Since early March, members of the staff at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City have been working tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19—often at the price of their own self-care and well-being practices. That’s why when two hairstylists (and pals)—Garrett Bryant and Patrick Kyle—floated the idea of raffling off free haircuts for frontline workers, the hospital welcomed the opportunity to give doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators an hour back to themselves to get their hair cut and cared for.
“My good friend Jordan Ehni works for Mount Sinai,” says Kyle. “He was looking for barbers and hairstylists to volunteer to give health care workers much-needed haircuts.” Each week, hospital staff who need a cut put their names into a jar for a drawing. And on Thursday of each week, Bryant and Kyle make their way to the hospital, dress in freshly-cleaned scrubs, gloves, and face shields provided by Mount Sinai, and trim overgrown bangs and sideburns of the lucky winners. Between the hours and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m, the stylists each provide haircuts to about six frontline workers—everyone from doctors and nurses to psychotherapists and medical technicians.
A haircut may seem like a small thing in the face of a pandemic. It’s not, though. When you consider that opportunities for self-care aren’t exactly plentiful for health care workers (many of whom are working harder and longer than ever before), it becomes clear why sitting down in the stylist’s chair can be such a profound experience.
“The workers are constantly taking care of people and putting so much energy into the health of others. For them to be able to just sit for 45 minutes, breathe, be touched, and to feel like they’re taking care of themselves—I think it’s just like there’s such a relief that happens when they’re able to do that,” says Bryant. “They’re just so eager to chat with somebody about something that isn’t a pandemic.”
Cindy Girusky, vice president of perioperative services at the hospital, confirms Bryant’s point. “I wanted [a haircut] because I needed to feel a sense of normalcy,” she says. “I wanted to take the time today for the haircut because I haven’t had time to take for myself since this all started. It was nice to get to talk to someone about something other than COVID and to focus on myself.”
“I wanted [a haircut] because I needed to feel a sense of normalcy.”
“I like to take care of myself, but it’s been difficult to do so over the last couple of months. Getting this haircut today made me feel normal and better about myself,” says Omar Elkeshk, transformation project coordinator. Getting taken care of feels like a novel experience for people who have grown so accustomed to being the ones responsible for care.
“After all of these months, my hair felt so long,” says Joan Cardell, administrative director of the emergency department at the hospital located on First Avenue. “I normally wouldn’t have taken the time out of my day for myself, but this experience made me feel so special and appreciated.”
When I ask Bryant and Kyle what they’ve gotten out of the experience, it becomes clear that frontline workers aren’t the only ones benefiting from the quick makeovers. Both the stylists say the experience has made them feel inspired and useful in a time when their businesses have been forced to close. “The love and appreciation I received from everyone will stay with me forever. Little did they know that I felt normal for the first time in weeks getting to do something I love—servicing my clients,” says Kyle. “This provided me with an abundance of self care, doing what I love to do and feeling like I was helping others who do so much and continue to do so much for us.”
Bryant, who founded Hawthorne in 2018, adds that he’s committed to cutting hair every Thursday to come between now and when the city’s hair salons can welcome clients again in phase two of New York’s reopening. Until then, he’ll continue to send healthcare workers back to their posts with fresh cuts—and smiles on their faces.