Nurse and volunteers offer St. Mary's patients day of pampering

St. Mary's Hospital patient Ron Dickinson is getting his hair cut by a volunteer. He says it was 'great' and 'unexpected' experience. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC - image credit)
St. Mary's Hospital patient Ron Dickinson is getting his hair cut by a volunteer. He says it was 'great' and 'unexpected' experience. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC - image credit)

Diana Gouvopoulos walks down the corridor of St. Mary's oncology and palliative care unit asking: "A little more champagne?"

She pops into the patients' rooms, offering each person a cup of non-alcoholic champagne.

But this is not a typical nursing shift for Gouvopoulos.

In fact, she is not on the clock.

Gouvopoulos used to work as a nurse at the hospital, but today she is back at St. Mary's — for the first time since the start of the pandemic — to attend to cancer patients with "tender loving care."

It's the third annual edition of TLC Day, an initiative Gouvopoulos started as a way to pamper oncology and palliative care patients. With the help of volunteer hair stylists, manicurists, massage therapists and make-up artists, the unit's cancer patients are getting the full TLC treatment.

Chloë Ranaldi/CBC
Chloë Ranaldi/CBC

And then there is the food.

A table is decked out with a spread that includes souvlaki, steaks, pizza and doughnuts — all donated from restaurants. There are also gift bags lined up on the front desk, each with their own bright shade of wrapping tissue.

"Just to see people being alone and secluded in their rooms is just heart-wrenching ... Our goal is to banish and eliminate the loneliness and isolation," said Gouvopoulos.

"It's just a lot of people volunteering their time one day out of the year just to spread love and give some smiles," she said.

But she insists she gets more from the experience than the patients do.

Ron Dickinson is a patient at the hospital. He is getting treatment for tumours on his lungs. But despite being hospitalized, he says he's lucky to be in good hands on a normal day.

Today, however, is extra special, he says.

"It was really unexpected to be honest," Dickinson said, after getting a haircut in his room by a volunteer.

"It's been a great experience. It means all the world."

Chloë Ranaldi/CBC
Chloë Ranaldi/CBC

Lyse Dionne has been at St. Mary's for the past few months. She says being hospitalized has been far from easy, but she feels deeply touched by the day's special care.

"It's magnificent. It's a beautiful, unexpected experience," she said.

And she too got her hair cut.

"It's been so long," she said, adding that getting her hair done was "the nicest gift I could receive."

Joan Morales, interim head nurse of the unit, says TLC Day provides a much needed break for patients.

"I think it's particularly important just to make sure that our patients who are in oncology and palliative care get a special day because they're going through a rough time," said Morales.

"It's a nice day to forget about all that."