Just another day at work …till i was scalped!
A normal day at work for Casey Barnes, 21, turned into a terrifying bloodbath
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