By Sue Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Adviser for Nursing (from an ongoing series of posts by Hassmiller, who’s spending her summer vacation retracing crucial steps in Florence Nightingale’s innovative career)
As I enter the city of Istanbul today, I am tired. Almost immediately I catch myself and remember that it took me just 3.5 hours to fly from London to Istanbul and it took Ms. Nightingale almost a month to sail here (Istanbul was called Constantinople at the time). She was sick most of the time, but resolute in her mission. I look around at the airport and see that all I come into contact with are standing upright, while those Nightingale came into contact with were mostly horizontal.
Our tour guide, Alp, is a history professor who adores details … the Ottoman Empire, wars, the politics of the Turkish parliament. And here I go, tugging away at his shirt, asking, “Was Florence here?”; “What did Florence think of this?”; and “What did Florence buy here?” And Alp, knowing a lot about Florence Nightingale, humors me with lots of facts about her with regard to the places we visit today: the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“Blue Mosque”), the Topkapi Palace, the Egyptian Spice Market.
I am here in Istanbul because this is where Ms. Nightingale came to care for the soldiers in Scutari Hospital, which was located in the Selimiye Barracks. I’ll visit the location tomorrow, but for today have a grand view of it from across the Bosporus Strait. Ms. Nightingale came across the strait by boat accompanied by a military escort to buy supplies for the men and the hospital.
“Blue Mosque”: This was an active mosque when Florence Nightingale was alive and it is a massive and active mosque now. She visited it on her trips into town and bought many items outside of it, where there was a shopping bazaar in her day. She could have bought cotton and gauze, and a liquid cologne called espiritol, here. Alp tells me espiritol was 80% alcohol and served as a fine antiseptic. She made many purchases with her own money because (a) the physicians and military men did not think the things she wanted were necessary (including privacy screens for the men receiving amputations, and books to serve as diversions); and (b) the accounting system at Scutari Hospital was in shambles and money was hard to find.
Egyptian Spice Market: Here, besides spices, there were other items to buy that had to do with cooking and the household. Florence did come to the market, bringing the Scutari cook with her, to choose items that might make the food at Scutari more palatable. Today, although the market has many spices, it also has clothing, food, and souvenir shops. It is wall-to-wall people and would not be recommended for those who tend toward claustrophobia.
Topkapi Palace: a magnificent palace that still displays the famed jeweled dagger from “To Catch a Thief.” It is massive, sprawling, and extravagant in every way and has many rooms that display historic tile tiles from floor to ceilings… the kind the Turkish are well known for. The Sultan was still in power and the palace and its harems active in Nightingale’s day. But Alp tells me that she never visited the Topkapi palace and the Sultan–who lived in an entirely different sphere, one removed from the suffering she faced daily among the wounded soldiers.