A hospital is many things, but exciting and uplifting aren’t typically the words you’d associate with one.  Sterile and quiet — aside from the whirr of machines and the plops of a nurse’s busy footsteps — hospital walls can be a place of immense solitude for patients, their pain echoing around them.

Until about around a year ago.

Beauty Bus, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit, teamed up with St John’s to do what they do best: to color the worlds of terminally or chronically ill patients who don’t often get the chance to indulge in feeling good about themselves.

The non-profit was born out of founder Wendy Marantz Levine’s own grief— her sister, Melissa, developed a degenerative neuromuscular disease that cut her life short at 28 years of age.

Levine saw what her sister was going through and wanted to cheer her up. To do this, her family arranged in-house beauty care for Melissa, providing her with haircuts, facials, mani-pedis and more. Years later, after seeing that no organization was doing this, Levine started the non-profit.

The spa-like treatment Levine provided her sister was soon transplanted to Levine’s Beauty Bus, who routinely do in-home beauty care for the chronically and terminally ill as their core method of operation. The treatment comes at no cost to the patient.

Every Tuesday, however, they bring their bus, a bag of goodies and beauty technicians to St. John’s oncology wing on the fourth floor, to brighten up and beautify lives. They see 6-8 patients (or clients, as Beauty Bus calls them) a day, spending around an hour or as much meaningful time with a client as possible.

“It takes them away from this,” Levine said, motioning towards a hospital room filled with equipment. “It gives them time to talk about the Emmys or movies or whatever. We just want to be there for them and allow them to get outside of their disease, even if it’s just for a small part of their day.”

Janice Frost, the administrative coordinator of the oncology department at St John’s, says her hospital’s small, family-friendly feel and the hands-on touch of Beauty Bus was a perfect match for her wing and ill patients.

“The personality of St. Johns is more like a community hospital rather than a large academic facility, very family-centered, everyone knows everyone, ” Frost said. “I heard about Beauty Bus at a meeting and knew they’d be a natural fit. They give VIP-type care.”

A patient (or client, as Beauty Bus calls them) that’s benefitted from the VIP-type care is Marilyn Gold.

Gold was in the process of being Beauty Bus’d during a recent visit. She was laughing and smiling, cracking jokes about herself and the hospital she was in, seemingly doing everything she could to bring a smile to anyone within the immediate vicinity.

With the joy in the room, you’d have never known she was going through an arduous process.

Gold became a long-term patient at St. John’s after a check-up on knee inflammation problems turned into something more dire; doctors discovered Gold had a stomach tumor.

As a new patient, she’d lie in bed many days overcome with depression due to how she perceived herself to look.

“I used to go to the beauty parlor every week,” she said. “And now I was just sitting here, staring at a TV all day. It’s a hospital. People walk by you and some don’t even look at you. It didn’t feel good.”

That’s when Beauty Bus stepped in.

The program chooses patients based on who they feel might benefit from their services most, and Gold was one of many on the list.

“The nurses have a pretty good pulse here,” a Beauty Bus beauty technician volunteer said.

Beauty Bus heard of Gold from her family and St. John’s nurses. “She’s usually known as energetic and fun,” her daughter said, “And they saw she wasn’t that.”

After several beauty services, Gold is who she was before her hospital stay— beaming smile, all joy and devil-may-care attitude.

“They take care of you, but the emotional part, the beautification, that’s what means a lot. And that’s overlooked in a hospital … even if they don’t do quite as good as my regular salon.”

Gold laughs with nurses and Beauty Bus staff. Joy spreads across their faces. Happiness, at least for a moment.



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