THE DODGE RAM NIGHTINGALE
From the viewpoint of a father
During the Crimean War in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a unique young lady in England who could no longer sit around reading about the miserable conditions of wounded English soldiers who were dying in filthy conditions on the frontlines of the war. So she packed herself up, recruited 38 other like-minded volunteer nurses, and the English government shipped these daughters of England off to the frontlines of the war, knowing very well that many of them would also fall in the battle of duty. Luden Baudens later wrote of the young Nightingale, “This frail woman … embraced in her solicitude the sick of three armies.” On the frontlines and in the tents of the wounded and dying, she became known as, “The lady with the lamp.” Nightingale was continually among the wounded in the middle of the night. She was checking for those among the living who might need comfort and care in order to make it through just one more night.
Nightingale left a legacy that has inspired the profession of nursing far beyond her lifetime, especially among the English. I was recently sitting in my living room watching the local news concerning one of the economically depressed townships of Africans here in South Africa. The news reporter was there interviewing the members of a special team. It was a team of young volunteer English descendants of about twenty out there in the midst of the township people passing out brochures to educate people about how to protect themselves against the coronavirus. Nightingale left a legacy in England that has reverberated throughout the world to this day. Her legacy also made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to America.
On the news this morning an Uber driver finally had a paying customer in the state of Washington in America. She recorded the single twenty-five-year-old nurse on her way as a necessary worker to be out during the lockdown that was in force. The devoted young nurse said, “It is necessary for me to be out on lockdown because all my patients are suffering from coronavirus.” What is it about these nurses that the rest of us try to comprehend? There seems to be a certain nature within their souls that sets them apart from the rest of us.
My wife and I continue to experience our own Florence Nightingale. This daughter, endeared to us with the name, Cindy, was certainly God-molded to be who she is now as other nurses, a dedicated nurse on the frontlines of the Coronavirus War. She is a part of that extremely dedicated class of people throughout the world who have sacrificially thrown themselves into mortal conflict on the frontlines of the War. She, and thousands like her, are a tribute to the unselfish service that these medical soldiers exert every day among those who are clinging to life for just one more breath. Sometimes, many of themselves have also succumbed to the invisible enemy they have chosen to engage. The doctor will prescribe a ventilator, and then move on to another patient. But the valiant necessary nurses must stay there with the fallen victims day after day because there are too many victims for the doctor.
This morning I was listening to a British Broadcasting Corporation interview with a thirty-year veteran of nursing in England who had long ago retired. But in her retirement, she could not set back and watch a virus-stricken society in England languish away in the global Coronavirus War. So she showed up at a local hospital and told the management, “I’m back.” The BBC interviewer asked why she came out of retirement in order to endanger her own life for others. The aged gray-haired nurse replied, “It was not a matter of making a decision. It is who I am. I do not want to live in a selfish society, and thus I must live selflessly.”
My wife and I have one of these selfless heroes as a daughter. You have to have personally had one of them in your home in order to understand who they are. I would briefly say that these Nightingales are who they are because they can be no other way. For example, I remember coming home one afternoon when Cindy was fifteen years old. She had taken off all the screens of the windows of the entire house and was cleaning the screens and washing the windows. I asked this fifteen-year-old why she was doing this. She simply replied, “They were dirty.” Nightingales see a need, and then they cannot help themselves but show up.
Our Nightingale was evidently born this way, and then maybe picked up a work ethic from her parents along the way to her present profession. She always had to be doing something, and the something was not for herself, but to release her heart on others. She, as so many other nurses throughout the world, have big hearts that move them to eventually find expression in becoming nurses. So Cindy secured her own student loan, enrolled in nursing school, and set the course of her life to join the millions of like-minded nurses out there who cannot help themselves. “It’s just the way they are.”
In the very unique work that Cindy and others like her presently do as nurses, is truly a frontline business. She is not held up in a hospital, but on the road to patients who have been given into her care, which patients have been diagnosed to have only months to live. Often in the middle of the northern winter nights of the state of Wisconsin in America, she will receive a call from a family member. On the other end of the line is the plea, “Come quickly!” For these missions it does not make any difference if there is a foot of snow on the road. She is into her 4 X 4 Dodge Ram and headed for the finality of someone’s life. Sometimes she arrives in time, sometimes not. When she does not, she must pronounce and record a death, and then call for the coroner. This has been Cindy’s life, and many other nurses like her, day after day, and year after year.
We are in lockdown at this time in South Africa. Before this time came, daughter Cindy would contact us and ask if we are doing this or that in order to protect ourselves. But not once has she complained about her own situation of ministering to the dying on the frontlines. I once said to her, “Cindy, you minister to the needs of more people than any minister I know.” While preachers sometimes enclose themselves in their white castles, tens of thousands of nurses like Cindy sink their hands in the sicknesses of humanity. The ministry of nurses reveals the very core of human empathy. These soldiers of the medical field minister to the people while the rest of us just keep their phone numbers on speed dial.
Though we have not been in the company of our Nightingale for over three years, the last thing she wants us not to do is get on some airplane, or board a ship and come to her side on the other side of the world. She has yearned on the telephone for a parental encounter, but we all know that we all must put ourselves on hold until we pass through this time of separation until the war is won.
Therefore, as you hug your children in the security of your home in lockdown, be grateful. There are thousands of mothers and fathers throughout the world today whose sons and daughters work on the frontlines of the Coronavirus War as caring nurses. As ourselves, many mothers and fathers around the world are more than willing to offer their children on the altar of sacrifice on the frontlines in order that this war be won. This does not mean that we parents do not yearn to withdraw our children from the frontlines and hug them close in our own lockdown. We simply understand that great sacrifices are needed in order to conquer overwhelming enemies of civilization.
As in the case of many others who are the parents of these frontline heroes, we can only offer endless prayers that our Nightingales not be personally attacked by the invisible enemy. But if you are in the vicinity of our Nightingale of north Wisconsin, you can be assured that she is only a phone call away. And if you call, she will be in her Dodge Ram and on her way down snow-covered roads to your bedside.
You are asking us why she and thousands of other nurses like her put themselves in peril for others? We do not know about the others, but we do know that is the way God made Cindy. Neither she nor her parents want to live in any world that is selfish.
So you might have asked who such a person as Cindy would marry. An English Nightingale, of course. Jonathan, who studied to follow in his parents’ footsteps in the medical field, is now working as a dermatologist, seeing over fifty patients a day. He is the product of two Nightingales of England. They are all a tribe of exceptional people who just cannot help themselves.
The Holy Spirit had something to say about this concerning all of us: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another” (Rm 12:10). “In humility of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Ph 2:3). I am sure He was talking specifically about nurses.
This is incarnational living as Jesus in spirit in heaven, who said to His Father, “I am going to the frontlines to win this war of sin” (See Ph 2:5-8). Our hats are off to all the Nightingales who are directly and sacrificially engaged in the world war against the coronavirus, as well as those who are parents of those valiant medical soldiers.
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I WILL RETURN TO THE SERIES ON THE GOSPEL ON MARCH 30.