Scalped by a gi­ant screw...

… while preggers!

Real People - - CONTENTS -

Swish­ing my head from side to side, I gave my­self a good, long look.

I didn’t of­ten find my­self sat in the hair­dresser’s chair. Hair was just hair as far as I was con­cerned, and ‘wild and woolly’ was how I’d de­scribe my foot-long thick, dark-brown locks.

Scrunch­ing it up and pulling it back in a pony­tail was as far as I got to preen­ing, and now

I was a mum-of-two, with my third on the way, well, heck – who has the time?

‘It’s beau­ti­ful hair – you don’t ap­pre­ci­ate it,’ the hair­dresser chided from the mir­ror. She’d given me some light streaks and edgy lay­ers. I smiled at her and gave it an­other swish.

‘Looks nice,’ was my hubby, Bob’s ver­dict. He’s the prac­ti­cal type, like me.

And a few days later, me and my new hair bun­dled into the car be­side Bob and the kids, set­ting off for a 1,200-acre farm we’d re­cently bought.

I had a part-time job in a high school, lec­tur­ing about ma­chin­ery and safety on farms, but now I was itch­ing to get my hands dirty.

Our kids, Josh, two, and 13-month-old Liv, loved pot­ter­ing and get­ting mucky, too.

Af­ter 10 mis­car­riages, they were our two lit­tle mir­a­cles, ar­riv­ing af­ter doc­tors fi­nally worked out what was stop­ping me from car­ry­ing ba­bies full-term.

My blood was as thick as my hair, it’d turned out! Too thick to nour­ish the pla­centa prop­erly.

So now, I was 13 weeks preg­nant and tak­ing the blood­thin­ning drugs that had kept Josh and Liv safe in­side me.

I felt fit and well, and ready to help out. Bob had roped his Un­cle Craig in to help us sow 100 acres of bar­ley. His wife said she’d mind the kids for us.

So I piled my ’do into an elas­tic band then rolled up my sleeves. I headed to­wards the grain silo, where the bar­ley seed was stored. Craig was fiddling with the ma­chine – like a gi­ant, mo­torised screw, that sucked the grain from the 16ft-high si­los.

‘It keeps jam­ming,’ he com­plained. ‘Can you start the en­gine while I see if I can fix it?’

Five times we went through the mo­tions, but the equip­ment kept gum­ming up.

Fi­nally, on our sixth go… ‘Right, it’s fine now,’ Craig grunted.

So I leaned down to turn the mo­tor off…

… and sud­denly felt a sen­sa­tion as though a but­ton had pinged from a shirt.

It was a mo­ment of pres­sure, fol­lowed by a pop.

The en­gine of the ma­chine shut down au­to­mat­i­cally. There was no pain.

But I knew. I knew in­stantly what I’d done.

As I bent down, my pony­tail had flopped for­ward and got grabbed into the spin­ning shaft of the ma­chine. One vi­o­lent yank and…

‘I’ve been scalped!’ I thought. I reeled back­wards. All the warn­ings I’d given to my stu­dents flashed through my head. All the ad­vice to keep clothes and body parts away from spin­ning, chomping, grab­bing ma­chin­ery…

‘I didn’t do any of it,’ I’d tell them – if I sur­vived!

I knew I was in big trou­ble. Those blood-thin­ners were sav­ing my baby, but they would make the blood pump from me faster and faster. I could die.

All these things flashed through my head in a mo­ment.

‘Craig!’ I yelled, rais­ing my hand to touch my scalp.

Ev­ery­thing was wet… I could feel the blood flow­ing through my fin­gers.

Then I looked down at the ma­chine. My pony­tail was dan­gling from the belt, and it was at­tached to the rest of my hair!

The hair that had been on my head and now wasn’t. ‘Michelle!’

Craig had ap­peared, gaped at me, his eyes wide with shock. I took charge.

‘Get Bob, get ice,’

I com­manded. ‘Don’t let the kids see me.’

Craig turned and ran.

As blood con­tin­ued to pour from my ex­posed scalp, I leaned for­ward and tugged gen­tly at the locks in the ma­chine, which had re­cently been so beau­ti­fully trimmed and styled.

I pulled them free.

I thought I could save it – stitch it back on! There it was in my hand, soaked in blood.

In what seemed like ages, Bob ran up, a look of hor­ror on his face.

‘We haven’t got any ice.’ He pushed for­ward a cool bag.

In­side

The back of my neck had folded down

were pack­ets of frozen peas, corn and chips.

I placed my scalp in­side the bag.

In­struc­tions I’d given my pupils about how to deal with a nasty farm­ing ma­chine ac­ci­dent be­gan to pop up in my head.

‘Wrap a towel round your head,’ I said to my­self.

The rapid loss of blood wasn’t the only emer­gency – the risk of in­fec­tion to my ex­posed skull was high.

By now, I could feel my legs go­ing wob­bly and re­alised I was go­ing into shock.

I lay down and willed my­self to breathe calmly. Don’t let your heart race. The farm was so re­mote it was 40 min­utes be­fore the am­bu­lance ar­rived. The paramedics couldn’t hide their shock at the sight of me.

Half an hour later at West Wya­long District Hos­pi­tal, New South Wales, the Fly­ing Doc­tors were called.

Urg­ing my­self to stay awake, I was stretchered on to the plane with Bob.

A doctor and a nurse ac­com­pa­nied me on the hour-long flight to Syd­ney.

We landed, and I was trans­ferred to an­other am­bu­lance.

‘Where’s my hair?’ I shouted, and some­one darted back to the plane to get the bag I’d put my scalp in.

At St Vin­cent’s Hos­pi­tal, Syd­ney, the plas­tic sur­geon couldn’t be­lieve I was still awake.

‘You could lose your baby,’ he warned me, gen­tly. ‘But I’ll do ev­ery­thing that I can.’

‘Get me home safe,’ I man­aged to croak.

I had two kids. Three, count­ing the baby in my belly.

They needed a mum!

They needed me!

I was put to sleep, then the sur­geon worked painstak­ingly for 15 hours to try to reat­tach my sal­vaged scalp. He put hair where there were just flaps of gore and skin. The back of my neck had folded down be­cause there was now noth­ing to hold it up.

But fi­nally, I opened my eyes.

My mum, Bev, 62, was by my bed, but a tube prevented me from speak­ing. Her eyes bored anx­iously into mine.

I put my finger in the palm of her hand and spelled out, ‘Don’t cry.’

But what about my bump?

Had my baby sur­vived?

I soon found out. ‘Your baby’s fine,’ said the re­as­sur­ing voice of the ob­ste­tri­cian, dur­ing an ul­tra­sound.

I felt a great sense of re­lief. I was still here, and I was still preg­nant!

But four days af­ter the surgery, I sat be­fore the con­sul­tant.

‘I’m sorry, but the reat­tach­ment didn’t take,’ he said, gen­tly. ‘And your hair won’t ever grow back.’

I took in the sig­nif­i­cance of his words.

I was go­ing to be bald for the rest of my life…

I sucked in a long breath. Then I spoke, ‘Look, I was never re­ally that both­ered about my hair,’

I told him in a mat­ter-of-fact tone.

But a small part of me knew I’d rather have hair than not. Was this what I got for never ap­pre­ci­at­ing it?

And what to do with my bare skull? What did I look like? I hadn’t caught a single glimpse since the ac­ci­dent…

Had it left me look­ing like Lord Volde­mort? I de­cided not to look in the mir­ror at that point be­cause I faced more surgery. This time it was to re­move the skin from my thigh to graft on to my skull to give it a pro­tec­tive cov­er­ing of skin.

And it was only then that

I felt ag­o­nis­ing pain.

The skin graft was ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

I tried to turn my at­ten­tion to how the kids would re­act when they came to see me.

Ten days af­ter the ac­ci­dent, I was ready, and in they came.

My scary bonce was hid­den be­neath ban­dages, but Josh’s fright­ened eyes soft­ened only when he re­alised who I was.

‘What hap­pened, Mummy?’

‘I had an ac­ci­dent, mate,’ I an­swered.

But Liv was scared and hid be­hind Bob’s legs, sneak­ing glances at me.

When it was time to take off the ban­dages, Mum came with me to the bath­room.

My head was cov­ered in scars and mot­tled black and blue, but the skin grafts had been a suc­cess.

‘I look like an alien,’ I re­marked. But I ad­mired the neat hand­i­work of the sur­geon. Most im­por­tantly, I was still here!

And three weeks af­ter my ac­ci­dent, we learned I was hav­ing a girl.

Six months later, 6lb 4oz Emma was born, healthy and un­af­fected by my ordeal.

Sadly, me and Bob have since split up, so it’s just me and the kids liv­ing on our lit­tle farm now.

The skin on my head is very thin and I have to be care­ful not to knock it.

Emma has never known me with hair.

Some­times I wear a shock­ingred wig, and I’ve also got some in golden-brown, dark brown and blonde, short and long.

But of­ten I wear a sim­ple ban­dana over my head.

Hair to­day, gone to­mor­row… If it had to hap­pen to some­one, then maybe it’s best it was me. I never did go in for crown­ing glo­ries, and be­ing alive is what does it for me!

to Josh, As a mum for I had no time fancy hair­dos

Al­most ev­ery single hair on my head was ripped off with my scalp!

I didn’t fol­low any of my own safety ad­vice when us­ing the ma­chine!

The reat­tach­ment surgery failed so I will never have hair again My kids gave me strength through the tough times

Life with my fam­ily means so much more to me than hav­ing hairMichelle Dowsett, 44, Neville, New South Wales, Aus­tralia

Emma has never known me with hair

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