“Women never have a half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone”, Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale is famous as the woman who developed modern nursing. From May 6-12th we celebrate ‘National Nurses Week’ in honour of her birthday which was on May 12th (1820). However, her birthday is now also celebrated as ‘International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day’. It is thought by many to have been fibromyalgia that Ms.Nightingale suffered from most of her adult life.
The critics of Nightingale have speculated that she feigned illnesses, was bi-polar, mentally ill, suffered from depression, and suffered from PTSD all due to various types of so-called ‘hysteria’ which commonly demeans women. My view is that she developed fibromyalgia after contracting a fever in the Crimea while experiencing the horrific hospital and nursing conditions of war. (It is interesting to note that currently the military people coming home from the wars, who suffer from many of the same symptoms as those with fibromyalgia, are deemed to be afflicted with PTSD, which is a close cousin to fibromyalgia. Before this the label was ‘shell shock’.) It would seem that for Nightingale, the fever combined with all that she felt obliged to do to change things for hospitals and nurses was too much stress in an already overly stimulated nervous system. This view is held by many and it fits with my view that fibromyalgia is socially induced, in highly sensitive people (particularly women) whose central nervous system is in a state of chronic hyper-arousal. Dr. Kevin White calls fibromyalgia the ‘Nightingale Disease’, and while I agree that many of the systems within the body eventually break down from this constant state of over stimulation of the CNS, I do not agree with him that it is in and of itself an actual disease, rather a dis-ease. However, no one has yet to ‘prove’ any particular theory about fibromyalgia, which is frustrating for both patient and health care providers. We can only continue to stumble along, hoping for more concrete answers.
A review of the hundreds of comments I have received over the years on this website and other forms of research/interviews I have conducted has been interesting to observe that many of the commentators are nurses. This fits in with my view that it is caregivers, primarily women, who are highly sensitive, working in highly stressed situations who often say of their lives that they are ‘burned out’ from a life time of caring for others. I continue to be amazed at how many nurses suffer from fibromyalgia brought on by a history of stress/anxiety and often precipitated by an accident, surgery or something as seemingly simple as a root canal!
I refuse to think of Florence Nightingale as a malingerer considering all that she accomplished over her lifetime, like the many women I hear from daily who accomplish so much, caring for others, wanting to make an improvement in the lives of others while continuing to face their own challenges with pain and fatigue.
Today I celebrate nurses.