Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Two figures with full manes at Donnafugata Castle in Sicily.
Here is the long, sad, tale of my hair. It starts when I was 10, trick-or-treating on a windy day. [This is actually about my recovery...eventually.] I was dressed as a vampire, with a cape that was actually a heavy coat with the sleeves tucked inside. I also had green make-up smeared all over my face and glow-in-the-dark fangs, with blood dripping down them onto my chin. But I was still self-conscious enough about my bushy, frizzy, curly hair that I brushed and futzed with it to calm it down as best I could. In its natural state, I have what is euphemistically known as a Jewfro.

So, I headed out with my goodie bag. As I was nearing the end of my circuit, I came to a house. These were the days when kids could go out by themselves on Halloween without their parents being charged with child abuse, mind you, so I was alone. I rang the doorbell, and a lady gave me some candy. As I was about to leave, the woman said, "Oh, and by the way, I love your wig!" She meant it as a compliment, and she probably didn't even notice that I was crying as I headed back home.

It took me years to realize that my hair looked a thousand times better if I only brushed it when it was wet, then let it dry into long ringlets. That reduces the volume and produces nicely defined curls. I started adding gel later. Before my coma, I used to get a lot of compliments on my hair, something I never thought would happen in the Jewfro years.

But during my coma, my long hair was becoming a tangled mess. Curly hair tangles worse than straight hair. My mother used to use an electric detangler on my hair when I was a kid. To me it was a torture device. Now that was child abuse! But--flash-forward to when I was in the coma--they were going to chop off my hair. I suppose that would've been my mother's only choice if she hadn't used the detangler. But a kind nurse named Teresa saved my long tresses by braiding it after her shift ended. She wasn't even assigned to me.

Once I awoke from my coma, Teresa told me that she could tell that her detangling efforts hurt me because I would flinch. She rebraided my hair a few times after that, and she did such a great job that the braids held for weeks after I awakened.

Teresa working on the final touches.
When I returned to the ICU after my second bout of Legionnaires' disease, Teresa noticed that I had cut my hair short. I didn't have the heart to tell her that it had thinned so much that I was forced to have it cut. I had thought the thinning was from the continual braiding and rebraiding in the nursing home. Apparently a lot of the CNAs know how to do that for the patients to help keep their hair from looking too messy. But, from my research, it seems that many patients who suffer from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) like I did later lose their hair or experience thinning afterward. They also develop Beau's lines (aka Beau's ridges) in their fingernails, as I did as well. So, the braiding probably only accelerated the hair loss and not until after I entered the nursing home, so it definitely wasn't Teresa's fault. But I didn't want her to think that it was. Thanks to her, I didn't wake up shorn like a sheep. At the time, it looked like I wouldn't even survive. She stayed late after her shift to save the hair of a woman she wasn't assigned to who was probably going to die or be left irreparably brain-damaged, anyway. I owe her a dept of gratitude.

Beau's ridges (no, not Beau Bridges)
As much as I despised my naturally big hair, I disliked having such a paltry, straggly mane even more. Still, I hated having to cut it short. I cried thinking about the prospect, but I knew I had no choice. I searched through Yelp until I found a parlor known for being good with curly hair that was close by, Trilogy Hair Studio. Supercuts, where I used to get my simple straight cut, would not do. Kaylie has been doing a great job on my hair, guiding me through the growing out process every three months. She's been surprised and amazed at how thick my hair has become. I wasn't.

Along the way, I've decided that I like not having to spend as much time as I used to detangling and washing my hair, not to mention touching up my frizzed-up curls. That would've been a real trial during my recovery. And I have to admit that it does look cute at its current medium/short length.

It's getting closer to its eventual length now. One thing is certain. It will never be called a fright wig again.
Outside of Trilogy Hair Studio after my latest haircut.

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Coma Girl

Coma Girl

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In July of 2013, I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died. When I awoke from the coma, I could barely lift my head. It has been a hard road to recovery. The doctors advised my loved ones to give up all hope for my full recovery, but while they were shining lights in my eyes to gauge my level of consciousness, I was telling them grumpily to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep...in my coma-dream. I was experiencing covert cognition, and the coma-dream was my version of a near-death experience. I'm a skeptic, so I saw surreal images instead of spirits or dead loved ones. According to my research, as many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition.

Not a miracle recovery, but a miracle of modern medicine

In 2013 I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died after I contracted legionella. The Legionnaire's disease was in turn triggered by immunosuppression caused by the prednisone I was taking for my rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.

I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain when the sepsis caused my blood pressure to plummet. I fell into a deep coma. My kidneys and lungs began to fail, as my body was began dying one organ at a time. My doctors told my loved ones to give up hope for my full recovery. They expected me to die, and even if I somehow lived, I would remain a vegetable or at best left so hopelessly brain-damaged that I would never be same. But unbeknownst to them, while they were shining lights in my eyes and shaking their heads, I was telling them in my coma-dream--my secular version of a near-death experience--to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep. I was experiencing what is known as covert cognition, the subject of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," which appeared in their July/August issue.

But it wasn't a miracle--despite what so many continue to believe--that I recovered so fully. I owe my life not to God, but the miracles of modern medicine, as well as the nature of the watershed-area brain damage I suffered, as I detailed in my article and in this blog.