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That triple dose of antibiotics

· Nurses ·

“Let us think of the sisters living in hospitals: they live on the frontier”, Pope Francis said in his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica in 2013. “I am alive because of one of them. When I went through my lung disease at the hospital, the doctor gave me penicillin and streptomycin in certain doses.

The sister who was on duty tripled my doses because she was daringly astute; she knew what to do because she was with ill people all day. The doctor, who really was a good one, lived in his laboratory; the sister lived on the frontier and was in dialogue with it every day. Domesticating the frontier means just talking from a remote location, locking yourself up in a laboratory. Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience”.

Pope Bergoglio summed up with a personal anecdote – and with his customary effective ability to synthesize – what for Cecilia Sironi, President of the National Consociation of Italian Nurses Associations was and continues to be the battle for a life: making people understand the importance of a job all too often underestimated or even ignored when it is a question of taking decisions that concern national health-care systems.

“The idea of studying for so many years, at least six, in which to consider a medical specialization, and of seeing the sick after too long”, “Sironi said, “led me to nursing school. In the following years I thought several times of that beginning. There were many moments in which I said to myself: “but who made you do it? You have chosen a laborious job that really demands everything, a job that is neither esteemed nor adequately remunerated”.

The temptation to go backwards existed, she admitted: “I sincerely thought several times of giving it all up, but not because I thought I had taken the wrong road. The reason was always the opposite: because of an excess of passion. I wondered why such a beautiful profession, so important for the lives of others, should bring those who are in love with it not to be put in the condition to practise it as they would like to and should. A woman can truly give a lot as a nurse. And I do not say so out of romantic nostalgia but because I have been collaborating with the training since 1983. Percentagewise female nurses are better, even though, when one finds young men cut out for this profession they really are extremely capable. Precisely because of this great love for the profession I decided to devote myself to training future nurses. I shall be satisfied when – I hope it will happen before I retire – the profession of nursing is experienced and perceived by people as having a dignity equal to that of the professions of medicine and physiotherapy”.

However this goal still seems distant. “It was reached a long time ago in countries with enormous hygiene and sanitary problems, but not yet in Italy”, Cecilia Sironi continued. “Nurses can save the lives of entire populations at contained costs. In most of the health-care and nursing services across the world it is often possible to do without doctors, but not without nurses whose training is extensive, covers all the clinical and nursing aspects, includes families, takes the context into account and views people in all their dimensions and not solely their bio-physiological aspects.

She went on: “what struck me when I started work in a London hospital long ago in 1980 was the presence of a clear nursing hierarchy. The person who interviewed me for the job was a senior nursing officer on whom all the nursing and assistant nursing personnel directly depended. The fundamental assumption that an adequate number of nurses for each sick person leads to a material saving, as well as to a quality of care that is not only perceived by the sick but that can also be objectively assessed, is something still little known. Authoritative bodies (only think of the Institute of Medicine) have properly understood this and are consequently taking action, using the results of numerous studies, made in Europe too, and including those of Linda Aiken”.

Moreover the books of Jean Watson have remained classics of the nursing science from the 1980s to this day. A year ago Cecilia Sironi edited the Italian translation of Philosophy and Science of Caring (Assistenza infermieristica. Filosofia e scienza del caring, Milan, Casa Editrice Ambrosiana, 2013). “With regard to Watson”, Sironi continued, “I have always been impressed by the fact that she is a woman in search of meaning: of the meaning of her life, of how to live it deeply and of how to help each one get to the bottom of what he or she is going through in the experience of suffering, illness and pain. Her sincerity has led her to share her personal journey with others and to use what she herself has learned to help others recover. She does not come from a Christian tradition but, for example, has done the camino of Compostela. I’ve seen in her philosophical work, mediated by her great humanity, a way of recovering those values we have lost or are losing. Having discarded everything that had anything to do with the Church or with the impressive work of the monks, religious and women’s congregations of past centuries, where can a young woman recover the energy for choosing and remaining in such a challenging profession? The love of human beings, of her own humanity and that of others, can have but one source”. There you are, Cecilia Sironi concluded, “I think that Jean Watson can accompany a great many nurses on this path of research”.

Silvia Guidi




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 29, 2020