For the past seven years, doctors at the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion (NIHBT) in Hanoi have taken it upon themselves to provide haircuts to their cancer patients.
The weekly hairdo session starts at 4:30 pm every Thursday afternoon, when dozens of doctors, nurses and patients at NIHBT transform one of the building’s hallways into a makeshift barber shop filled with joy and laughter.
The tradition was initiated by Dr. Vu Quang Hung, deputy head of the institute’s chemotherapy department,whose eyes still showed hints of regret when he talked about what had prompted him to come up with the idea.
Seven years ago when Hung was still a junior doctor at NIHBT, a 23-year-old female patient with leukemia had killed herself due to depression over the loss of her beautiful long hair as a result of chemotherapy.
The girl’s death pained the young doctor so much that he vowed not to allow any other patients to end up with the same fate just due to the lack of mental support.
These hairdo sessions, he explained, not only served a cosmetic purpose but also created an opportunity for doctors and nurses to bond with patients and to improve morale.
|A leukimia patient, who has lost his hair due to chemotherapy, smiles as he shows his painting during a cancer awareness event at the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion in Hanoi, November 21, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Dr. Nguyen Anh Tri, who was head of the NIHBT’s chemotherapy department at the time, recalled how he and other colleagues had jumped on Hung’s proposal in an instant.
According to Tri, getting a haircut is a challenging and sometimes humiliating task for leukemia patients, as most barber shops are reluctant to welcome them for fear of causing accidents.
Those with leukemia can suffer from serious bleeding from just a small cut due to their low platelet count, while infection is also an ever-present threat with a weakened immune system.
From amateur barbers, doctors at NIHBT have honed their skills over the past seven years to become quite good at their side job, being now able to satisfy any hairstyle requests from patients, Tri said.
A positive outlook can be as effective in fighting cancer as any medicine or chemotherapy, Tri said, adding that over 5,000 patients had received free haircuts by doctors at NIHBT since the initiative started.
“But we still have so much more work to do to really take care of the patients’ mental health,” Hung said.