My life seems to be back on track. It's Sunday morning, C-SPAN is on in the background, and, as usual, every 5th caller or so seems convinced Obama is a socialist. Or worse. I always wonder if any of those people have any clue at all just socialism actually is -- probably not. If they did, it wouldn't frighten them as much as it does. Buzz Aldrin is supposed to be on in a little while talking about the moon landing (h/t to Utah Savage for the link), and I'm willing to bet there'll be tinfoil hat types calling in then, too, to rant about Obama and his pernicious influence on everything.
I'm not exactly sure just how I survived 4 weekends in a row with no C-SPAN. I thought I'd at least have withdrawal symptoms, but, nope, didn't miss it at all the entire time I was out of Atlanta. Which means that maybe I'll actually survive once I retire and am back up on the tundra with limited options -- all PBS, by the way.
What I did do while on vacation was read a lot. I headed out of town with ambitious plans for the two weeks. I was going to spend a couple days actually doing research on an 1893 typhoid epidemic in Ironwood, Michigan; I was going to persuade the S.O. we'd like to drive over to Grand Marais (either Michigan or Minnesota, both are worth visiting); I'd spend time with the Older Daughter and the grandkids; I'd get all the flowerbeds (both up by the retirement bunker site and by Tammi's cabin) weeded; and the S.O. and I would complete several projects. I would, in short, be a burning ball of ambition.
Ha. It rained. I read. And one of the things I read was a biography of Florence Nightingale. It was the oddest book, one of those tomes where you pick it up, find yourself wondering why you're reading it, but still can't put it down. This book was huge, definitely into the "would make a great doorstop" category in terms of weight, and went into excruciating detail about every aspect of Nightingale's life, but you know what? I still don't have a clue as to just what it was Nightingale actually did other than write astounding amounts of letters and reports. There's chapter after chapter talking about Nightingale harassing various politicians, either in person or via letters, into letting her take a contingent of nurses to Turkey to help with the wounded during the Crimean War; there's page after page about newspapers reporting on how wonderful she was and how much the soldiers worshipped her -- but there never is any description of just what it was she did.
You know, the assumption is that she was busy nursing, i.e., changing bandages, bathing patients, and doing similar tasks, but the weird part is that her correspondence very specifically argues against using "nurses" to do that type of menial task. Over and over she talks about nurses providing spiritual help to the sick, basically sitting there holding peoples' hands, gently wiping sweat from fevered brows, and maybe spoon feeding the patient some aspic. So just what did she do in the Crimean War besides wander around the hospital with a lamp in the middle of the night? It's a mystery. I think the author made a classic mistake -- he talks a lot about the image of Florence Nightingale as the lady with the lamp and how everyone knows about her work as a nurse during the Crimean War, i.e., he's assuming everyone has read previous biographies and/or children's books about her. And that's not true. I knew who Florence Nightingale was, more or less, but I don't think either of my daughters would.
The one thing I did get out of the book was Nightingale was not a particularly likable person, at least not on paper. Which is odd, because the author seemed to be trying for hagiography and not the reverse. He made a number of comments about trying to redeem Nightingale's reputation and/or restore her rightful place in nursing history. Still, the more I read, the less I liked her -- especially when the author got into some of Nightingale's other theories about nursing. It was a higher calling, a spiritual duty, so nurses should not be recruited from the "lower" classes. And, because it was a higher calling, nurses should be paid as little as humanly possible. If nursing paid a living wage, then women might go into nursing because they saw it was a career rather than as the religious vocation it actually was. In short, the woman was a lunatic, a Victorian-era middle-class snob with a martyr complex and delusions of sainthood.
That said, the book overall wasn't a complete waste of my vacation time. One reason Nightingale had so much apparent influence is her family moved in interesting circles. Powerful politicians were family friends, as were various intellectuals, scientists, and artists. The background material, the descriptions of the context in which Nightingale moved, was really interesting. Too bad Nightingale herself provided less engaging material.
[Photo is of an abandoned sauna.]