Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Was Bald, But Now I See.

In my life, there are pleasant events, and there are surprises, but there is never a moment where the chocolate bar of pleasant ends up wedged in the peanut butter of surprise, leading to the Reese’s Pleasant Surprise Peanut Butter Cup.

In my life, Surprise = Bad.

To wit: two days ago, I was brushing my hair and I noticed that I seemed to be wearing a bit more than usual on my hairbrush. And in the sink. And across the floor. And on the dog.

I considered all of my options and decided to disregard it.

The shedding continued. It grew hard to ignore, as I kept finding full-length strands in my food. I peered at my head; the bit around the incision definitely looked more like skin than hair. I dragged Consort into it; he peered at my head.

“Does the hair look thinner to you?”

There was a pause, where Consort clearly decided how much he wanted to see me locked in the bathroom until summer.

“Yeah, it looks…”

He searched desperately for the right word, the word which would keep me from wailing.

“…Thinner.”

I wailed.

“Could it just be the incision?”

“Let me check”

He flipped the hair around a bit.

I sobbed, “Don’t touch it! It falls out when you touch it!”

He said gently “Your head has had trauma. I’m sure it will all come back in time. In the meanwhile…just make a deep side part and bring the side hair over the thin spot.”

I looked at him aghast.

“You are suggesting a comb-over?”

The evening was spent in the bathroom, obsessively looking at my hair without actually touching it.

As I believe I have mentioned, Surprise = Bad.

The next day, at my weekly check-in with the doctor, I was assured that:
a) “Skin swelling leads to hair loss” and
b) “Hair loss which is a result of skin swelling isn’t permanent hair loss”.

To his credit, the doctor didn’t try for c) “You can barely see it”, because I might have hit him.

The gap in my hair demands one of two hairstyles: a high ponytail, which would look adorable on someone dreaming of making the cheerleading squad once they get to high school, and a scarf tied over my head. Since I can’t wear the ponytail every day, because it stresses the follicles in a way they are no longer prepared to endure, I will be wearing a do-rag for a while. Here are some visuals for me with a scarf tied over the top of my head:

This.

This.

This.

This was getting a little depressing.

This morning, I was shuffling the last stragglers around the incision into their ponytail when a thought struck me:

CRÈME DE LA MER!”

For those readers who don’t fritter away their time reading Town & Country magazine, permit me to illuminate. Crème de la Mer is this incredibly expensive goo made of obscure yet natural ingredients which was originally created by a scientist to repair his own skin after a lab accident left him with serious burns. For years, this was the well-kept secret of the well-kept, the sought-after spread to soothe face-lift scars. High-maintenance types buy the thousand-dollar bottle and use it as a body-moisturizer.

[That kind of makes me want to send them pictures of the houses still needing roofs in New Orleans and Mississippi, but that’s free-market capitalism for you]

The point of all of this being, I knew where one could purchase it in Los Angeles! I could buy the smallest jar imaginable, and beg for free samples, and commence to healing like the rich people do!

I got to the store and flung myself at the nearest person with a name tag. She smiled and started to say, “Can I- “

I interrupted, “Crème de la Mer !”

Something about my sweaty intensity must have alarmed her. Wordlessly, she pointed to a counter. I did a jeté neatly to the counter, where a tall and stately African-American woman of a certain age was standing.

She purred, “May I help you?”

I pointed to the tiniest jar and said, “That, please. Don’t bother to wrap it.”

She tilted her head. “Have you used Crème de la Mer before?” which might have been her terribly polite way of saying, “People in Converse low-tops are more often Nivea people than Crème de la Mer people”.

“No, but I have this scar which needs help.”

She stared into my soul a moment, pursed her lips slightly and said, “Show me.”

I undid my hair just enough so she could partake of its scabby, oozy splendor. A few hairs wafted disconsolately onto the counter.

“Oh, honey, no,” she stated flatly. “You can’t put Crème de la Mer on yet, the wound isn’t healed. You could get an infection.”

Now, a side note. Tall African-American woman of a certain age slay me, they just do. All this woman had to do was look at me with sympathy and clarity, and I was totally certain she knew every single mean, dumb or destructive thing I had ever done or thought in my life, and while she forgave me, I wasn’t getting away with my usual crap this time.

I said what I always end up saying to such women.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I understand. What is your name?”

“Quinn, ma’am.”

“I understand, Quinn. I had a tumor myself removed from my head when I was nineteen, and they did chemo then, even though it wasn’t malignant, because they didn’t know any better, and I wanted it to heal overnight, but it takes time. I was just telling Linda about this just when you walked up. Linda, baby, come here!”

Another saleswoman dutifully ambled over.

“Linda, what was I just telling you?”

“That…scalps take a long time to heal?”

My Amazonian saleswoman permitted herself a small smile. “Exactly, because Linda’s sister is about to have something removed from her scalp, and I was telling her all about my surgery. Linda, Quinn just had the same surgery, can you believe it? But, Quinn, you can’t use this yet. You come back when it's healed.”

See, this is why I love my particular karma. Sure, I’m shedding like a Persian cat in August, but I am now having a completely intimate medical conversation while all around me women are debating lip pencils. A normal person might be mortified, but all I wanted to do is sit quietly at the counter and Windex away fingerprints while she told me what to do.

“What if I buy it today, but promise not to use it until it gets better?”

I thought it might cheer me up to stare at the small bottle instead of the hair drifting on to the floor. Also, I thought I might start sneaking little bits of moisturizer on.

The saleswoman looked at me sternly.

“If you use it…God will know.”

Okay, it might sound strange after the fact, but in the moment, it was the only possible thing she could say. In a matter of minutes, I had metaphorically handed her my scalp, and she had promised me healing, but only if I acted in faith. It was call-and-response, and never let it be said I didn’t know my line.

“I’ll wait, ma’am.”

She smiled broadly, and hugged me.

“Good girl. I’m going to give you plenty of free samples, and you leave me your phone number, so I can save you some of the high-concentration Crème de la Mer samples when they come in next month. And think of it this way, you were blessed by not having chemo. This is just a little thing, you can barely see it.”

From her, I not only accepted that statement, I decided she was right.

I fairly glowed as I signed a credit card slip. Monica the saleswoman had told me it was going to be all right, and Monica was an African-American churchgoing lady in her fifties, so it was going to be all right. A hair drifted onto the slip, and I brushed it away. Who was I to be troubled by such impermanence?

I got home and started to itemize my freebies. Lots of little pots and tubes, all Crème de la Mer in different concentrations; I probably had another bottle of the stuff in free samples. At the bottom of the bag, I found my receipt. There, written across the still dazzling amount I had paid for a tube which can sit comfortably in the palm of my hand, was Monica’s handwriting:

“Do not use this until your scab heals. Leave it alone and it will get better. Monica.”

God will know.

Surprise = Bad.

Strange, however, can be pretty wonderful.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fourteen months ago, my ten year old daughter had a "pyroclastic flow" removed from her scalp. We lovingly refered to it as her extra brain. The doctor didn't share our love, so off it came- plus it was messing up her ponytail. I have been reliving the trials surrounding this procedure through your blog and can tell you that we went through all the same steps. We found a cloth headband to work well once the stitches were removed. Her scar is located in her part and at first had a bald area that I found unacceptable. However if you look at it today you would NEVER know unless you were told about it and it was pointed out to you. And this is on a child that doesn't scar well. I examined it recently, after reading your blog, and was pleased and surprised to see hair growing all around the incision scar.

Good luck and patience in your healing.

LJ

7:07 AM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

Hi Quinn,

When my wife, M, had chemo threatment a few years back, she asked her doctor if she was going to lose her hair. The doctor said that with the meds she would be using, it would be quite certain that she would. M was obviously upset and any amount of reassurance from me at the time didn't seem to help.

After chemo, M started to lose strands of hair everyday until she lost them all. She would wear a red bandana ala Steve Van Zandt and I remember, just to make her laugh, I would serenade her with Glory Days or any Springsteen tune. When we would go out on our dates, she would don a really good wig that looked like the real stuff.

Well, my point is this: have fun with it and don't let that scar of yours affect the quality of your life.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Sarah E. said...

Quinn, this might be my new favorite entry; I loved the idea of quietly Windex-ing fingerprints while listening to Monica. I think I could use a Monica in my life right now. Thanks, as always, for keeping us entertained and grounded.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved this entry. At first, you had me laughing out loud at your scarf pics and conversation with your husband. But at the end, after your experience with Monica, all I could say was "wow."

Hang in there Quinn and listen to Monica.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

You are so good. Bald spot notwithstanding.

9:54 PM  
Blogger HaJew said...

You write super well; touching, funny real. Thank you. Best blog I've discovered in some time.

May you be blessed with health in every way.

7:28 PM  

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