Scalped by a giant screw...
… while preggers!
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.
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