For COVID-19 patients, a hospital stay can be especially scary: You’re in a foreign environment, battling a virus that didn’t exist months ago, without friends and family there to comfort you. The only people you do see are your medical team, and even they’re suited up in head-to-toe protective gear that conceals most of their faces.
San Diego respiratory therapist Robertino Rodriguez wanted to do something about that. Last week, he geared up as usual before his shift at Scripps Mercy Hospital, but then he did something a little different.
“Yesterday I felt bad for my patients in ER when I would come in the room with my face covered in PPE,” he wrote on Instagram on Saturday. “A reassuring smile makes a big difference to a scared patient. So today I made a giant laminated badge for my PPE so my patients can see a reassuring and comforting smile.”
In the photo on his uniform, Rodriguez wears a suit and tie and a beaming smile. It’s a seemingly small gesture but it serves to remind his patients that there’s a compassionate human under all that PPE gear.
“One thing health care workers do to make our patients feel at ease is to reassure them with our smiles but now that we have to wear masks, we are unable to do this,” he told HuffPost via email.
“A smile goes a long way in comforting a scared patient ― bringing some brightness in these dark times,” he said.
Since the weekend, Rodriguez’s post has gone viral, with over 28,000 “likes” and many grateful comments.
“The sweetest thing I’ve seen in a while.”
“This is something so simple yet so few would think of the comfort it brings patients.”
“You are the hero we need.”
Not long after he posted it, other nurses and doctors started following suit, taping photos of themselves smiling on their hospital garb.
“I didn’t have a preprinted photo or a color printer so my polaroid will have to do,” Peggy Ji, an ER doctor in Los Angeles, wrote on Instagram.
In an interview with HuffPost, the LA doctor said she hopes the photos take some of the strangeness out of the experience for patients with COVID symptoms.
“These patients come in with a cough, shortness of breath, or fever and the question on their minds and everyone’s mind is, ‘Do I have COVID?’” she said. “I can only imagine how intimidating it is seeing a team of nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors entering their room in full PPE gear, on top of everything else.”
A photo, she said, helps patients “connect a human and a smile to the walking spacesuit and masks in front of them.”
Another doctor who works in a pediatric ward in São Paulo, Brazil, got a little whimsical with her photo, adding Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” to her badge.
Los Angeles-based registered nurse Derek DeVault is another medical professionals who’s taken Rodriguez’s lead. He also inspired his co-workers to do the same thing.
“So far patients are responding in a very positive way,” he told HuffPost. “Even if it takes their mind off of all the chaos for just one second, I think that’s worth it.”
Rodriguez couldn’t be happier that the movement, which he’s calling “Share Your Smile,” is catching on among hospital workers. But he’s even happier that he’s found a way to communicate his smile to his coronavirus patients.
“People love seeing that you went that extra mile to show them that you care,” he said. “As healthcare professionals, we came into this field because of our compassionate hearts. This shows that.”
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.