John Kinsley, a survivor of the Crimean War, recalls his conversation with a nurse on New Year's Eve. A conversation which changed his perspective forever...
It was a cold winter night, and an eternal starless sky looked down on the Selimiye barracks, Scutari, adding a tangible darkness to the already moonless night of the New Year’s Eve as John Kinsley woke up with a start.
He had been homesick and hopeless – it was true- for a couple of weeks now; ever since the war had cost him his right hand and hideously marred his handsome, masculine face. For always, at this time of the year, he would have been in the warmth of his family. As he compared past with the present, he couldn’t help wondering how the two situations juxtaposed each other, or would have, to be precise, had it not been for her.
He looked around himself but could see nothing in the gloom. Had she already visited the soldiers? He wished in his heart that she had not. She was just a nurse, yet she was the nurse.
As he sat thus on his bed, unable to sleep, she entered the hall, a lamp in her hand.
It was just any other lamp, yet it penetrated the darkness in a way that even to John, whose bed lay at a distance of a few miles, its warmth felt as if it was just near him.
After some time, he could see her slender form gliding quietly down the hall, attending to each and every patient in her way, sometimes engaging in short conversations with the more depressed ones.
Soon, she stood towering beside him, the lamp held firmly in her hand, a warrioress of her own accord. John stared at the flame of her lamp, half because he felt that staring at it itself will keep him away from the cold and half because of an ever-increasing guilt welling up within him which prevented him from looking up at her.
“Well, Mr. Kinsley, how are your wounds? Does your head hurt now?” he heard her strong determined voice reach out to him as she tightened the bandage on his head.
“Praise be to you, madam. I feel no pain at all.”
Having ministered him, she turned to leave, when he quipped “They say it’s New Year’s Eve today, a night of family, a night of joy. Yet even today you move around, catering to these dead men, when the entire world is in celebration and the nurses are but asleep.
She turned back to him, and with a smile in his lips replied, “While it is true, that it is the last day of the year and a night for the world to celebrate, it is also true that this has been my best. These dead men, as you call them, also have a family, and the fact that these men must return to their family is why I look after them even on this night. For these dead men are also my family, for the Almighty Lord is the Father of us all. And why, the others have worked so hard all day, while I’ve been doing nothing!”
John felt his guilt growing even more than ever, and couldn’t help but saying, “When I first heard about a nurse working wonders in Scutari, I did not believe it. I wondered what good a woman could do. Yet today, when today, when I am but crippled, and that nurse stands before me, do I realize what good the woman has done.”
When he now looked up at her, he saw, to his utter surprise, that there was a look of gratitude in the nurse’s face. “It is only for the criticisms and complaints that have grown up against me, that I have been able to achieve the little that I have.” She continued, raising the blanket to his neck, “Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better. Anyways, you need rest, Mr. Kinsley. You need to get well. After all, you need to celebrate your next New Year’s Eve in the warmth of your family.”
It took a while for John Kinsley to realize that somehow this nurse had read his thoughts. He had been craving for a family till now, and she had given him hope. Hope to return to his beloved ones.
Even more than that, she had made him realize that even within those masses of suffering people, he would always be within his family. For everyone was family. Everyone was a child of God.
He turned to look at the woman who was now descending down the hall, and it finally dawned on him that the light that had penetrated the darkness when she had first entered the room had not come from the lamp, but from the woman holding the lamp.
The Crimean War did come to an end soon, and in the next New Year’s Eve John found himself sitting in the couch near the fireplace in the warmth of his family, telling his children of the greatness of that woman whose name he knew not, but whose deeds would be etched in his heart for all eternity.
In that cold starless sky of the makeshift hospital at Selimiye barracks, she was the glorious star. A star which had single-handedly fought the darkness of death, and emerged victorious. A star which had changed everything the world thought about nursing.
She was the lady with the lamp.
Her name was Florence Nightingale.