When Kathryn Fritze was nine in the late 1960s, her family was involved in a horrific car crash. She and three siblings were "scattered around" the homes of different relatives, she said, while her parents recuperated from their injuries and a brother spent months in intensive care.
It was then that the little girl discovered her future vocation.
"I was not one of the people in my family who was the most injured physically, but I was very upset and distressed," said Fritze, now 60.
Her grandmother introduced her to therapies that tuned into the subtle energy around the body and how it connected to the mind.
"It opened my eyes to the importance of tending to the spirit to help the body repair itself and function as it should," she said.
Half a century later when COVID-19 descended upon Maryland, Fritze was a holistic and integrative nurse working at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. As she looked into her coworkers' stressed and worried faces, she knew how she could help.
In late March, Fritze created St. Joe's "Zen Den."
"Health care workers are notoriously negligent when it comes to self-care," said Fritze, noting they were taking care of patients at work and family at home. "They needed a way to decompress."
Fritze commandeered a former classroom between the cafeteria and a gift shop. She filled it with rented plants, soft music, the scent of eucalyptus and mood-enhancing Himalayan salt lamps.
Three stations were set up for guided visualizations. A fourth station featured a therapy table where Fritze performed 10-minute "healing touch" sessions for members of the hospital's staff.
"It's not manipulative like massage or invasive like acupuncture," Fritze said. "The goal is to center and ground the spirit so the body can begin the healing it knows how to do."
In the past four months, Fritze has conducted more than 300 healing touch therapy sessions for 107 staff members throughout the hospital, administrators said.
Psychiatrist Geeta Sharma said the sessions focused and calmed her so she could devote her best energies to her patients.
"When COVID-19 started and we all went into lockdown, I was really scared and anxious," Dr. Sharma said. "I couldn't do the things I normally do to take care of myself, like getting a massage. So as soon as I saw signs for the Zen Den, I signed up.
"After each session I felt so much better and it was reflected in my interactions with my patients and my peers."
Once non-elective surgeries resumed in June, the room housing the Zen Den was needed for other purposes. So the salt lamps were unplugged and the tall ferns were returned to the plant store.
But Fritze still performs her healing touch therapy sessions two days a week in a consulting room near her office. Even better, she sees evidence every day and on every floor of the hospital that her experiment is flourishing, such as staff setting up their own Zen Dens.
"It's so much easier to care for others when you feel cared for yourself," Fritze said.