a bigger surprise; she was nearly too old to have a child. We think the meds she’d started taking ‘woke something up.’ For our son to come at such a time—we were overjoyed.”
He spoke of Susie, their many wonderful years together and how much he admired her. I held his hand and listened. His strong grip conveyed his need.
Finally he grew quiet. He smiled a little, his mouth tremulous. “In your whole life,” Dan said, “you just never imagine you could go through something like this … and the only person with you is a complete stranger … and that the person could mean so much.”
His gripping hand and his words conveyed his gratitude, but his expression thanked me more than words ever could. I feel privileged to have been present, helping this man get through what was probably the most acute crisis of his life. And I feel blessed to have witnessed Susie and Dan’s expressions of love that night.
I am so fortunate to be a nurse.
A Short History of a Phenomenal Woman
May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910
When Florence Nightingale turned twelve, her wealthy father took over her education. Women weren’t permitted to attend college, but under the tutelage of her exacting father Florence received the equivalent of an Edinburgh and Cambridge education. She was a serious scholar, studying Roman, French, German, Italian and Turkish history, English political and constitutional history, composition, mathematics, philosophy, ethics, grammar, and the Bible. Fluent in six languages and accustomed to engaging in philosophical discussions with her father, she became comfortable in a man’s world. She translated parts of Plato and was captivated by his proposal of a society in which women could have roles equal to men’s.
Just sixteen, Florence’s life changed when she heard what she described as the voice of God, and for a few minutes knew His direct presence. Biographers have likened this to Joan of Arc’s calling. Florence kept this momentous event secret.
The next year Florence traveled to Italy with her family. Considered to be gay, charming and entertaining, she was much admired by men. She appeared elegant and distinguished and was widely and deeply read. She preferred the company of men, feeling women were uninteresting.
Upon her return to England she decided the vocation God had called her to was nursing the sick. She began caring for the sick in the nearby village, which horrified her family. Ladies might care for sick family members, but no one else.
Her friends were intellectuals, reformers, people of international repute. She formed a friendship with Richard Milnes, a remarkable and socially prominent man. They had similar interests and views and were soon in love.
The same year she met Richard she learned of an institution in Germany, Kaiserswerth, which offered training for nurses. There were few such places in the world and none in England. It was respectable, so her family couldn’t totally dismiss it, but they wouldn’t approve of her going. It took her six years to even partially convince them. Hospitals then were revolting -- filthy, foul and stinking. The nurses slept in the wards with their patients. No woman of character would ever sleep in such a place and most nurses were prostitutes and drunkards.
Florence became depressed. She’d kept journals all her life, and wrote, “forgive me, oh Lord, and let me die, this day let me die.” She believed God was punishing her for her unworthiness to do his work. Life seemed meaningless and acting like a dutiful daughter sickened her both mentally and physically.
In 1848 Richard Milnes, who had been pursuing her for seven years, gave her an ultimatum. She told him “no”. Later she was to write that although she loved Richard, she could not see how she could be married and still do the work God had called her to. Her parents were furious when she refused Milnes, which only increased the tension at home.
With a family friend she traveled to Egypt and Greece. While in Egypt God spoke to her again -- a highpoint of her life. On her way home she briefly stopped at Kaiserswerth. Wherever she traveled, Florence gathered information on hospitals. When friends traveled, they sent her reports on matters related to care of the sick. Florence came to know more about hospitals and hospital reform (including design) than almost anyone living.
Finally, to save her sanity, Florence decided to go back to Kaiserswerth for three months. A horrible family row ensued, her mother and sister in hysterics.
Florence left the next day. While at Kaiserswerth Florence asked for her family’s blessing. They withheld it. They kept Florence’s trip a secret, and when she returned would not speak to her.
Then a friend suggested Florence be appointed superintendent of a newly reorganized Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen. Because of her youth, she was required to bring a mature housekeeper with her. Finally Florence received some support from her father. He gave her an allowance of 500 pounds a year. Florence was thirty-three years old.
Miss Nightingale dug in a bit more energetically than the charitable ladies who hired her had intended. Florence insisted on admitting any sick and poor woman, regardless of faith.
In 1854 England and France declared war on Russia. Thanks to the telegraph, the public had news from the Crimea published within one day. Following a horrible battle at Sebastopol over a thousand men filled the hospital and overflowed into the barracks. They had no beds, furniture or equipment. The public was outraged when conditions were reported in the Times.
Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State at War, was a friend of Florence. He appointed her Superintendent of Hospitals in Turkey. Four days later Florence sailed for Scutari with thirty-eight nurses. Florence was thirty-four years old.
She found conditions beyond description. Four-thousand patients getting little to eat but small amounts of poorly cooked meat. A sea of mud outside. Filth. Rats everywhere. Stagnant sewers, privies stopped up and twenty chamberpots for one-thousand men with dysentery and cholera. There were maggots, lice and hardly any blankets. The wounded lay in their filthy shirts.
Florence and her nurses worked tirelessly, cleaning up Barrack Hospital and improving conditions, diets and care for the men. Back in England she became a household name, and the public support gave her political clout. She flooded government officials with mail, eventually succeeding in ironing out the bureaucratic tangles that blocked the delivery of supplies. The soldiers revered her.
For every man killed of wounds in the Crimea, seven died of preventable illness. Florence contracted a fever. She became very ill but refused to leave. She was still weak and underweight when the war ended and she quietly returned to England. She was now thirty-six years old. For the remainder of her life she would suffer from chronic pain, insomnia and a variety of other symptoms.
Bedridden or confined to a couch, Florence worked on hospital reform, health reform for the army and hospital design. She wrote and published and sat on a number of government commissions. Her hotel (the Burlington) became known as the Little War Office. A constant stream of people came and went, working from Florence’s apartment. Still frail, Florence prepared a summary of her Notes on the British Army and illustrated her data with colored circles, squares and wedges, a technique she pioneered.
The Nightingale School of Nursing opened June 1860 at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London with eleven nurse probationers. Due to her illness, Flo worked behind the scenes with management. (By 1910 the Nightingale Model of nurses training was established in twenty countries. There were one-thousand programs in U.S. alone.)
From collecting disease and surgical data for the army, Florence moved to the health of the general population. She redesigned the census form. She believed statistics would play a major role in improving public health and society in general. She was the first to show how information released to the press could shape public opinion and improve health.
Florence remained active until the last few years of her life when she grew confused and blind. She died in 1910 at age ninety.
A newly discovered photograph of Florence Nightingale in the grounds of her home, Embley Park, Hampshire is seen in this undated handout image released by The Florence Nightingale Museum Trust August 6, 2006. The album containing the photograph will go on display at the Florence Nightingale Museum from August 7 until November 7, 2006. [Reuters]