Every Tuesday at 9 in the morning, you can find Eleni Kostopoulis sitting in an alcove of the main lobby at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream. Her desk is a small table. Her tools include a file and some nail polish.
Ms. Kostopoulis gives complimentary manicures to visitors in the surgical waiting room, who may be going through an anxious time as their loved ones undergo surgery in the hospital.
A petite woman, she approaches visitors and asks if they would like a manicure while they wait. It’s a simple offer that often yields a world of intricate and intimate stories.
“People will tell me what they have gone through in their personal lives, the sicknesses they have, a lot of different things,” she explains. “They also tell me about the family problems they have, sometimes it’s very sad.”
Ms. Kostopoulis, who grew up in Athens, Greece, has been doing nails and listening to people talk for 40 years. She started working at LIJ Valley Stream three and a half years ago when the hospital contacted the company Nail Therapy to offer this service. She knows that a seat at her manicure table is a close runner-up to a therapist’s couch.
“People confess to me because they don’t know me. I’m a stranger to them and they know I’m not going to see them again,” she says. “They feel like they want to talk to someone. I don’t know if they want my advice, but I give it. I tell them what I feel and if they take it, they take it.”
There is a skill to listening. Ms. Kostopoulis is aware of this, because after all, it’s not just about the manicure. She’s a distraction from reality. Maybe her alcove is a little place to hide from the difficulty of waiting.
“It takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the manicure. I clean and file their nails, put on fresh polish and massage their hands. I love doing this because people feel better when I’m finished.”
Many people linger after their manicure is completed, not wanting to break the connection. She may be a stranger, but some visitors want to keep in touch after the nail polish has dried.
“A lot of people give me their phone numbers. Really my life is so busy I don’t have a lot of time to call them. But people say; ‘call me I’d love to talk to you.”
“I don’t know if I’m making a difference in people’s lives into the future but on that day, definitely…definitely,” Ms. Kostopoulis says. “It makes a difference in that moment. They feel relaxed and say: ‘Thank you so much, thank you so much.’ And I love it.”