May 122014


Today is International Nurses’ Day (IND). The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has celebrated this day since 1965. In 1953 Dorothy Sutherland, an official with the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, proposed that President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaim a “Nurses’ Day” but he did not approve it. In January 1974, 12 May was chosen to celebrate the day as it is the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale (see here), who is widely considered the founder of modern nursing. Each year, ICN prepares and distributes the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The kit contains educational and public information materials, for use by nurses everywhere.  As of 1998, 8 May was designated as annual National Student Nurses’ Day. As of 2003, the Wednesday within National Nurses Week, between 6 and 12 May, is National School Nurse Day.

Each year a service is held in Westminster Abbey in London. During the Service, a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another, thence to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar. This signifies the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another. At St Margaret’s Church at East Wellow in Hampshire, where Florence Nightingale is buried, a service is also held on the Sunday after her birthday.

The International Council of Nurses commemorates this each year with the production and distribution of the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The IND Kit 2014 contains educational and public information materials, for use by nurses everywhere. It can be found here.

The IND theme for 2014 is: Nurses: A Force for Change – A vital resource for health. Though mainly planned on and around May 12 each year, IND activities continue for much of the year by nurses and others.

International Nurses’ Day is also a day on which we all can celebrate the contribution that nurses make in the world. Doctors get a great deal of credit for the work they do in treating patients, as they should. But if you have ever been in a hospital you will know that while your doctor does important work – surgery, examination, prescription, and so forth – it is the nursing staff who are the ones charged with carrying out the vast bulk of the doctors’ orders, as well as looking after and monitoring the patients 24/7. It was Florence Nightingale herself who impressed upon doctors, the government, and the general public the vital importance of nursing care for the wellbeing of patients.

I blame television shows focused on medicine, such as, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House M.D. etc, for perpetuating the general impression that doctors do all the “important” work and nurses just hang around on the sidelines to assist. This is miles away from the truth. It makes for good drama, but is not helpful in representing reality. The next time I see a doctor on a television show inserting an IV or intubating a patient or drawing blood I am going to throw something at the television. NURSES do all those things and more. I know from personal experience as an EMT working ambulances that when a patient is brought into the ER it is the nurses who perform virtually all the procedures (under a doctor’s supervision). Once the patient is stabilized it is the nurses who follow up.

When was the last time a doctor took your temperature, checked your blood pressure, or changed a dressing for you? When patients are admitted to the ER the initial assessment of the relative severity of their condition is made by a triage nurse, not a doctor. Increasingly nurses are expected to perform services, often quite sophisticated, that were once the province of doctors. So, on this day in particular, take a moment to thank a nurse. Without the skilled and dedicated services of nurses, the medical system as we know it would collapse.

Since the days of Miss Nightingale, nutrition has been a crucial component in nursing care of invalids. Regular readers of this blog will know that Victorian standards concerning convalescent nutrition occasionally bordered on the bizarre, but the general principles are, in the main, still sound. These include the need for preparing appetizing food that is attractively presented, using only fresh ingredients, serving small portions, and avoiding foods that are difficult to digest, such as red meat and those high in fat content. Also avoid those ingredients that are high in acids. I would add that patients should be consulted concerning what they find appetizing, although this must be balanced with the nature of the particular ailment. A person with a broken leg can be given foods that one with a gastric ulcer cannot.

boiling soup

My great standby when I am recovering from an illness that has affected my digestive system is chicken broth. Good broths are the foundation on which so much fine cooking is crafted. You will see in countless recipes in this blog the need for a rich stock. Good chicken stock takes time to prepare but you have to do very little; the stove does all the work. Start with a whole chicken. Bones and leftovers are for the stock pot, not for the development of a toothsome broth. Place the chicken in your biggest pot. Add diced onion, carrots, celery, leeks (if you have them), fresh parsley, and salt to taste. Cover with cold water and bring to a gentle simmer slowly. In the first stages of cooking a certain amount of scum will rise to the surface. Skim this off and then let the pot simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Remove the chicken and reserve it for other uses. Strain the broth into a clean container and refrigerate overnight. In the morning you will see that the fat has risen to the surface and solidified. Remove the fat, and the stock is ready to use in soups, stews, and sauces. Or, you can make consommé.


Consommé is a delight as a first course, particularly if the main dish is heavy. Essentially, consommé is stock that has been reduced and clarified. Bring a quart of chicken stock to a rolling boil. Add the white of one egg plus the crushed shell. Let it simmer uncovered until the stock has been reduced by half. Using a sieve lined with muslin or other fine cloth, strain the consommé into a clean bowl. It will be a gorgeous golden color with a heady aroma. You can serve it two ways. Conventionally it is served piping hot, perhaps with a sprinkle of fresh parsley or a few julienned vegetables. You should serve it in small bowls because it is very rich. Or, for a summer treat you can refrigerate the consommé which will turn into a gelatin. Serve in chilled bowls with a garnish of parsley or thinly sliced scallion tops