“You are to make all beds of the ward, and to scour and make clean the beds, and floors, of the whole Ward, with the tables and forms, the passage and the stairs, and garrets…” These regulations for the nurses of St. Thomas’s Hospital 1860 greeted us as we walked into the Old Operating Theatre in St. Thomas’s church. If those instructions weren’t enough to make us relieved that we were nurses of the 21st century, then the graphic demonstration of an amputation in the 1822 Operating Theatre was the clincher.
A group of nursing students from Cumberland University spent Spring Break in London as part of their Transcultural and Global Health nursing course. These students had a chance to experience not only medical and nursing history, but also to explore a multicultural city of contrasts — where our last meal of the trip was a “typically English” Indian curry. The students had studied the history of nursing in class prior to leaving for London, but there is nothing like actually seeing the instruments, bandage rollers, and Nightingale lamp up close. The very old and the very new exist side by side in London. It is a shock to see the London Eye (a giant Ferris wheel) across the Thames from the classic Parliament Buildings; but just as surprising is the fact that nurses in Britain are still called Sisters (a hold-over from the days when only Nuns were nurses) yet work in one of the world’s most comprehensive health care systems, where every citizen is provided health care without regard to financial status.
We knew we weren’t in Nashville when the sound of a beautiful aria filled the air as we walked through Covent Garden. This wasn’t piped music from the nearby Royal Opera House. This was a street performer in the middle of a group of busy shops and restaurants. It was scenes like this which gave us an unexpected surprise each day. We had a lecture and tour of medical history at the Royal College of Physicians, and the surprising “extra” was the herb garden that surrounded the front and side of the building. It was full of medicinal plants from around the world, some of which had been “discovered” recently to be effective in certain types of cancer. All of these surprises and contrasts created an unforgettable trip which gave us a better understanding of the importance for global cooperation in solving health issues.