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Covid-19 has reminded us of power in Nightingale lamp light

Miriam O'Callaghan


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Dark times: A man disinfects the Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica in Rome.
Photo: Remo Casilli/Reuters

Dark times: A man disinfects the Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica in Rome. Photo: Remo Casilli/Reuters

REUTERS

Dark times: A man disinfects the Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica in Rome. Photo: Remo Casilli/Reuters

May 12, 1820. Today, Ms William Nightingale, nee Frances Smith, is safely delivered of a daughter. The couple's second child will be named for the Italian city in which she is born: Florence.

Florence Nightingale was born 200 years ago today in an airy, 16th-century villa in the Florence hills, amid the screeching and wheeling of swallows, the heady scent of roses. The luminous, luxurious nativity at the pristine La Colombaia is about as far as it is possible to be from the Crimean scenes that made her name, giving us what we know today as triage, hospital epidemiology, health hygiene, sanitary disposal, infection control and isolation. And, of course, the pie chart.

To understand what she faced, an eyewitness account of Balaklava, published by the academics Christopher and Gillian Gill, puts it best.