Kindness through a Haircut – A Nurse’s Tale
by April Carmack
We become nurses to help other people. Whether this was because a loved one had become ill, inspiring us to help others, or it was a life long dream, every nurse shares a common goal. We simply want to make a difference.
Often there are patients who just stick with you, wherever you go. Chronically ill, they are often a regular visitor to the hospital. Lovingly, we call them ‘frequent flyers’. I will never forget one of these ‘frequent flyers’ who we will call Mrs. Y. She had come in to the hospital on many occasions and memories of her will stay with me.
Mrs. Y would return to hospital for another admission, and she would have her short hair neatly done, worn freshly in curls. She took such pride in her appearance and had her hair done once a week.
At one stage Mrs. Y. was coming into the hospital about once every two weeks. I never actually saw any family visit her and I understood that they lived out-of-town. Then, she was just gone. I would love to tell you that she had been cured, however at that time I did not know. Us medical professionals often wonder about our patients when they disappear on us. Are they well? Did they pass away? These were certainly the unanswered questions of this nurse who loves her patients.
Mrs. Y eventually returned and looked worse for wear. I felt such heartbreak as I looked at this very ill woman whose hair had now grown long and scraggly. No more fresh curls. Mrs. Y didn’t appear to be able to even take care of herself and she seemed depressed as if maybe she didn’t care anymore. Most likely this was symptomatic of her long-term illness taking its toll.
I remember noticing that she was having to work harder to breathe and, from years of experience, I could tell she didn’t have much longer left. Saddened by her situation, and the fact that over time I had come to know her so well, I decided what the best medicine for her would be. I was going to give her a hair cut!
Grabbing some scissors from a suture removal kit, one of our combs and some water, I gently asked her to sit up!
“We are going to freshen you up”, I told her…
…and strand after strand I cut Mrs. Y’s hair. Not too short though, just enough to make it healthy again. Then, grabbing her mirror for her, I closed my eyes as she looked at her reflection. After a period of total silence, I opened them to see her ear to ear wide open smile. A smile I had not seen since she had last returned to hospital.
Upon returning to her room later, Mrs. Y was on the phone talking to her son, telling him about the nurse that gave her a hair cut. The happiness that this moment brought to my heart will stay with me forever. Even after she eventually passed, I take comfort in knowing that for a short while she had happiness and peace before she died.
The one thing I had not counted in was how giving her this small gesture would actually make me feel. Not because of what I had done for her, but what she had done for me. Nurses give medications to ease pain and we hold hands with the soon-to-depart. But this patients’ happiness and her kind, warm smile were the very essence of why I became a nurse.
Her happiness will stay with me forever. Through the chaos of an ever-changing healthcare system, the memory of Mrs Y’s smile will keep me going.
April Carmack is a wife of ten years, mom of three, Nurse, student and blogs at From diapers and tutus to meetings and boardrooms!
Her household is quite chaotic and busy. With a six year old going on sixteen called “Sassy”, a four year old, who is stubborn as a mule, that April calls “mini me” and a one year old called “Buddy”. Her girls do Ballet, and her son, well, he is all boy!