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Feeding the Sick

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Notes on nursing: what it is, and what it is not (London: Harrison, [1860])
MU Special Collections
Rare Book Collection
RT51 .N68

Florence Nightingale portrait
Image credit: National Library of Medicine

Florence Nightingale, the foremost expert on nursing in her time, wrote this manual as a guide for experienced nurses and novice caregivers.  She offers advice on various subjects and devotes an entire chapter to diet. 

Nightingale’s advice on food is remarkable because she recommends a diet based on observation and comfort rather than on science.  She remarks, “All that chemistry can tell us is the amount of carboniferous or nitrogenous elements discoverable in different dietetic articles,” and goes on,

The main question is what the patient's stomach can assimilate or derive nourishment from, and of this the patient's stomach is the sole judge. Chemistry cannot tell this.  The patient's stomach must be its own chemist.

Nightingale recommends milk as the most nutritionally sound and easily digestible food for invalids, but she stresses that the sick should be given any food that agrees with them.

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