The Little Things
Suzi Hayes sighed as she tilted her head into the shiny black basin and a rush of warm water flowed through her hair. A pair of hands massaged her scalp, puffs of sweet-smelling foam rising up amid the clatter of the salon. In two days Hayes would turn 67, and she wanted a fresh shampoo and blow-dry for the occasion.
Out of context, the scene would be commonplace—a proud Houstonian committed to her presentation. But Hayes is currently hospitalized at Houston Methodist, undergoing inpatient dialysis treatments. Just 10 minutes earlier, she had been wheeled through sterile halls to the adjoining Scurlock Tower, where husband-and-wife team Fred and Connie Kromer have been running a full-service salon for nearly four decades.
Encore Hair Design & Boutique mirrors most salons, with posters of perfectly coiffed hair on the walls, magazines fanned on tables, and side-by-side stations stocked with styling tools and hair products. But between its storied history and patient-specific offerings, the salon has become a hub for a very specific type of care at the Texas Medical Center.
“For years, physicians, patients and patient relatives have expressed how grateful they are for our compassionate service,” Connie Kromer said. “We not only enjoy our work with gratitude, but feel we are also doing missionary work at the same time.”
The Kromers first started their venture in 1959 at the historic Warwick Hotel (now Hotel ZaZa), then moved to Park Plaza Professional Building before Scurlock Tower wrapped construction in 1981. By that time, they had already begun to see some patients, but the couple—said to be the first in Texas to offer services to both men and women in the same salon— knew the move to Methodist would be a chance to expand their patient clientele and grow their expertise.
The salon, designed to meet their clients’ specialized needs, offers a private area for patients wearing hospital gowns or for those whose cultural or religious standards demand a certain level of concealment. Encore provides a range of services, from haircuts and highlights to facials, waxing, electrolysis and manicures. The boutique portion sells trendy accessories and clothing sets—antidotes to colorless hospital gowns and peeling IV tape—as well as wigs, turbans and other treatment-specific merchandise.
“A lot of people take for granted the little things of everyday life,” said Perla Diaz, a stylist at Encore. “When you go and see a patient and give a woman a nice shampoo, and for her to say, ‘This really made me feel great,’—that’s a great feeling.”
The salon’s customer base extends beyond patients and their families. Sought-after surgeons stop by for haircuts, hospital staff schedule pedicures after especially long shifts, and Rice University students enjoy discounts and the convenient location. Like most hairdressers, the stylists are privy to secrets; they dish out advice and offer comfort to a wide array of individuals, from international patients to Methodists’ most famous clientele—the Bush family included. Between them they know five languages and are as dedicated to the patient care aspect of their roles as they are to their craft.
Perhaps the most unique service offered by the salon is in-room care. For patients who are unable to travel to Scurlock Tower, the stylists wheel a suitcase full of tools to inpatient rooms in Houston Methodist and other hospitals in the TMC. Using a special bowl, they shampoo patients who are unable to get out of bed, including those in the ICU, working around machines and wires, even tracheostomy tubes. Often, the stylists find themselves rinsing out blood from surgery or working around fresh scars. They have become experts in styling hair that is falling out from chemotherapy treatments.
“Have you ever not been able to wash yourself and feel human again?” asked stylist Lexi Ebers. “It’s a big deal. People will cry because you shampoo their hair. It feels so good they cry.”
Stress management techniques—including keeping up with hygiene or a little pampering—are crucial to good health, and even more so when someone is recovering from surgery or a hospitalization. Physicians are instructed to take note of individuals who have stopped bathing as a sign of major depression, and those who do maintain a certain level of self-care often seem to have an easier recovery.
The benefits are so apparent to the stylists that they insist their services should be part of the standard of care. It’s rewarding in return, too. Salon employees are so dedicated to Encore’s mission that most have been there for at least a decade, many beginning as receptionists and then pursing cosmetology school after watching their co-workers in action.
“It’s wonderful that you can come over here and be made to feel like you’re not sick anymore,” said Suzi Hayes, as she examined her freshly styled hair in the mirror. “Just because you’re in the hospital doesn’t mean you can’t look good.”
Encore Hair Design & Boutique is located in Scurlock Tower, 6560 Fannin, Suite 210. Information: 713-795-0100.