One Woman Can

A 4-cent U.S. postage stamp for nursing.Who do you think is responsible for sanitation practices? It’s only been about 160 years since good sanitation practices have been attributed to better health. Probably the biggest health risks in natural disaster areas (think Haiti and Japan), refugee camps, and war-torn regions is lack of clean water and separate areas for human and animal waste (disgusting to think about, I know).

Health departments are vigilant in monitoring the most simple hygiene practices in restaurants and other places where food is handled and processed. Simply washing hands before handling food, after using the bathroom, messing with your hair, and like practices significantly cut down on the transmission of hepatitis, e coli, tuberculosis, and other preventable diseases.

I was a patient in our local hospital twice last year. There were signs everywhere to remind the staff about washing their hands! Well, duh! But obviously it was a huge problem if there was a hospital-wide campaign. One of the questions on the follow-up call to me when I returned home was if the staff washed their hands before they approached me and before they left my room!

Have you figured out who was responsible for setting sanitation practices? May 12 marks the end of International Nurses Week, also the birthday of Florence Nightingale! Florence Nightingale is credited with establishing modern nursing, but it was her insight into good hygiene practices utilized in her pioneering nursing work during the Crimean War (England and Russia were warring) that began the long process of changing people’s thoughts and behaviors. She kept meticulous statistics that documented her theories and eventually led to changes in sanitation and hygiene practices. In fact, Nightingale was consulted during the Civil War because so many men were dying from other illnesses – typhoid, cholera, and dysentery – than from battle wounds.

Nurses are really our unsung heroines in health care. They do ever so much more than start an IV, take vital signs, and change dressings. They are a patient’s advocate to the doctor, who doesn’t spend much time getting to know their patients; they are there to comfort families; soothe anxious patients; educate other caregivers; recommend and campion other resources; sit in the room because no one should ever die alone; continue to care and follow-up long after discharge.

My sister is a nurse and I hear all the time about the lives she touches. Some patients are more dramatic than others (she cared for the recent larynx transplant patient), more dangerous than most (prisoners come with their own law enforcement detail), are frequent patients (due to long-term, chronic illness, complicated reconstruction procedures), but all are cared for with compassion and skill.

This year’s theme for International Nurses Day isĀ Closing The Gap: Increasing Access and Equity. Leave it to nurses to bring awareness to the disparities in health care and awareness to issues of access facing more and more people. But then again, they’re the ones on the front lines caring for the sick regardless.


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