Variety a Means of Recovery

Variety a Means of Recovery

To any but an old nurse, or an old patient, the degree would be quite inconceivable to which the nerves of the sick suffer from seeing the same walls, the same ceiling, the same surroundings during a long confinement to one or two rooms.

The superior cheerfulness of persons suffering severe paroxysms of pain over that of persons suffering from nervous debility has often been remarked upon, and attributed to the enjoyment of the former of their intervals of respite. I incline to think that the majority of cheerful cases is to be found among those patients who are not confined to one room, whatever their suffering, and that the majority of depressed cases will be seen among those subjected to a long monotony of objects about them.

The nervous frame really suffers as much from this as the digestive organs from long monotony of diet, as e.g. the soldier from his twenty-one years’ “boiled beef.”

Colour and Form Means of Recovery

The effect in sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects, and especially of brilliancy of colour is hardly at all appreciated.

Such cravings are usually called the “fancies” of patients. And often doubtless patients have “fancies,” as, e.g. when they desire two contradictions. But much more often, their (so called) “fancies” are the most valuable indications of what is necessary for their recovery. And it would be well if nurses would watch these (so called) “fancies” closely.

I have seen, in fevers (and felt, when I was a fever patient myself) the most acute suffering produced from the patient (in a hut) not being able to see out of window, and the knots in the wood being the only view. I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers. I remember (in my own case) a nosegay of wild flowers being sent me, and from that moment recovery becoming more rapid.

This Is No Fancy

People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by colour, and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect.

Variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.

But it must be slow variety, e.g., if you shew a patient ten or twelve engravings successively, ten-to-one that he does not become cold and faint, or feverish, or even sick; but hang one up opposite him, one on each successive day, or week, or month, and he will revel in the variety.


The folly and ignorance which reign too often supreme over the sick-room, cannot be better exemplified than by this. While the nurse will leave the patient stewing in a corrupting atmosphere, the best ingredient of which is carbonic acid; she will deny him, on the plea of unhealthiness, a glass of cut-flowers, or a growing plant. Now, no one ever saw “overcrowding” by plants in a room or ward. And the carbonic acid they give off at nights would not poison a fly. Nay, in overcrowded rooms, they actually absorb carbonic acid and give off oxygen. Cut-flowers also decompose water and produce oxygen gas. It is true there are certain flowers, e.g., lilies, the smell of which is said to depress the nervous system. These are easily known by the smell, and can be avoided.

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Notes on Nursing

Length: 130 pages
Last Updated: 2020-06-30
Language: English

Notes on Nursing

by Florence Nightingale
A treatise on the best practices for the physical and psychological care of sick people, written by the iconic founder of modern nursing. It is a classic in formal nursing training, and was intended to be read and used by the general public as well. Joan Quixley praised this influential book as “the first of its kind ever to be written.”
Originally published by Harrison of Pall Mall in 1859
Project GutenbergDigital Text
National Portrait GalleryImages
Rachel JepsenDigital Production