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The soldier and the lady's lamp.



It is difficult to imagine that what we collect today as antiques were in everyday use in early Victorian times. Surgical instruments for removing bladder stones or old anaesthetic devices seem horrific--but were the great innovations of their time. Moreover, conversations were very similar to today, only our technology has changed. I came across an old letter written by my grandfather, Sergeant Major Charles Linton, in 1914. He received serious chest wounds during the First World War, and required surgery near the battlefield.

From 'The Front'. He wrote: 'Dear Wife, don't worry, I am in good hands and I am sure they will do their best for me and are very kind.'

He also mentioned to my grandmother the anaesthetic he received and it reminds me of my own experience of preparing a Schimmelbusch mask at St Woolas hospital, South Wales, in the early 1970s: 'An American nurse put a mask on my face and poured liquid onto it, I fell asleep.'

Early anaesthesia

American nurses were providing anaesthesia in WWI due to a shortage of trained anaesthetists in Britain. This was a profession that began with the American nurse Catherine S Lawrence who pioneered the art of anaesthesia in the US in the 1860s. She practised using chloroform during the American Civil War where non-medical staff were an essential part of caring for the wounded. The sisters or 'nuns' often assisted and many practised emergency medicine well into the 20th century. The sisters would prepare equipment for anaesthesia and would have administered it themselves. We must remind ourselves today when referring to 'crossing professional boundaries'.

The lady of the lamp

One famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, confronted similar problems with her peers on the subject of hygiene during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Her persistence in implementing change saved many lives following the Battle of Inkerman on 5 November 1854 where many casualties were cared for at a field hospital at Scutari, setting the foundations of modern day nursing. Which brings me to the lamp (pictured, above). During my grandfather's army career he collected many unusual items. One was a lantern he brought back from Turkey before 1900. I recently decided to investigate the origins of this lamp. I first contacted the British Museum, who forwarded my enquiries onto the Florence Nightingale Museum at St Thomas' hospital. The reply reads as follows. 'Dear Sir, it would appear that this is a Scutari lantern used before and after 1850 and one of few used by Florence Nightingale at the hospital at Scutari, Turkey, during the Crimean War.'

Not many lamps survived the war. One lamp is at St Thomas' Museum, the other at the National Army Museum, London, and was donated by Salina Bracebridge, Florence Nightingale's friend and helper. This was a Scutari lamp, not the genie oil lamp that many Victorians depicted in early illustrations. Bracebridge said that it was difficult to say which exact lamp Florence Nightingale carried on her rounds but she would have used ones available to her at the time.

Mentioned in museum notes is that the lamp would have been an ordinary camp lamp or Turkish candle lantern. An article from the Florence Nightingale Museum continues 'The "fanoos" may be hand held, set down on a flat surface or suspended from a hook. A waxed linen concertina, shaped by 20 wire hoops protect the flame of a candle held in the brass or copper base. The metal cover has a heat shield, which may be moved aside to reveal the candle when the concertina is collapsed. The waxed finish of the linen renders it slightly translucent, an obvious advantage.' It was believed that only five such lanterns are still in existence, until I rediscovered my own.

My grandfather Charles Linton died from his injuries shortly after his return to Britain. He was 27 years old, survived by his wife, also named Florence, and one year old daughter, Elsie May, my mother.

Keith Stephens-Borg was born in 1955 in Gwent, Wales. He was an anaesthesia provider in the US and the Netherlands for 18 years. He has also lectured on the history of anaesthesia.
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Title Annotation:HISTORICAL FEATURE; Florence Nightingale's lamp; early anesthesia
Author:Stephens-Borg, Keith
Publication:Journal of Perioperative Practice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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