“There is no part of my life, upon which I can look back without pain”, Florence Nightingale
To-day, May 12th is International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. It is also the birth date of Florence Nightingale, born May 12, 1820.
In 1986 I decided that it was time to develop a Canadian Association for the History of Nursing and began the work with a colleague from Ontario, Dr. Margaret Allemang, of establishing such an Association. For all the subsequent years we have had either a national or international conference and every year without fail, someone mentions Florence Nightingale. It is either in a research paper, or some kind of visual display, or perhaps just a passing comment, for who better to honour than the founder of modern day nursing?
But, why mention Ms. Nightingale on a website for fibromyalgia? I have personally read some of her papers at the Royal College of Nursing in London, England. I became friends with one of the world leading authorities of Nightingale, Dr. Monica Baly. However, while I have heard nurse-historians discuss her work for years, I have only very rarely heard or read about the diagnosis of fibromyalgia in relation to this extraordinary woman, with the exception of several websites which speculate about the link.
A person interested in Ms. Nightingale’s life would read about how after she returned from the war in the Crimea where she was faced with the deplorable conditions, she took to her bed, often refusing visitors, with ailments that were invisible and a conditon that was without a name. All of this is too familiar to those of us with fibromyalgia. What she wrote during this time is suggestive of the classic pain and fatigue condition that we have all experienced. May I make the bold suggestion that once and for all we consciously accept that Florence Nightingale had Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? While I cannot interview her, nor can I prove such a hypothesis, I have always believed it at the deepest intuitive level. This is becoming increasingly clear to some others as well, as evidenced on some websites. Rather than implying she was in a state of ‘female hysteria’ as some might be prone to doing, it would shed light on some of the difficulties she faced on a daily basis.
Human conditions and suffering in any war are atrocious and it follows that those she experienced in the Crimea over-stimulated her nervous system to such an extent that she never fully recovered. Does this remind anyone of the more recent Gulf War Syndrome? While Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome may be a close cousin to Fibromyalgia, it is possible she suffered from both as they are not mutually exclusive.
As an aside Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing(Barnes and Noble) is an extraordinary book that most nurse historians revere. In spite of her constant pain and fatigue, like most who suffer from fibromyalgia, she did not shirk responsibilities and needed to let the world know the value of the profession of nursing.
What an appropriate date to bring about an Awareness of Fibromyalgia Day . Happy birth-date, Florence Nightingale!