ED Nurse Spends Her Days Off Pampering Patients

Sylvie M. Baggett

August 31, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Brooke Johns, RN, brushing the hair of a patient at Southern Hills Hospital, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A lot of little things have fallen out of favor in the past year and a half: the five-second rule, high fives, the lower half of people's faces, touching in general. The desire for human connection is at an all-time high, and for those battling COVID-19 in hospitals, it's nearly impossible to get.

Emergency department nurse Brooke Johns, RN, is working to change that, one plait at a time. With her mane of perfectly curled, Disney princess–worthy platinum hair, it comes as no surprise that Johns is a hairdo aficionado. Earlier this year, the nurse began spending her days off brushing, braiding, and touching patients' hair at Southern Hills Hospital, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Johns told Good Morning America, "We're all hardwired for connection. We're social beings, and we need that."

She started her unofficial beauty salon when one of her close friends contracted COVID. Because patients with COVID were not allowed visitors, they relied entirely on the hospital staff for daily doses of human interaction.

Bedridden and weak, Johns' friend was unable to tend to her hair, and it became incredibly tangled. Johns offered to brush it for her and spent the next hour and a half combing out the snarls. To prevent it from happening again, Johns styled it into her signature braids.

"She was a different person when I left," Johns told Good Morning America. "The thought just popped into my head that if my friend benefited so much from this, I bet there's a whole hospital full of people who need some sort of human connection."

Johns' hospital has the process of connecting the nurse to patients in need down to a science.

To find patients who would like to have their hair done, the hospital director makes an announcement to the staff. Fellow nurses then text Johns the room numbers of people who are interested in a moment of self-care. Johns then visits each patient one by one, comb in hand and hair elastics stacked up to her elbows.

One of the people Johns tended to was Sierra Stein, a former patient at Southern Hills. Stein contracted COVID in the summer of 2020. Her legs became paralyzed, which forced her to stay in the hospital for several months while undergoing treatment.

"There's a lot of isolation," Stein told Good Morning America. "It can be a really dark place. Having someone braid your hair makes you feel like you're at home again." Stein was later released and regained her ability to walk.

Johns has inspired other nurses at Southern Hills to pick up a hairbrush or just spend extra time holding their patients' hands. She plans on dressing up as Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen and visiting patients at the local children's hospital.

Johns told local TV station KTNV, "Nurses, in general, get into this to help other people."

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