Just an­other day at work …till i was scalped!

A nor­mal day at work for Casey Barnes, 21, turned into a ter­ri­fy­ing blood­bath

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You’re ei­ther a coun­try girl or a city girl...

Me? A coun­try girl through and through! My dad Dwayne, 48, was a sheep shearer – so grow­ing up, I’d al­ways been out in the fresh air, get­ting grubby.

At the age of 20, I was a farm­hand – and in No­vem­ber 2017, I was work­ing with Dad in the wool shed on a sheep farm here in Aus­tralia. My boyfriend Boyd, now 32 , also a sheep shearer, was there, too.

Sort­ing through the mounds of wool, I no­ticed that the giant bale, kept di­rectly un­der the old shear­ing ma­chine, was al­most full.

‘I’ll sort it!’ I called, climb­ing in. I didn’t think twice. It was a nor­mal part of the day, some­thing I’d done dozens of times be­fore.

With my long, curly hair tied in a bun and wear­ing sturdy boots, I stamped down the wool, mak­ing room for more.

Aware of the ma­chine whirring above my head, I crouched down.

It was an old-fash­ioned bit of kit, with a belt driven by a mo­tor, used to power the shear­ing equip­ment.

Sud­denly, I heard a loud thud. Look­ing around, I didn’t no­tice any­thing un­usual.

Then I felt some­thing warm spread­ing over my face.

In­stinc­tively, I went to touch my cheek.

But my fingers found some­thing else.

Mushy. Warm. Look­ing at my hand, I saw that it was cov­ered in blood.

That’s when my senses snapped back. I could feel the left side of my face, hang­ing off. There was no pain, just a warm, numb feel­ing.

And the ter­ri­fy­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that some­thing aw­ful had hap­pened.

Scream­ing, I scram­bled out of the bale to­wards Dad.

I raced past the other work­ers, hys­ter­i­cal. ‘Dad!’ I cried.

The look on his face said it all. He looked at me with hor­ror, his mouth wide open.

Sec­onds later, I heard Boyd’s voice, felt his arms around me.

He scooped me up, led me to his car parked out­side.

Every­thing hap­pened so fast I still didn’t un­der­stand what was go­ing on.

Boyd put me in the back seat, jumped into the front.

Dad climbed in be­side me, vis­i­bly shaken.

‘It’s go­ing to be OK,’ he stam­mered, hold­ing my hand. Then I glanced up, caught my re­flec­tion in the rear view mir­ror. Star­ing back was a liv­ing night­mare.

My left cheek, along with my ear, had come away. Half my face had been ripped off. Worse still, my en­tire head was red raw, the flesh ex­posed, my hair gone.

I felt faint. Every­thing be­came blurry. Then it dawned on me. The whirring noise… the spin­ning mo­tor above my head…

My hair. It’d got caught in the ma­chin­ery, scalp­ing me in sec­onds.

In shock, I couldn’t stop look­ing at my­self. Boyd caught my eye in the mir­ror. Silently, he moved it. It didn’t mat­ter. I’d seen enough. My thoughts were rac­ing out of con­trol. Will I look like this for­ever?

‘Please don’t leave me,’ I begged Boyd. ‘Don’t say that!’ he yelled back to me.

The lo­cal hospi­tal was five min­utes away, but it didn’t have the doc­tors or equip­ment to help.

They called the Royal Prince Al­fred Hospi­tal in nearby Syd­ney, ar­rang­ing an emer­gency he­li­copter.

By now, an­other farm worker had ar­rived with the piece of my scalp and hair in a bag, re­trieved from the ma­chine.

Dad came with me, but Boyd stayed be­hind, fac­ing the task of telling my fam­ily.

Our phones were still at the farm. It had all hap­pened so quickly.

Dur­ing the 40-minute he­li­copter ride, I was drowsy, dosed up on painkillers.

At hospi­tal, I was rushed into theatre, could hear the doc­tors chat­ter­ing around me.

They were go­ing to reat­tach my scalp, stitch my face back to­gether…

Next thing I knew, I was

Dad looked at me with hor­ror, his mouth wide open

com­ing round, and pan­icked – my eyes were so badly swollen, I couldn’t open them. There was a tube stuck down my throat, wires.

I didn’t know where I was, tried to shout, but only man­aged a fee­ble grunt.

‘It’s OK, dar­ling,’ a fa­mil­iar voice soothed.

It was my nan Ch­eryl, 72. She called for the doc­tor. ‘You’ve been in an in­duced coma for three days,’ they said. ‘We’ve reat­tached your scalp, but have to wait and see if it’s worked.’

I’d been in surgery for 20 hours. Hor­rif­i­cally, 90 per cent of my scalp had been ripped off, from my eye­brows to the back of my head.

Only 3cm of hair at the back re­mained.

There had been surgery on my face, re­con­nect­ing my cheek and ear, as well.

See­ing my mum, Tra­cie, 48, and sib­lings, Tea­gan, 27, Lanie, 25, and Jace, 21, was the biggest re­lief.

‘I’m so grate­ful you’re alive,’ Mum said.

Some­how, she held it to­gether.

And, of course, Boyd was there.

The nurses and doc­tors were in­cred­i­ble, mak­ing me feel like a VIP.

But, a few days later, the doc­tor had bad news.

‘The scalp reat­tach­ment didn’t work,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’

The nerve end­ings were dead. It hadn’t taken, re­jected by my body.

I nod­ded, lis­ten­ing to the al­ter­na­tive – sev­eral lay­ers of ar­ti­fi­cial skin at­tached to my head, fol­lowed by a skin graft. ‘What­ever it takes,’ I said. The fol­low­ing week, my scalp was re­moved and re­placed with a layer of syn­thetic skin.

A week af­ter the op, I lay in bed as nurses un­wrapped the ban­dages.

‘Can I have a mir­ror?’ I said. I was ter­ri­fied by what I’d

see, but knew I had to do it.

Silently a nurse handed over a mir­ror.

Tears pricked my eyes as I came face to face with my new self.

I’d never seen any­thing like it. My head was bald, bright red, raw.

An M-shaped scar ran across my face. My eye­brows were gone.

‘I’m so ugly!’ I howled. ‘Don’t say that. Your head’s heal­ing so well,’ Boyd re­as­sured.

But in that mo­ment, I knew my life had changed for­ever.

I stayed in hospi­tal for 104 days, still need­ing more op­er­a­tions – more lay­ers of fake skin, grafts taken from my thighs.

I tried hard to stay pos­i­tive, but there were days when I felt such de­spair.

Yet Boyd was my con­stant – with me 24/7, sleep­ing on the floor be­side me...

Then, on 14 March 2018, a week be­fore my 21st birth­day, I was dis­charged.

I should have been thrilled to go home, but I dreaded it.

In hospi­tal, I had the nurses and the rou­tine – set times to wake up, med­i­cate, see the doc­tor, sleep.

‘It feels safe in here,’ I told Boyd. ‘I’m scared of be­ing judged out there.’

‘If any­one judges you, it says more about them,’ he said. Still, I didn’t leave my house for a month. I didn’t want any­one to see me, couldn’t han­dle the ques­tions and the looks.

The first time I went out, I ner­vously hid in the car as Tea­gan ran an er­rand. Fi­nally pluck­ing up the courage a week later, with my ban­dages still cov­er­ing my head, I was re­lieved that no-one was gaw­ping.

But in time, see­ing old ac­quain­tances, I re­alised that some peo­ple were avoid­ing me, couldn’t look at me, seemed afraid.

That hurt. I was still the same old Casey, not some freak.

I can’t re­mem­ber much about that fate­ful day when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened.

It was a mas­sive, lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but it is a part of me now.

I still wear a ban­dage. But I’m plan­ning laser treat­ment for the scars on my face, and am ex­cited about get­ting my eye­brows tat­tooed.

I’m sav­ing up to buy some nice wigs, too.

I know I’m stronger than most 21-year-olds, but I couldn’t have sur­vived with­out my in­cred­i­ble doc­tors and nurses. They still call me now to check on me.

And Boyd and my fam­ily, too. With them by my side, I know I’ll be OK.


Lovely Boyd: by my side through­out

With ar­ti­fi­cial skin, be­fore my graft NOW

This is how my head looks to­day

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