Natalie Sanchez knows that entering a treatment center like MD Anderson for the first time can be very intimidating for a newly diagnosed cancer patient.
“Most patients bring family members or friends along for support,” says Sanchez, a nurse manager at MD Anderson West Houston. “But now that MD Anderson has adopted a ‘no visitors’ policy to protect patients from the coronavirus, they’re having to go to appointments alone. It's sad to see them walk through the door by themselves.”
Sidewalk notes provide encouragement during coronavirus pandemic
Sanchez and her co-workers have devised some creative ways to lift patients’ spirits and lessen their anxieties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take, for instance, the colorful sidewalk chalk creations that greet patients before they enter the building.
Some drawings are whimsical, like the bumble bee with the “bee happy” message, or the bright yellow star that urges patients to “keep shining.” Others offer notes of encouragement printed in block letters, like “stay strong,” or simply, “hope.”
Sanchez and business manager Jacque Andrepont were the first to decorate the sidewalk, with help from their spouses and children. Now, others are pitching in.
“Our patients love it,” Sanchez says. “They go out of their way not to step on the drawings.”
The artwork has inspired some patients to paint rocks with encouraging messages like “never give up,” and “spread kindness,” which they place in the hospital’s colorful gardens.
“Small things can turn into beautiful moments,” Sanchez says.
Creativity gets family included in bell ringing despite COVID-19 precautions
Another meaningful moment occurred recently when a patient rang the ceremonial bell inside the hospital to signal the end of her radiation treatment.
“She really, really wanted her husband to watch her ring that bell,” Sanchez explains, “but the ‘no visitors’ policy prevented that.”
Or did it?
Sanchez and occupational therapist Camiella Esaklul quickly brainstormed and developed a work-around.
“The bell is just down a hallway from an exit door,” Sanchez explains. “We used big, colorful letters to decorate the outside of the door with a message that read, ‘Peek inside – a warrior is ringing the bell.’”
As a security guard held the door open, the patient’s husband stood outside and watched as his wife – still inside – grasped the bell’s cord and tugged it tightly, ringing out over the end of her cancer treatment.
“He was crying, she was crying, we were all crying tears of joy,” Sanchez says. “There wasn’t a dry eye inside – or outside – the hospital.”
Sanchez watched as the now-discharged patient hurried out the exit door to embrace her husband. The two hopped in the car, and after weeks of staying in Houston for treatment, they drove home to South Texas.
“It was like watching two newlyweds head off on a honeymoon,” she says.
Magical moments that will outlast the COVID-19 pandemic
Visitors, too, are feeling the love. Family members who wait in the parking lot for their relatives’ appointments to end are greeted by staff who bring them water bottles and snacks from the cafe inside the hospital.
Sanchez vows that she and her team will continue their efforts to make patients and families feel “super special, like VIPs” long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
“We’ve set the bar really high, and we’re keeping it there,” Sanchez says. “Who knew there would be so much joy and so many magical moments in this time of uncertainty?”
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