My platelets were bouncing around in the 7 to 10 range, and so a second infusion of platelets was ordered for this day.
Though I was weak and tired, I knew a shower would make me feel a little better. When I toweled off my hair, I was in for a big surprise. So much hair was loose that it got tangled into the hair that was still connected. It was like I had little mats of hair all over my head. Not attractive! I tried combing out some of the mats, but fistfuls of hair came out instead. It was bad. My hair is dark-ish, and the contrast between the dark hair and my pale, shiny scalp was...striking. I was told to expect this, but it was still rather jarring to know that this was the day I'd go bald.
When I exited the bathroom, my eyes fell on a new item in the room. It was a package--a large one--from a long-time friend. What a wonderful distraction this was! I opened the box and took note of only the items readily visible. I decided that I wanted to save the excitement for after I went bald. It would give me something else to think about, and to eagerly anticipate.
The logistics of getting my head shaved turned out to be an all-day affair. I was given conflicting information about whether there were electric clippers on the ward, and about whether a nurse could or should do the shaving. Each new person I asked about it seemed to have a different answer. What they all were hoping for, was that the NIH barber would be able to visit me in my room to get rid of my hair. Before that could happen though, I would need a visit from a social worker (why?...still don't know) and a voucher, which would cover the cost. My nurse set the wheels in motion.
At 3:45 PM or so, the social worker appeared. He introduced himself and apologized for not being able to arrive any earlier. He was covering someone else's shift. He carefully broached the topic of the voucher. "These are only given to patients in financial need. Are you able to cover $20 to $30 for the service?" "Whatever. Just get him up here. I don't want to wake up next to a pile of hair, and I'm too nauseous to pull it all out myself." I may have used gentler words. He then told me that, unfortunately, I would need to make an appointment with the salon for the next day, as they would be closing any minute. (I was not allowed to go to the salon myself due to neutropenia.) Aside from certain members of the medical staff, the hospital pretty much shuts down promptly at 5:00 PM.
When afternoon rounds happened, I asked the attending if it would be possible for me to get my head shaved. "I can do it myself, if you let me."
Me: I have three little boys at home. I've used electric clippers dozens of times.
Fellow: Do they still have their ears?
Me: I'm sure they'll grow back. Eventually.
The risk of nicking my scalp was one that the nurses were hesitant to assume. The attending gave his OK. I asked that it happen "before bed", and he said that he would take care of it.
Soon after, my nurse showed up with electric clippers. She disinfected them, then asked me warily if I knew how to use them (because she did not). I explained that I have used this type of thing many, many times on my husband and boys. She was hesitant. "Be careful," she cautioned. She brought in a sheet and asked that I stand on it while shaving my head. She mentioned more than once that she did not want me to clean up; she would do it.
I was very eager to get this finished. My hair was in such a state that it was a tremendous relief to be rid of it. I wasn't sad about it at all; to my mind, I was fixing a problem. I ran into some difficulty due to my near-sightedness. I couldn't not wear my glasses...also, my arms were weak. It was a challenge to do the back adequately. I tried. Thankfully, the nurse came in then and witnessed how easy it is to use clippers. She asked if she could help, and I gladly turned over the device to her. I departed the bathroom with short, stubbly hair, and no nicks or scrapes. Success!
I found out quickly how chilly a bald head can be. Sleeping on the stubble was uncomfortable. It felt exactly like I was sleeping on a hairbrush. I used a super-soft blanket that was in the "box of awesome" that my friend had sent. It helped. Bits of stubble fell out everywhere, my scalp itched like crazy, but I was content. Self-conscious? Yes. I figured these caregivers in particular were no stranger to the bald-headed woman. It would be fine. I went a day or two w/o any head-covering, but since then have always had a scarf or "chemo beanie" on, even during the night (warmth!). Being bald is not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be!
I began plotting ways that I could fake a biker-tattoo on my neck. Of all the services they have here at NIH, tattoo parlor is not one of them. Ah, well. It would've been a terrific joke to play on my husband, who would not be back to the hospital until I was released.