By FREIDA FRISARO
One morning last summer, Tony Smith slipped a multicolor tutu over his scrubs in the pre-op ward of a South Florida hospital to grant the wish of a young patient heading to surgery.
A photo of the tutu-clad Smith quickly became a hit online and within weeks, Tutu Tuesday was born at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.
"That day, it was all about making a patient feel comfortable. Having me put on the tutu made her feel better," said Smith, an operating room assistant who has worked at the Hollywood, Florida, hospital for almost five years. "I never knew I would have that much impact. I didn't expect it to go viral."
But it did. Once employees saw the shot, they started asking Lotsy Dotsy — resident clown and unofficial keeper of the tutu — for their own frilly skirts to wear. Department by department, hospital staff adopted Tutu Tuesday.
It begins outside the hospital named for a baseball legend, where visitors are greeted by a valet whose tutu clashes with his normal uniform — shorts and a baseball jersey.
"People laugh and ask why I'm wearing a skirt," said John Aristizabal, who takes good-natured kidding as he parks cars. "It's all for the kids, to catch a smile."
On Tutu Tuesday, smiles are contagious.
Inside the hospital, tutus are everywhere. Doctors, nurses, technicians and receptionists don the colorful layers of tulle, decorated with polka dots and fancy bows as they go about the business of tending to patients. Even Nutmeg, the in-house therapy dog, has a specially designed pink tutu. Hospital administrators also play along, wearing tutus over their business suits.
Smith said he could have never imagined that such a simple act would catch on.
"It's for the patients," Smith said. "Just seeing you in a tutu brightens their day, and it can keep them from thinking about what's really going on."
That's exactly what pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Bob Kaye has been doing for years. He's worn a variety of funny hats and wigs to help ease the fears of his young patients. Now he's added a tutu to his routine and has found that his patients and their parents like the distraction.
"If you can dress in a way that it not threatening and silly, maybe, and make the medical professional look not like the last person who gave them a shot in the doctor's office, then it's a lot easier to feel comfortable with them," he said. "I think it's an ice breaker."
On a Tuesday morning in March, Laurel Barnett and her 13-year-old daughter Julia arrived about 5:45 a.m. for surgery.
"Of course, not having any coffee and then coming in and seeing everyone in tutus is quite amusing," Barnett said. "It's not what you expected to see. It does give children a sense of relief that these people are not only here to help them, but there to have fun as well. It kind of takes their mind off of things."
Smith says he's not bothered at all by the stares and giggles as he makes his way through the hospital's corridors every Tuesday. He even offered his tutu to 12-year-old Brayden Wilmsmeyer, who along with his 10-year twin sisters Leah and Lexi spent spring break getting respiratory treatment at Joe DiMaggio.
The twins had borrowed tutus from two nurses for an impromptu photo session.
"Remember, you are a real man," Smith told Brayden as he pulled the tutu over his pants. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise just because you're wearing a tutu."