I’ve spent much time recently on the Southbank, busking over Easter at the Real Food Festival, and several visits to St Thomas Hospital, on the river Thames, with a friend of mine who suffers from a rare respiratory disease called “RP”… short for “Relapsing Polychondritis”. Our visits haven’t been without adventure, or inspiration. The time before last we broke down an hour from the hospital, and were rescued by a tow truck, then the rescue truck broke down, and we arrived home 12 hours later! We arrived in one piece this time, just about, despite the crazy road systems of driving through Buckingham Palace and the city of London. St Thomas Hospital is no ordinary hospital, those who’ve been there will know. Florence Nightingale established her nursing school at this hospital in 1860, and there is a fascinating museum within the complex dedicated to her life’s work.
The first time I visited at the end of last year I discovered a poem in the museum which inspired me by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called “Santa Filomena” about the virgin martyr “with the palm, the lily, and the spear” who was decapitated for refusing to marry an Emporer. The poem also references Florence Nightingale…”the Lady with the Lamp I see, pass through the glimmering gloom, and flit from room to room, the Lady with the Lamp shall stand, in the great history of the land.” Florence also rejected proposals of marriage so she could devote her life to serve others and be free to pursue her calling. She was a social reformer, statistician, the founder of modern nursing, and it was Nightingale that invented the term ‘sister’ for nurses.
Since that visit I began to compose a song called “Santa Filomena” based on these two fascinating women. The following day I sang at a Pre-Raphaelite talk at Wilden Church in Stourport, and was “co-incidentally” introduced to a woman who dedicates her whole life to Florence Nightingale, and even dresses up as her and educates children about her work in schools! Florence’ spirit was certainly present that week ☺
The most recent visit to St Thomas Hospital with my friend over Easter, I was sat in the waiting room, finishing the lyrics for “Santa Filomena”…when the receptionist calls out the name to the woman sitting next to me “FILOMENA THOMAS..You’re Next”.. my jaw dropped! A lady in a fur coat gets up and walks out. I still wonder now if she was real.
I then felt drawn to walk towards the children’s ward, the Evelina’s Hospital named after the wife of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild who, along with her child, died in premature labour. I feel I am being led to something. I walk towards a huge statue of Queen Victoria.. it’s pretty impressive to see in a hospital.. but still no, its not that ..so I keep walking.. something is compelling me… a mini exhibition about the discovery of anesthetic… interesting but no … keep walking.. until I find what I am looking for .. a magnificent statue of the lady herself ‘Florence Nightingale’ in front of the most beautiful bechstein grand piano in what was like a concert hall.. in the middle of the hospital! How I wished we could do a concert there and then.
At that moment I then receive a text message from a folk musician friend of mine to say she has been rushed into hospital and is having an emergency operation that day… and then I receive news from a dear friend that his father has had a heart attack! Hmmm.. interesting timing. I’m left sat at the piano thinking how lucky we are to have the health care we do, and feel thankful to all the people before us that dedicated their lives to building the foundations of this hospital. Florence Nightingale played such a huge part in the medical knowledge we have today. Peace be with you, Florence. May the world know your greatness… x
For those who are interested in knowing more about ‘Relapsing Polychondritis’ my friend, Lisa who some days finds it difficult to breathe, talk, sing, shows great courage living with this chronic condition and helping others who suffer with the same disease. She is an amazing educator and is involved with forums and groups for people in the UK and US to share their experiences. If you would like to know more click this link http://www.facebook.com/polychondritisawarenessandsupportfoundationinc
This morning I experienced a different type of emergency operation, while walking with my young nephews in the woods in the Teme Valley, to find a frightened sheep engulfed with brambles, unable to move or breathe. My three year old nephew, Joseph and five year old, Dylan pretended they were the sheep ambulance, and together we sourced a pen knife and some gloves from the local farm house. It was distressing to see the sheep so fearful of human contact initially, kicking and bleating furiously against us as we tried to help, to then witness this magical transformation as the sheep surrendered to a state of complete calm, as my father and brother in law cut away at the thorns around her neck in complete trust. I read something earlier that day by a book that had been put in my path by ‘Jeff Brown,’ which really resonated with this experience. It said, “Spiritual growth is our journey. Like true artists, we have to find that delicate balance between wilfulness and surrender – when to act, when to still. Chaotic Magnificence.” After 20 minutes of sheep wrestling, the struggle was over, the sheep was set free and we all sang “Ba Ba Black Sheep. xx