SANTA BARBARA — "I haven't made a wish for the longest, longest time, you know."
"I know it, Raggedy Ann!" responded Raggedy Andy. "It seems ages and ages since we have had a lovely adventure! Do you s'pect we could have one today?"
Nearly 70 years after Johnny Gruelle penned those words in "Raggedy Ann's Magical Wishes," here comes Raggedy Ann, big as life; red-orange hair, painted face, pinafore, striped socks, Baby Jane shoes clip-clopping down the hall of the medical-surgical wing at Cottage Hospital.
Raggedy Ann provides a persona for Karen Wilson to test her theory that unconditional love, acceptance and acknowledgment have healing powers that augment--and sometimes simply outdo--tubes, shots and prescription drugs.
During the 15 years she managed a doctors' office across the street from Cottage Hospital, Wilson became increasingly frustrated that while patients were being treated well clinically, many were not having their emotional needs satisfied. As a former patient herself, she said, "I knew what it was like on the other side of the rails."
Longer Lunch Hours
So, two years ago, Wilson began dressing up as Raggedy Ann and visiting patients on her lunch hours. As the lunch hours grew longer, she approached the hospital's associate administrator, Doris Wellenkamp, about volunteering full time as Raggedy Ann.
Wellenkamp said yes, and a year ago Wilson resigned from the doctors' office armed only with conviction and $800 a month from a profit-sharing program.
Since then, Raggedy Ann has regularly visited patients in five Santa Barbara health-care facilities.
On every visit to every ward, protocol demands a stop at the nursing station, after which Raggedy Ann proceeds to patient rooms where her entrance is always preceded by a quiet knock, an extended head-to-waist bow ("That's extending the heart, not just the head," explained Wilson) and the announcement, "Raggedy's here!"
And so she goes, room to room, matching her energy to the energy in each room:
"Hi, angel! Oh, you look so much better today!"
"Raggedy is so proud of you for trying so hard to get better."
"You need to get out of here soon. This is an expensive hotel, isn't it?"
To one patient who is so weak he can't talk, but can pucker up for a Raggedy kiss: "Oh, you just made my day!"
Arms reach up for her, visiting relatives and friends reach out to her and patients nearing the end of their stay are enthusiastic and grateful.
"Raggedy! How are you today? I'm going home!"
"My wife wants my doll but she's never going to have it." (Raggedy Ann always leaves a miniature Ann or Andy doll with "I love you" written on its chest.)
"Raggedy, I'll never forget you!"
Time for Letting Go
There are plenty of tears in Raggedy's life. She walks into a room where a wife and grown children are visiting a bedridden, 45-year-old businessman. They all are being polite, they all are smiling--the tension is thick. As always, Raggedy acknowledges the visitors, then leans over the patient to inquire, "And how are you today?" Tears well up as he confesses, "Frankly, Raggedy, I'm lousy!" As he starts to cry, his wife comes over, pats him on the shoulder and admonishes, "There, there, dear; don't cry." Raggedy says, "Oh, but I thank you for feeling safe enough to cry. . . . Tears are so healing." The entire family ends up in tears, letting go of what they had been holding back.
At last count, 26 health-care facilities in the Santa Barbara area had requested Raggedy Ann. The demand led Wilson to establish the tax-exempt Love Yourself Foundation to buy supplies and pay to train additional Raggedy Anns, plus Raggedy Andys. So far, the 40-year-old volunteer has trained two new Raggedy Anns and four Raggedy Andys.
Chairs for Rocking
Supplies Wilson buys include rocking chairs, six of which will be placed at adult-ward nursing stations before Christmas. Raggedy Ann picks up some patients to rock them in any available chair. When that's impossible, she rocks the bed. "To be honest, my back was killing me!" Wilson said.
Wilson also plans to buy tape recorders with earphones to help patients--especially senior citizens--avert sleepless nights in hospitals. "I sometimes leave my own set, which has environmental music on it, to calm someone who is upset and nervous. It puts them right to sleep. Why not this, rather than sedation? It works."
Hospital administrator Wellenkamp says Wilson fills an enormous need. "Medicine has changed so drastically that nurses--who used to have time to listen a while and chat a while--are dealing with new and sophisticated drugs and procedures and it takes great concentration and all their time. We aren't any less caring--things are just more complicated, and patients feel it."
'A Positive Effect'
Wellenkamp emphasized that Wilson is sincere and knows what she's doing. "Every floor wants her. Other hospitals want her. She has had a direct and positive effect on patient recovery times. Families specifically thank us for Raggedy Ann."