Goodbye Hair. Goodbye Immune System. Hello Hairnet.
Christmas Day. Day one of hair loss.
I remember waking up to go to Grannies and watching more and more dyed blonde strands slip out only to stick to my thick wool jumper. A horrendous wardrobe decision. At first with the hair, it just feels a littlemore fragile - like if hair was made of paper thin glass. Then the amount itself begins to feel thinner. As you grab it in your hand, there is less and less. So frail and wispy that the wind could take it away.
I didn’t mind too much because, as I said, Jamie didn’t have to see this. Actually none of my friends were going to see it. It was obvious enough that I knew it was happening, and yet on that day, subtle enough to get through Christmas without attracting attention from aunts and young cousins. No one glanced up to a receding hairline. It was our first Christmas without Grandpa. The absence was heavily felt.
I actually had a butt-load of energy on Christmas and Boxing Day. Healthy Uncle Tim came down with gastroenteritis, but in contrast I walked 3 kilometres to the pub. I skipped half the way.
We went to hospital on Boxing Day. I threw up into a supermarket bag on the way. Godammit Tim.
We arrived at the hospital to find my room. I plonked myself on the bed, and turned on the TV. Mum walked over to do the usual routine, open the window and check out the view. She stopped just near enough to look out and said “Oh, no way”. I was irritated, at my healthiest I don’t like to move once I’m lying down. Dad looked too. Turns out my room overlooked Barons Court Cemetery. “I don’t even look out the window, and someone has to have his room. I don’t mind” I groaned.
I still felt pretty sprightly and thus pretty positive. Julia came up and brought a Doritos Cool Original sharing bag and we hung out. The doctors came in and told me that I would have to stay beyond my one day top up, because my immune system was down the toilet: I was neutropenic.
What rubbish. Apart from that one lapse, I wanted a full English and had just walked a couple miles at Grannie’s house. I was healthier than most. I was in good shape. Surely that was enough?
That night I woke up to go the toilet. I walked past mum in bed in the dark. I stretched. Did my business and stood up. Something felt funny. Like the blood in my body had stopped moving. I took two steps toward the door and lost control of my legs. I gripped the door.
Knee buckle and slam. Black.
I woke up to a bright light and nurses rushing around me on the floor. My view was 90 degrees to the right, I could see under the bed. Fuck. Did I just collapse?
“Susannah, can you hear me?”
I’ve never collapsed before. This is nuts?! I convulsed, and vomited every last Dorito onto the floor. Oh no.
There was something pumped into my cannula and injection in my butt. “Ergggggggg!” God, why. They turned me on my side and I stared up to the ceiling. Slightly shocked, lying still whilst a burly male nurse put a bucket by my head and lady nurse spoke to my mum.
My nurse, who I renamed ‘Nurse Smokey’ (clever), had joke shop glasses bright pink lipstick, and Annie-esque curly auburn hair. To put it mildly she got all up in my grill. She was trying to reassure me but my main problem, besides faulty legs and pile of sick, was that she had clearly had a brick of Marlboro Reds for supper. Even splayed on the floor my first thought was - this woman is trying to help you. Be polite. Resist that screaming urge to tell her to ‘Fuck off’.
I didn’t sleep that night, and they didn’t move me from the floor. The next few days were hellish. I couldn’t leave the room in case I got infected, and so I couldn’t go to a hairdresser and shave my head, let alone get a wig. The hair started clumping together on the way down from my scalp. Since I wasn’t showering there was no getting rid of it. Mum went out and bought me a pink hair net to it from molting everywhere.
Those next few days I kept begging Dr. Savage to let me go, insisting that I was feeling better and I would be careful. To no avail. Each day it looked less and less likely that I would get out for New Year’s Eve. I knew they were right but I thought of nothing worse than spending the last minutes of 2006 in bed, in a hairnet, watching London’s fireworks. I was single-minded in getting out. I had just heard that ‘the way you spend New Year’s Eve is the way you will spend the rest of the year’.
I started having injections in my thigh and stomach to stimulate my bone marrow to produce more neutrophils (white blood cells) that fight off infection. The result felt like my whole body had a headache.
On the morning of the 31st Dr. Savage finally gave in, my immune system had crawled up to a just barely acceptable level. Mum and I sped home in the car, desperately ringing the local hair salon, asking them to put a wig aside and get the clippers ready.
I think I didn’t cry when it was shaved off because by that point I was sick to death of this half bald – half dreadlocked crap on my head. I sat in front of the mirror and watched as they took off the hairnet. It was like a horror show. Half my hair had receded all the way past my ear but there were clumped chin-length dreads that hung limply. Gross. The hairdresser decided to spin me away. Mum said she thought I didn’t need to watch. It was much worse watching Mum’s face as they shaved away. Her eyes were so sad, maybe the saddest I’ve ever seen them. By the time they spun me round I was comfortably numb. I looked at my head, I felt the bristles that were left. How smooth the curvature of skull was.
My head looked like a map of the world. Not every strand had quite given out and the dark brown patches that had held on looked like continents when shaved down. The wig I got was blonde, thick and short, it was quite an obvious wig that was clearly meant for an older woman. It was cut into a sort of 90’s Rachel style. Only with a hat did it look mildly realistic.
We left the salon (Elements of Oxted by the way, which I name check because of how amazing they were – in everyday styling but also love and support).
I made it to the New Year’s Party. Getting ready at my friend Kate’s before. I took off the wig and let everybody stroke my head. These things that sound weird and morose but are so light looking back. I wore a winter hat over the wig and somehow managed to relax into the night. I met new people. I got compliments on my dress. No one treated me differently. I texted Jamie to give him a heads up on the new lid situation. He told me I looked great. At midnight we hugged as friends. I felt supported and loved, even if it wasn’t in the way I would hope for. But good enough for now.