Towel Animals Won't Lick a Patient's Face, but They Still Get a Smile September 26, 2011

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Perhaps nothing can comfort a patient more than a cute puppy. Even one crafted from terrycloth.

At several Seton hospitals, patients sometimes get more than a friendly smile and emotional support from physicians, nurses and other associates. They also get a "towel animal," thanks to nurses, housekeeping staff and others who have learned the art of folding towels, origami-like, into cuddly creatures.

For example, Jannine Bailey, a polysomnographic technologist in the Seton Medical Center Hays sleep lab, runs sleep studies and analyzes patient data regarding brain waves and sleep patterns. She also usually makes two towel animals each evening for patients coming in the next day.

"I try to soften the lab experience a bit so patients are more comfortable," Jannine said. "They usually come in and say, 'Oh, that's cute' or that it reminds them of a cruise" because towels folded into animals or other designs sometimes are seen on beds aboard cruise ships or at vacation hotels.

It takes her about five minutes for Jannine to make an elephant, a snail or a dog. She tried to make cats, "but all my cats turn into dogs."

Meanwhile, housekeeping staff elsewhere at Seton Hays also are starting to fold and provide towel animals to patients, said Larry Lear, Seton Hays environmental services manager.

At Dell Children's Medical Center, children and their families see towel animals on the beds after they check in. Towel animals also are made for young patients experiencing long waits in the emergency waiting room, said Environmental Services Manger Brenda Fullenwider.

"We truly believe this, accompanied by C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Accountability, Report, Excellence and Service) behaviors, has a positive effect on the patient experience. It also assists in engaging the patient and family members in conversation," Brenda said.

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Dogs, monkeys, elephants, swans and even flowers are made by housekeeping staff at University Medical Center Brackenridge. While he personally likes elephants ("Who doesn't love a little, squishy elephant?"), Environmental Services Operations Manager Ty Merrill said swans appear to be the most popular, "which is good nice because it is the most basic animal to make."

"We make the towel animals to help patients escape the realities of the hospital. Patients have enough worries on their minds and a towel animal is a fun, simple way to bring a much-needed smile to a face," he said.

"The towel animal also provides a positive way to interact with the patient. The more positive interactions a patient has, the happier he or she will be with our service," Ty added.

Ty recounted a favorite story: a ninth floor housekeeper known for being nice, approachable and very good with patients entered the room of a patient named John. Coincidentally, the elephant towel animal she brought in also was named John.

"After several minutes of chatting, the patient proposed marriage to this housekeeper," said Ty.

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