Sunday, 1 August 2010

All Things Remembered

Recently I visited St Leonards’ Hospital, in Hackney, East London. I was there to run Infection Control Update sessions, but I had time to look around of the hospital – also called trying to find the restaurant to get some lunch. It was a wonderful old Victorian hospital, though completely impartial for modern healthcare, which is now used for old-patient care and houses a community trust’s administration.

In one of the hallways were two, very large plaques commemorating two of the hospital’s famous employees, Dr James Parkinson and Matron Edith Cavell. Both of them are famous for very specific things, yet the important things they should be remembered for have been almost forgotten.

James Parkinson gave his name to Parkinson’s disease. In 1817 he published the paper An essay on the shaking palsy, which described the first cases of Parkinson’s disease. Edith Cavell was a nurse in Brussels during the First World War, she helped British soldiers escape German occupied Belgian and back to Britain; the Germans caught her and executed her for treason. She became a cause-celeb and was turned into a “heroine” for British patriotism.

Yet, both of them introduced very important innovations and changes that have had a positive impact on modern healthcare, but that part of their lives has seemed to be completely forgotten about now.

James Parkinson was the first doctor to isolate infectious, or “fever”, patients on a separate ward at St Leonards’ Hospital. This was the forerunner of modern isolation procedures, it was the first time measures were taken to stop cross infection from infectious to non-infectious patients. This has saved the lives of millions of people over the years (regardless of the stories in our media).

Edith Cavell introduced and championed nurse education. Originally, Florence Nightingale was against educating nurses, she said that women’s natural “aptitudes” were all that was needed to be a nurse (sic). How wrong she was. Educated and professional nurses have saved millions of people’s lives over the years.

It’s strange what people are remembered for and what parts of their lives are forgotten about after their deaths. Sometimes history whitewashes people and other times all it focuses on are the scandals of someone’s life. Why did history ignore such important elements of James Parkinson and Edith Cavell’s lives?

This led me to wonder what I would be remembered for (Such happy and positive thoughts I have...). Would it be my writing? Would it be my friendships and my relationship with Martin? Would it be my professional career? Will I be remembered at all? I’ll never know and that’s a good thing. But it has got me thinking, how people are remembered and why.

Watch my writing; you may see more about this later.


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