Nurses have always cared for the sick using multiple methods. Exploring the history of Florence Nightingale, who is considered the mother of modern nursing, we learn that what once was old is new again.
Holistic Nursing – Home Nursing Care Like Nature Intended
There is resurgent interest in “holistic health” as a means to help heal and attain wellness. This philosophy is fundamental to home health care provided by Our Family Nurse, expert in adult and pediatric health.
This philosophy is anything but new, however. In the Victorian age, Florence Nightingale created the environmental theory which purports that given the right external environment, the patient would improve naturally. Nightingale developed this theory by observing and statistically studying the effects of the hospital environment on wounded soldiers during the Crimean war.
Florence Nightingale thought that allowing the body to heal more naturally could be attained by adjusting the environment. Nurse Nightingale established standards of cleanliness that had not existed, such as frequent bedding changes, opening windows for clean air exchange, and removing odors and noise from the hospital room. She was also an astute statistician, and demonstrated that she had reduced mortality by two-thirds through simple environmental measures.
Holistic nursing employs sunlight
Nurse Nightingale also believed that patients benefited from sunlight, and placed beds near windows for light therapy. We know today that the vitamin D that we absorb through the skin from sun improves common diseases like asthma, arthritis, and depression. Exposure to sunlight can drastically improve skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
Some dermatologist offices have artificial sun lamps to treat psoriasis, and there are “happy lights” that deliver full spectrum light waves similar to the sun to treat and prevent the seasonal mood dip known as seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression common in winter. Sunlight is needed to provide the body with vitamin D, which is needed for bone health, muscle function, and is now known to greatly help asthma, an epidemic health condition.
Fresh air and holistic nursing
Fresh air was also considered important by Nightingale to healing and she believed that the patient must have fresh air exposure while being kept sufficiently warm with bedding. Today we are advised to air our homes occasionally to remove the toxins produced by carpeting, furnishings, and cleaning agents and we know that in winter colds are caught easier in dry heated indoor air. Fresh air exposure would be used often in hospitals in the United States prior to the 1950’s when modernization of hospitals and increased technology in health care replaced nature-based interventions.
Holistic nursing and the environment
Noise reduction was one of Nightingale’s other environmental principles; she felt that noise in the sick room prevented the essential rest needed by patients. Indeed, in today’s society, we are constantly barraged by beeps, tweets and texts from our devices that interfere with a calm and soothing experience. Then we buy things like white noise machines to tamp down the noise from other machines or use apps on our cell phone to relax and go to sleep.
While Nightingale embraced the use of light during the day she was considerate of the need for darkness at night to sleep and so made her night shift rounds with a small lamp that emitted just a small bit of light in which to observe the patients. This lamp has become a symbol of nursing because recuperating patients referred to her as “the lady with the lamp”.
Flowers and artwork for the patient
Nightingale also believed that patients needed pleasant artful items in the environment to stimulate the senses and soothe. She thought that colorful fresh flowers provided this and she also advocated for artwork depicting nature to be rotated often throughout the hospitalization stay. A modern experiment with scenery provided to patients demonstrated that patients exposed to a nature view through a window or a picture of nature healed from surgery faster and required less pain medication than a patient facing a blank wall.
I once was making home nurse visits to an elderly woman who was supposed to lie on her left side to allow for healing of a bedsore on her right side. The family was perplexed as to why she kept moving herself to the side with the wound. I found her in her room in bed on her left side facing a bland wall. As soon as I entered her room and addressed her, she turned slowly onto her right side so that she could face me.
She was no longer verbal due to a stroke but she made the obvious intentional movement to see me and to face the door of her bedroom, where she could also see her family go about their business. We changed her bedroom so that the bed was in a position where she could rest on her left side facing the door to the room rather than the wall so that she could see her family more often, and she began “complying” with the treatment plan to stay off the side with the bedsore. I also recommended the family consider getting an aquarium that could go on a stand on the blank wall to provide some soothing visual stimulation for the patient. The environment is used to allow the patient to heal and can be manipulated for ideal healing.
Massage as a nursing technique
Some of the modalities used in holistic nursing practice actually are techniques reborn from older nursing practices. Massage therapy is used widely in current health practice and is performed typically by licensed massage therapists, but nurses like myself are trained in back massage during our first clinical rotation, and hospitalized patients were given a back massage every day. Reiki and healing touch are other interventions that are “high touch” treatments using the placement of the hands to heal. When someone says “I was touched by their kindness” they are not referring to physical touch but these indeed shows how the simple use of human touch becomes identified as a positive intervention.
Therapy using plants and horticulture
Horticulture therapy is the use of plants and nature to achieve wellness. Nightingale was using a simple form of this modality by bringing fresh flowers to patients. Houseplants can be used to detoxify our indoor home environments by filtering things like formaldehyde and by releasing oxygen into the air which we then breathe in. Just seeing green plant life is soothing and it is no wonder why people often bring or send flowers to hospitalized patients.
Activities with plants and nature have also been shown to heal. Having the hands in soil exposes the body to healthy microbes that are absorbed through the skin and some studies show exposure to soil can raise endorphins in the brain to increase happiness and reduce anxiety. Walking on nature surfaces like soil, grass or sand has also been shown to benefit health by absorption of healthy substances. This process is called earthing or grounding.
I chose to study horticulture therapy formally because I have always felt a higher level of wellness when I am gardening or around nature. In my coursework, which included the study of botany, I learned biological similarities between plants and people. Both breathe, drink, eat, and grow. The chemical processes in humans and horticulture are amazingly similar. As I studied horticulture I strengthened my belief that the more natural treatments we include in personalized care plans for health the better. Horticultural therapy then is a complementary health method that along with massage therapy or aromatherapy can be used alongside traditional treatments like pharmacological and surgical interventions.