BANGKOK – Scrubs may be in fashion during the coronavirus crisis, but split ends — never. That's where Pornsupa Hattayong comes in.
The 43-year-old hairstylist is boosting the morale of frontline medical workers by dispensing free haircuts at Bangkok hospitals.
Pornsupa says she was almost embarrassed to offer her service, thinking it was too trivial. But she’s been overwhelmed by the response it drew from desperate, shaggy-haired doctors, nurses and support staff wrapped up in the fight against COVID-19.
Thailand’s hair salons have been closed for more than a month, to help stop the spread of the virus.
On her first hospital visit, Pornsupa had counted on cutting the hair of six health workers, but 30 turned up. On her second visit, 20 customers turned into 50.
“They just kept coming. Some arrived in their medical gowns and asked if they could get a haircut right away as they had to go to work," says Pornsupa.
At that point, she asked her friends to pitch in.
Bangkok Metropolitan Administration General Hospital is the fourth to welcome Pornsupa since she began her free service at the end of March. All of them are designated treatment centers for COVID-19 patients.
On arrival Thursday she quickly set up her makeshift salon and began working her way through a long list of hard-pressed medical staff. The team averages around 50 heads per day.
For this kind of work they would normally charge customers 500 baht ($15.45).
The 20-year veteran hairdresser takes no chances: The full-on protective clothing she dons is impractical but doesn’t seem to cramp her styling. She douses her equipment with an alcohol-based spray between clients.
There is no financial gain for her or the others — in fact, Pornsupa says she is living on her savings. She says she is proud that her skill is making a difference.
“The doctors are so happy to get a haircut. It’s like we lift something off their chest, perhaps not chest but head,” she says. “I think they feel lighter and relaxed. They all want to do something with their hair so it’s easy to clean and ready for work.”
For Dr. Teerapat Jittpoonkuson, it’s the humanity behind the haircut that really counts.
“I don’t feel like this is merely a service I am getting. It feels like more of a kindness given by a group of people to our hospital staff. This is more than just a haircut.”
As of Thursday, Thailand had reported 2,954 positive cases of COVID-19, with 54 deaths. The toll is slowing, prompting the government to announce a gradual easing of lockdown measures — including next week's reopening of hair salons, with a list of safety restrictions to abide by.
Even then, Pornsupa says, she may continue to style and groom medical workers on her days off.
“I have cut hair for 20 years, and I feel so proud. Cutting hair for the rich, for the famous, is nothing compared to these frontline heroes. They are the most important people in the world right now,” she says.
Associated Press journalist Jerry Harmer contributed to this report.
While nonstop news about the effects of the coronavirus has become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. “One Good Thing” is an Associated Press series reflecting these acts of kindness.