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The nurse who braids hair: 5 Things Podcast – USA TODAY

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast:

Brooke Johns is an emergency room nurse in Las Vegas Nevada who offers a unique and very humanizing service to her patients. She brushes and braids their hair on her days off.

Zulekha Nathoo from the USA TODAY franchise, Humankind shares Johns story with the team at 5 Things, including what got her started in doing this simple thing and why she keeps doing it. Nathoo shared the experience of Sierra Stein, one the many patients Johns has served. Stein was in the hospital during the pandemic because of COVID complications.  

Stein said, “That physical touch and that interaction means so much when you are so helpless and so alone. You may not even look like you are in a really bad predicament but little things like that can mean so much and make you feel like you are home again.”

Johns said she isn’t a professional stylist but to her, that’s not important. What matters is you just have to want to help.

For more on this story, click here.

To follow James Brown on Twitter, click here.

To follow Zulekha Nathoo on Twitter, click here.

If you have a comment on this episode or a past episode or a story idea you can leave James Brown a voicemail by calling 585-484-0339. Your comment or story idea could be the inspiration for the next episode.

Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text. 

James Brown:                  Hello, and welcome to Five Things. I’m James Brown. It’s Sunday, August 28th, 2022. Boy, this summer went by in a blink. Every week we take a question, an idea or concept and go deep. If there’s something you’d like us to look into, you can always email me jabrown@usatoday.com or find me anywhere on social media @JamesBrownTV, or leave me a voicemail at 585-484-0339.

This week, we’re talking about someone who goes above and beyond for their work. But let’s face it, that’s not everybody. If you’re anything like me, you want to get away from your work on your days off. I work from home. So I turn off my work computer and close the door to my office and try to get as far away from that room as possible. But some people like Brooke Johns, an ER nurse from Las Vegas feel differently. On her days off every few weeks, she goes back to the hospital that she works at to brush and braid her patient’s hair.

Speaker 2:                        Oh, good Lord. I love it.

Brooke:                            Doesn’t it look so good? It looks so good.

James Brown:                  Zulekha Nathoo is here to tell us more about that. Zulekha is from USA TODAY’s good news franchise, Humankind. Welcome back Zulekha.

Zulekha:                           Hi, thanks for having me again.

James Brown:                  Tell us more about this nurse.

Zulekha:                           Sure. Brooke Johns is a mom of three kids, three teenagers. She’s been an emergency room nurse at Southern Hills Hospital in Las Vegas for about three years now. So she basically had just started when the pandemic hit. And she said she loves her job, but a big aspect of it is that she sees people come in tons of acute cases a day, but never really knows the outcomes for them. That kind of job doesn’t allow for a nurse to spend long periods of time with any patient. In the ER, they’re kind of go all day long. And things were very different during the pandemic. I think sometimes we forget, even though it wasn’t that long ago, but there was definitely that span of about a year or two where patients couldn’t have family around in their unit because of COVID or visits were severely limited. And healthcare staff was really all that patients had to confide in and talk to and get comfort from as they went through these difficult issues in their lives. And so Brooke really recognized that extra reliance that patients had on nurses, especially.

James Brown:                  What made her want to come back to brush hair of all things?

Zulekha:                           Yeah, it all started when she was visiting a friend in the hospital, the friend was quite sick and had been in bed for weeks. And she says her friend looked tired and sad. Her hair was matted from all the lying down. And so Brooke offered to brush her hair. She brushed her friend’s hair, and she braided it and she noticed something really different in her friend. By the time Brooke left that room, her friend had become more engaged, lively, looked better, and something clicked for Brooke. She realized that if her friend could experience this transformation afterwards, from what seemed just like a small act of kindness, maybe others could too. So that’s when she started volunteering, doing exactly that on some of her days off. Here’s how she describes it.

Brooke:                            I get to go in and there’s no time clock. There’s no, I have got to get to the next patient room. If somebody needs me for an hour, I can give them an hour. If somebody needs me for 15 minutes, I can give them 15 minutes. There’s freedom in that. But service is one of those things that works backwards. I set out to make you feel good, but it makes me feel 10 times better.

James Brown:                  How do patients feel about this?

Zulekha:                           Yeah, I mean, patients seem to really love it. She’ll show up to the unit where people are in the hospital for long periods of time. So for example, complications from COVID or recovering from surgery and the nurses will announce it. And then they just text her when patients are interested in getting that little extra TLC. There was one woman who was 75 and Brooke was braiding her hair. And she looked at herself in the mirror afterwards. And you could just see her face light up when she saw what Brooke had done. I spoke with one patient in particular who Brooke did this for as well. The patient’s name is Sierra Stein, and she was in the hospital during the pandemic because of COVID complications. So she couldn’t have a lot of family visiting and Brooke’s visits, she says, were a real lifeline for her.

Sierra:                               It’s just so important, I think today, especially that nurses and doctors know that physical touch and that interaction means so much when you’re so helpless and so alone. And you may not even look like you’re in a really bad predicament, but little things like that can mean so much and make you feel like you’re at home again.

Zulekha:                           Sierra said she truly believes if your mental health isn’t strong, especially when you’re in the hospital, your physical health will lag as well. And so she said there are real benefits with what Brooke is doing for patients. And I think Brooke really feels that way too. Here’s what she told me when I asked what kind of reactions she’s seen in patients.

Brooke:                            I’ve had people cry. I’ve had people just be so thankful. I’ve had people, it’s usually little old ladies that try to pay me. It’s just like, no, no, no, no. That’s not why I’m here. I mean, they don’t understand why would you do this? This isn’t your job. You don’t go around looking for business. No, it’s not a business thing. It’s a healing thing.

James Brown:                  You can hear it in her voice. It clearly means so much to her. Is this kind of thing only happening in her hospital.

Zulekha:                           So right now, Brooke does this all in one hospital, but she said she hopes to get something going at other hospitals too, and get more volunteers on board doing the same thing, because she’s not a professional stylist or anything like that. And she said, you really don’t have to be. You just have to want to help and show somebody that you care.

James Brown:                  Okay. So this gets me thinking Zulekha, have you volunteered, have you ever donated your time to give something extra to someone?

Zulekha:                           Yeah, I have. I mean its something I’ve done throughout my life since I was young and something that I really try to do as an adult as well. What about you?

James Brown:                  Yeah. I try to give my time, especially to young kids. I think it’s really important to share your time with young people for mentorship, or just simply seeing someone who looks like them do something different than they expect. I went to this school back in November. It’s called the leadership academy for young men. It’s right here in my hometown here in Rochester, New York. And when I walked in and I’m dressed nicely, I have a tie and snazzy shoes and I was introduced as a journalist and the kids seemed surprised, I’m guessing they weren’t expecting a black guy to be a journalist. And some of them didn’t connect with me, but I felt like a few of them did. I talked to them about some of my work and some of the stories I’ve worked on and how I did it and how the things I learned in school helped shape that. And a few of them, I could see the wheels turning. And while it’s not quite brushing someone’s hair, I guess it’s my version of TLC. What’s yours like?

Zulekha:                           Yeah. I think that sometimes you don’t even realize the impact you can have on young people, because even one thing that you say could resonate with them years later, even if it doesn’t seem like it clicks just yet. I think one of the most memorable experiences recently for me was when I brought my son to collect little items and toys to give to kids his age who were homeless for Christmas. This was when we were living in LA. And so we went and he was about, I think four or five years old at the time. We picked out things that he thought they might like, coloring books, little stuffed animals, things like that. And then a bunch of us from our community got together one night and set up this assembly line and packaged these little kits. And so he went around the table and he picked up an item from each pile and put them in little goody bags for them.

                                          And I think it was really important for him, even if it didn’t register at that moment to see how other people live and the idea of inequality that can be very close to home. It’s easy for a lot of us to take things for granted, whether it’s our comfortable lifestyle. So many of us don’t even think twice about picking up gifts at Christmas time or our health in the case of the patients that we were just talking about. And so I think volunteering is a really good reminder that things can change in an instant. So it’s really important to give back.

James Brown:                  If you like the show, write us a review on apple podcast or wherever you’re listening and do me a favor, share it with a friend. What do you think of the show? If you have any ideas, comments, or questions, you can always email me at jabrown@usatoday.com or text me, or leave me a voicemail at 585-484-0339. You can also send me a message on Twitter @JamesBrownTV. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks to Zulekha Nathoo for joining me. And to Alexis Gustin for her production assistance. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with five things you need to know for Monday. And for all of us at USA TODAY, thanks for listening. I’m James Brown and as always be well.

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