The front bell jangles at the Intensive Care Doll Hospital, and Eileen Green hustles to the door, wiping her hands on capri-length jeans as she goes.
There stands Linda Loveland, clutching a long silver box so close to her chest, you'd think it were a child. At Green's direction, she gingerly places the box atop a counter and pries open the lid, revealing a thin layer of tissue paper. Laid out carefully amid the wrappings are about half a dozen china dolls, their faces smudged with dirt and age, their bodies cracked and broken. The cranium of one is split, the fingers of another have been severed.
"These were my mother's," Loveland explains. "She's almost 87 now, and we're starting to clear her house out."
Green's heard this tale before. Her eyes wander toward the shattered fist.
"Oh, hold on!" Loveland says. "I think I still have one of her fingers." She fishes through the box and a moment later comes away victorious, holding a pill-sized digit up to the light.
Green compliments the save, then takes the doll in her hand, turns it over, and caresses its smooth, thinning hair.
"Can you fix her?" Loveland asks.
"The good thing about dolls," Green responds with a reassuring smile, "is that everything is fixable."
She didn't always see things that way. Now a doctor of doll surgery, Green has also been a home health-care aide, mother, and foster parent. Every day for years, she dealt with broken arms, broken homes, and broken dreams. She could mend the wounds and tend to complaints, but she could never take away the human pain. The frustration kept her up at night.
Then, seven years ago, Green's mother asked her to have a favorite childhood doll fixed. When Green picked up the refurbished doll a few weeks later, its porcelain body gleamed like an eggshell, and all the fissures and cracks were filled. Her mother's tears of joy inspired Green to change professions. To the amusement of many -- including her police-officer husband -- she opened Chesterland's first doll hospital two years later.
"Most people don't get it," says Green, who speaks with a lisp and looks a bit like an oversized Kewpie doll herself, with big blue eyes, creamy complexion, and wispy bangs. "When I tell them I run a doll hospital, they think I must be saying 'dog hospital,' but I'm like no, no, it's a doll hospital . . . The other day, a credit-card-company guy called, and when I told him what I do, he just laughed and laughed." She pauses for a second, and her cheeks flush pink. "It's not that funny," she says.
It's hardly funny at all to the 200 card-carrying members of the National Doll Doctors Association. Yes, there really is such a thing. "We try to do work that is very reputable," says Suzanne Daly, president of the six-year-old NDDA, which is based in Pennsylvania. "I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending a doctor to someone whose work I didn't know."
Green is one of a handful of doll doctors practicing in Northeast Ohio. Her two-room hospital and retail shop is located in the back of a white two-story house on Mayfield Road. In the front room, rows of antique dolls stare attentively down at shoppers from long white shelves, their faces round and innocent and open, like a gaggle of zombie first-graders. In the corner are racks full of tiny clothes and shoes and slippers and socks. (Green also fixes stuffed animals and action figures, but they are not her main business. When a child comes in looking for a Catwoman doll, she directs him to Toys R Us.)
In the back room, Green performs her miracles with miniature scalpels, paintbrushes, scissors, needles, and toothpicks. Tacked to the wall are mimeographed tip sheets from the NDDA detailing how to deal with various emergencies. She is well known in the field of doll reconstruction; customers cross state lines to meet with her.
"A lot of my dolls are in really bad shape," says Pauline Meeker, a collector from Hartford who is one of Green's most faithful clients. "They have their foot broken off or their heads topped off. I think they can't be saved, but when Eileen's done, I can't tell anything was ever broken." Meeker estimates that she has hand-delivered more than 50 dolls to Green's ER. The post office simply can't be trusted with them.
Over the years, Green has repaired cranial abrasions, performed whole-body transplants, and mended more broken fingers than she can count. Malpractice suits may be of no concern, but she's not exactly getting rich: Typical procedures cost between $10 and $20.
On a recent Saturday, a young mother enters Intensive Care with her five-year-old son, who stares woefully at the ground. He is clutching the remains of a stuffed bear that is so worn, even the thread is frayed.
"We need our bear fixed," the mother announces, ruffling the boy's hair. He grimaces. "This is his baby."
Green kneels and takes the bear from the child. She studies it carefully, then relays her diagnosis: "It looks like it's been loved to pieces."
The boy looks at Green. "Can you fix Foofy?" he asks bashfully, his liquid brown eyes widening. He has slept with Foofy every night since he was two.
Green looks directly back at him. "If I fix it by Monday, would that be OK?" she asks.
The boy thinks it over for a second, then nods his head approvingly.
Green places Foofy in a box and writes down a series of notes on a card. Later, she will sew a hospital-like gown for him, so the boy will know that Foofy was well cared for.
"You need to take every case seriously," she says. "People are very attached to their dolls."