Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — You are not exactly in seventh heaven, but on the seventh floor of the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion in Hà Nội, a profound transformation takes place every Thursday afternoon.
The somber, even gloomy atmosphere of sick rooms in the hospital all but disappears when you step into a barber’s shop.
The shop’s services are free, and while this can be a pleasant surprise, there is a bigger one in store for newcomers.
The barbers are doctors of the institute.
Patients whose illnesses are so serious that the institute has become their second home are no longer surprised, but this does not diminish their gratitude as they wait in line from 4pm onwards for the service that starts at 4.30pm.
Both newcomers and old timers are moved on seeing the doctors give haircuts to their patients.
The customers include the elderly, the young, males, females and children.
The signs of tiredness and worry seem to evaporate or lighten considerably at this simple act of kindness and caring, which also helps people bear the most difficult of burdens.
Doctors and nurses will tell you that several patients have passed away after having a few haircuts at this shop.
It is also heart-breaking to see many small children being taken to the barber’s shop, unaware of their condition. They do not understand why they have to get their heads shaved. Parents often break down, not knowing how to answer their children, except to hold them tightly.
Nguyễn Văn Trọng of Nho Quan District in the northern province of Ninh Bình has been at the institute for many months now.
Suffering from blood cancer, the prolonged treatment has made the young man, in his twenties, very thin. His skin has a leaden sheen, his eyes are depressed and his head is bare.
Looking at Trọng’s hair on the floor sadly, Nguyễn Văn Trình, Trọng’s father, said the disease was discovered last year.
“At first we hoped that it can be cured, but recently it worsened quickly, and his hair falls continuously,” he said.
Đoàn Thị Thanh Trúc, seven, from the northern port city of Hải Phòng’s Thủy Nguyên District, moves people with her spirit as she runs around the shop, singing.
Her mother, Hoàng Thị Lam, smiles through her tears. “She’s had cancer for a year. She used to have a long black hair, but it’s almost gone now."
Young doctors and nurses at the institute are passionate about what they do for their patients.
They are happy to help, but sad when they have to cut off the long hair of young girls, or shave children’s heads. Often, they have to console patients who often cry as their hair falls on the floor.
The special barber’s shop is the initiative of doctor Vũ Quang Hưng, deputy head of the Chemical Treatment Ward, who got the idea after watching his patients’ losing their hair every day.
Set up in 2011, the shop’s tools and equipment are funded by the institute and its youth union. Although it is voluntary, doctors have to work hard. Over the years, as the number of customers increased, more than 10 nurses have volunteered, and are even trained to do it.
For six years now, from 4.30pm to 6.30pm every Thursday, thousands of patients have received free haircuts.
Doctor Hưng said that when he was a student, he and his friends were too poor to spend money in a barber shop, so they cut each other’s hair. Now this experience has come in handy for his patients.
“This way, the patients can maintain hygiene and reduce expenses, but the most important thing is that the relationship between doctors and patients improves considerably,” he said.
“The skin of blood cancer patients scratches and gets infected easily, and it is difficult to stop their bleeding. For them, a hair cut on the seventh floor is also a safety measure,” Hưng said.
Nurse Đặng Quang Tuấn said that he’d never given a haircut to anyone, and did not believe that he could do it.
“When I held the hair clippers for the first time, I was too nervous, and it took me half an hour to give a haircut to just one patient because I was afraid that I would hurt his skin,” he recalled.
Now, Tuấn is so familiar with this work that he can offer different hairstyles, in some cases.
“When I cut the hair of my patients, I feel that they are my family members,” he said.
For doctor Hưng, six years of wielding the hair clippers has created a large trove of memories.
While patients have different health conditions, the experience of having all their hair cut off can add to the trauma of their disease. In fact, the doctors themselves get emotional.
“Seeing young pretty patients looking at their hair on the ground with sadness, we ourselves get tears in our eyes,” said Hưng.
But the very act of doctors and nurses going beyond the call of their duty to give haircuts, and the sharing of a common experience at the barber shop gives both doctors and patients a psychological boost.
Hưng and his colleagues are living up to his personal motto: “Without belief, fairy tales are not possible. Let’s create fairy tales in real life by doing very simple things.” — VNS