Earlier this year I was struck by a virus of enormous energy-sapping strength. My internist called it viral gastroenteritis and while the gastro part was pretty awful, what was worse by far, was my inability to get out of bed.
Dog walkers came and went, my dog sat vigil next to my useless form. I was riddled with body aches and felt close to fainting most of the time and couldn’t focus well enough to look in the mirror or at my computer screen.
I have had the flu once in my life, but it was a meek little bug compared to this virus. My doctor told me it might last three to four weeks and it took every advantage to last all the way to the end of four.
In that time, I barely ate and lost 12 pounds. My single source of comfort was Zabar’s chicken consommé, which I drank by the quart. Eventually, gaunt and haggard, I made it back to work, where I could read my appearance in the eyes of my staff.
I would catch unexpected glimpses of myself now 12 pounds thinner and with a lot of wasted muscle and think it was a trick of the mirror, not really me. It happened very fast and it took time to get used to this new version of myself. My forehead, which I have never been able to furrow due to a genetic glitch, suddenly had grooves where none existed only a month before.
But, to my horror, the biggest punch this virus packed came three months later as my hair began to fall out. And, I don’t mean a few strands here and there, I mean handfuls. They were everywhere. In my food, in the sink, in my brushes.
They floated down off my scalp dangling in front of my face. I felt as if I was being chased by tiny little bugs. But it was my hair. It wasn’t that unheard of my doctor explained, after all, I had unwillingly starved myself for three weeks, depriving myself of even the most basic useful nutrients. Salt and sugar had become my only sustenance.
Platelet Rich Plasma to the Rescue!
I began using cover up powders and sprays to fill in the rapidly growing gaps in my hair where my scalp could easily be seen, white and nauseating. So I went to a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. She is recognized for her technique in injecting one’s own platelets back into the scalp to help trigger dormant follicles. This technique called Platelet Rich Plasma is being widely used for a growing number of medical procedures. She has had luck injecting the scalp.
The procedure as she described it involved micro needling my scalp as well and I would be “bloody, throbbing and possibly swollen.” I could deal with all that, but to my dismay, she urged me not to use camouflage on my scalp to give the procedure the best possible chance to work.
For the record, this treatment, worked!
I Bought a Hat:
Reluctantly, I bought a hat. Unless it is below freezing in the winter, I have never worn a hat, but here I was buying a baseball cap. The truth, as I discovered, is either you have a face that can support a baseball cap or you don’t. I don’t.
I shopped the wares of the guy with the hat and scarf cart on Broadway and bought what can only be described as the kind of hat fishermen festoon with lures. It is shapeless but oddly enough looks cute. What I didn’t expect was the anonymity it brought me. I become invisible when I wear it and, while at first, that felt strange, now I love it.
Balding, Brave, Invisible:
Women past menopause often report feeling invisible and I am no exception, but I have pretty much gotten used to that. What I couldn’t wrap my arms around was looking bald!
At first, when I donned my hat I expected everyone to comment on it. But, no one did, not even my chatty doorman who comments on everything. When I looked around on the street I saw almost everyone was wearing some sort of hat.
Therefore, I blended in and since everyone largely knew me as a woman who had hair, no one has questioned my new fashion accessory. I found new respect for women undergoing chemo who opt out of wearing a wig or scarf, but I discovered I am not that brave.
I have to confess though that along with the anonymity, it’s hot under my hat, even though it has little holes every couple of inches. In the sweltering humidity of this past summer, it has been a challenge, but I love that I can become truly invisible just by tucking my chin down a bit. I am allowed to use my powders and sprays now, provided I shampoo them out in the evening.
My dermatologist has cautioned that just as a responsible person wouldn’t wear makeup to sleep, so should I care for my scalp. And I am listening.
I want to give my poor follicles every fighting chance I can to recover. In the meantime, I even went to get a manicure wearing my hat. I thought surely my regular manicurist would comment on it, but she said nothing. And, as I looked down at my nails, I realized she couldn’t see my eyes. No eye contact. This was at every level a new experience.
See Me, See My Hat:
Yes, perhaps this is vanity. Surely I never thought the eyes of the world were on me, but for no one to register my hat comes as a big surprise. One morning as I walked into the sodden mist that seems to define New York City in the morning this summer, a neighbor of mine called out to me. “Great rain hat,” she said from across the street. “Thanks,” I lobbed back. The rain had nothing to do with it. What would she think the next time she saw me and the sun was shining?
My dog is infatuated with my hat. He appraises it every time we go out. He has tried to snatch it off my head, but I am fiercely protective. This hat has become my shield against an enemy who probably could give a fig less about how I look. If I was in my 20’s perhaps it would be deemed trendy. Maybe other women would look for similar hats. Oh, the vanity!
But, at my age it seems quite clear, hair or no hair, hat or no hat, no one really cares, but me.
My hat, My Terms!
This weekend I will buy the same hat in more colors because of course, my starter hat is black. I want a red hat and maybe a turquoise one. More than anything though I want my hair back. Even if I am truly invisible, I want to be able to see me as I was only a few months ago. I want the option to hide under my hat on my terms.
Many thanks to Suzanne Lane for this wonderful story. Suzanne Lane is the founder and president of The Lane Communications Group and author of “a truly charming book about her dog Sammy. Read the advicesisters.com’s review of her book A Little Sammy Music.