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Alopecia by A Recruit

I first noticed it one morning early last summer when I was combing my hair after my shower, and the comb had a lot of hair in it. I didn't think a whole lot about it, but when it happened the next day I got a little concerned. I checked my head as best as I could but all I could see was the suggestion of a thinish spot near the front on the right side of the top of my head. My hair was reasonably long, maybe 4 inches on top and pretty full in the back. I have pretty thick, straight blond hair. I had a few sumer buzzzcuts as a kid but hadn't had it short for a couple of years. I am a senior in high school now.

I kept an eye on the situation and started to get really worried when I could see that the spot was getting thinner and bigger.The skin wasn't red or itchy or anything. It was just getting balder. Yes bald was the word for it. Balder by the day, and there seemed to be a second area farther to the front that was starting to get thin, too. I mentioned it to my folks. Mom took a look and kind of gave me a check up all over. She reported another patch low down on the back of my head that was getting pretty thin. She called our doctor who set me up with an appointment with a dermatologist. I lost more hair during the week before my appointment; two nearly bald spots, one in front of the other right near the front of my head, and the other at the back. The front ones were at least an inch in diameter, and growing.

The doctor was a nice young guy. He took a good look at the spots, first by eye and then with a magnifier. He pulled on a little bunch of the hair next to the spot in front and most of it came out without him pulling hard at all. "Ok, you've got Alopecia Areata." I guess I looked scared because he laughed and said,"That's just big words, alopecia means hair loss and areata means in patches. And that's what you have--patches of hair loss. It seems to be one of those things where your immune system goes a little whacky and rejects part of you. It's going to be one of those good news-bad news things. First of all, it isn't a symptom of something real bad; a few people get more serious immune problems, but that is rare.I'll give you a sheet with things to watch out for just in case".

"This is one of those very unpredictable things.The good news is that in many cases the hair will grow back, maybe 75%. The bad news is that it may take several months or even a year or more. And unfortunately, sometimes people are left with only partial or no regrowth."

"You aren't going to be in for some expensive treatments. As far as we know, there isn't any effective treatment at all. If you look on the Web, you will find all sorts of stuff advertised, with pictures of how the hair regrew. Well, you can rub on table salt or motor oil or just about anything and 75% of the time the hair will come back, like it would have anyhow. So my real advice is to save your money."

"Now, those patches will probably get a bit bigger in the next week or so. That bit of hair pulled out real easy, so you were going to lose it anyway. And they will be pretty nearly bald. You may have some fuzz or a few stragglers but its going to be mostly skin in the patches. How much bigger they will get, I can't say. It's a little early to say, but you may get more patches; I don't see any started, but it can happen. I don't want to scare you; it's pretty rare, but in a very small fraction of the cases the victim can wind up pretty nearly bald."

I wasn't feeling real happy by this time. I was relieved that it wasn't something real serious, but having bald patches that weren't going to go away any time soon gave me a sinking feeling. He continued, "In a way you are lucky, being older. I saw one little girl who had lost maybe 60% of her hair, and little kids can be so cruel. Her parents were going to get her a wig to cover it up. Your hair is long enough to pretty well cover up the damage, unles it progresses more than I think it will. They could get you a hairpiece, but in my opinion you would have to be pretty vain to go that route. If it were me, I would try to accept it and not make any more of a big deal than necessary. I wish I could do more than wish you good luck, but there just isn't."

Well, I walked out of there feeling pretty glum. I had been hoping for the magic cure, I guess, and there wasn't one.

I had been thinking of getting my hair cut a good bit shorter for the hot weather, but I was glad I hadn't got around to it. If I parted it a little lower and combed it all across, it pretty well covered the spots on top. In the back, I couldn't see very well, but as my hair grew, it should cover it. I would have to get the part where there wasn't any bald spot trimmed a bit so they looked the same. And I would get another inch or so before school started in the fall.

I did have a recurring dream about looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but bald patches all over my head. Well, that didn't happen, but the two spots on top did get bigger and actually merged into one big patch. My two fingers didn't quite cover it side to side and it went back about as long as my fingers as well. And it was really bare in the middle, and sort of feathered out at the edges. There was one little lock of hair, maybe an inch wide right in the front that survived.

I soon realized that I was going to need something to keep the hair that covered the patch in place, so it didn't just flop down in my face. Hairspray didn't work that well, and I finally found a gell that did the trick. It made my hair look wet, but kept it in place--most of the time. Swimming was a real problem as were active sports. Even with it combed in place the coverage wasn't completely successful: there was a definite low spot and if I didn't get the front just right, the little front lock sort of stood out by itself. As the summer wore on, and my hair grew longer it worked a little better.

I don't guess I fooled anyone. My girlfriend, Kathy, certainly knew it early on. It didn't seem to bother her any, and I was glad for that. A couple of my friends asked me about it, so I told them. I could hardly deny it, after all. During the school day my hair would stay pretty well where I had put it, with only minor adjustments. I am on the volleyball team and for that I wore an elastic sweatband that sort of held things in place, though many times some of the cover would come loose and flop around, and of course in the shower it was pretty obvious.

One day, about a month after school had started I joined the group in the cafeteria. Craig was saying, "Did you see Jerry's new buzzcut? he's about the last guy I expected to go short, but it looks good on him." Jerry had been one of the last of the school's longhairs. Not shoulder length , but lots of wavy hair down over his ears and to his collar. He was the kicker on the football team and had surprised everyone by showing up with a real short buzzcut, almost down to the skin. It was a real improvement. Pete nodded, "Yeah, real cool." Then he looked over at me, "Mike, when are you going to do something about that mess of yours? I know you've got a big bald spot; hell, everybody knows.But that glued down combover really looks dorky. I mean, what's the point in trying to hide something everybody knows about?" Craig chimed in, "Yeah, combovers are for middle aged businessmen."

"So what should I do? Wear a wig?" I spluttered. Craig rubbed his crewcut head, "I know it's a problem and it's got to be tough to take, but I think you should just be honest about it." "So what would you have me do?" I asked. He rubbed his head again. "I dunno. If it were me, I think maybe I would buzz off the rest of it and the hell with what people think. The bald spots would still show, but not much, I don't think." At this point Craig's girlfriend, Amy nodded, "And if you really want to hide the bald spots, you can shave it all off. It's kind of a crazy idea, making it all bald to hide the spots, but the spots wouldn't show that way." Pete chimed in, "Yeah, there are a lot of guys with real close buzzcuts. You would fit right in." then the topic shifted.

When the others left, I looked at Kathy who hadn't joined in the haircut conversation, "What do you think?" She looked at me and smiled," I have to admit that your plastic hairdo isn't all that great. I like you a lot, and it has nothing to do with your hair or lack of hair. Right now you seem kind of obsessed with hiding your bald spot. I kind of wish you could just accept it and try to forget it. And if a buzzcut or even a baldie does that, then go for it. It won't matter to me at all. As Mr Rogers says 'I'll like you just the way you are'. Hey, it's getting late, we better get to class."

The comments and suggestions really shook me up, and I realized that I had been spending lot of time thinking about and trying to hide the bare patches. It hit me especially hard, too because for the past couple of days I had been getting the tell-tale hairs in my comb again. I couldn't find a thin spot yet, so maybe it was one of the old ones gettting bigger, but still, something was happening and it wasn't good. But cut off all my hair? That was pretty drastic. And if I didn't like it, or it looked terrible, I was stuck. It would take months to grow my hair back so I could even start to cover the spots and what would it be like in the meantime.

But it was true. In cold blood, combing my long hair over really didn't hide the bald patches very well, and I knew it must show. And of course they showed while I was playing volleyball and when I showered afterwards. So sure, all my friends knew what the problem was, and why did I care what other people thought? I wondered how it would look with a buzzcut. Of course the bare spots would show, but would they really stand out? But the guys said I should just accept it, so then it shouldn't matter if it shows or not. And was I getting another patch? That could screw up the combover bigtime if it was in the wrong place, and realistically, most anywhere would be the wrong place.

Anyway, I was really in a mess the rest of the afternoon. When school let out I drove Kathy home and we made a date for movie the next (Saturday) night. As she got out of the car, she reached over and messed up my hair and gave me a big kiss. OK, I would do it! I turned down the street where the barbershop I had gone to for years was. I cought myself hoping that it would be closed, but it wasn't. I pulled into a parking place and looked in the mirror to straighten my hair. I combed it back into place, looked in the mirror, and at the revolving pole on the shop. I must have sat there 5 minutes until I realized it wasn't going to work. I drove home cursing myself for being such a coward.

When I got home I went upstairs to the bathroom and stood there, looking at myself. I fished out the comb and re-arranged my hair. The little lock in the front of the bald patch, as usual, was not cooperating. "All right, I'm not going to shave my head, but that hunk is always messing things up, so do something about it!" Impusively, I picked up the scissors from the counter, lifted up the lock of hair and snipped it off. Kind of in shock, I stood there holding the bunch of hair in one hand and fingering the short stubbly patch with the other. Well, I couldn't leave that tuft of fuzz right in the front.

My dad's beard trimmer was sitting on the counter, in its charger. I picked it up, pulled off the little plastic comb and switched it on. I pushed it across the patch of bristles and they went away. There, in miniature, was what a buzzcut would look like. The little blond stubble kind of sparkled in the strong overhead light, and showed more than I thought it would. It felt funny, all bristly. I pushed the long hair aside and surveyed my head. Without the little lock, there was a bald path right back, half way along my head. There were a few straggler hairs and some fine fuzz in the patch, but otherwise it was just skin. I ran the clippers over the little front patch again and then pushed them back over the rest of the bald spot. The fuzz and stragglers vanished. If I covered the long hair with my hand, my head looked hairless from my forehead back to where the hair started again. The sides of the bald patch were irregular; the hair didn't just stop abruptly, it sort of dwindled out. I pushed the buzzing clippers back along the patch again, feeling the vibrations on my scalp. I went right to the back of the patch and then pushed them a little farther. The severed hair sat there until I pushed it away. The rear edge of the bald patch was now more abrupt. I fingered the stubbly patch in the front and at the back of the bald spot. I put the clippers on my head again and pushed them along the lower side of the patch, to clean up that side like I had the back. What the hell was I doing?? Shaving my head. That's what I was doing! I pushed the clippers along the high side of the bare patch which now became a neat rectangle. All right, bald patch, you win! I dropped the clippers against my scalp in the center of the patch and deliberately slid them across the top of my head, all the way to the part. A big hunk of gelled hair fell away into the sink. The hair in front was next to go, right across to the part. I was starting to look like a middle aged guy, with the long hair around the sides and the front of the top mostly skin. I didn't like that look, so I bent over the sink as I ran the clippers up from my right sideburn to the bald patch, and continued until the whole side of my head was stubble. The rest of the process is a bit of a blur in my mind, but I remember running the clippers over my head again and again, to make sure there were no misses.

Finally I stood up to look in the mirror. All my carefully combed, gelled and sprayed hair was in the sink, and my head looked pretty bald. The stubble that was left was quite visible and the bare spot did show, but without the long hair, the contrast was much, much less. I looked myself over and could see a definite thin spot just below where the part had been. The combover was going to have been in trouble pretty soon anyway. I was surprised a bit at the sense of relief I felt having clipped my head. I felt that somehow I was in charge again.

At supper, my parents were surprised at my new look, but they both agreed that it was an improvement. It was strange to wake up in the morning without hair in my face and a stubbly head. But the ease of drying off after my shower was a revelation. We had a Saturday afternoon volleyball practice which would be my first public outing. I was a little nervous and debated wearing a hat, but finally decided to tough it out. I was relieved that all the comments were positive. A couple of guys remarked that they were surprised at how big the bald patch was, but that was about it. When I got home I went in the bathroom and studied the situation. The bald patches did show, but not a lot. I thought about Amy's comment that one way to hide them would be to really shave my head. Well, what the hell. If I did shave it, it would grow back to stubble in a couple of days. I slopped a couple of handfulls of water on my head and squirted a big blob of foam into my palm and rubbed it around. I started a new razor on the remains of the little patch in front. I could feel it scrape a little and then it slid smoothly across the bald patch. The stubble was gone. The razor worked smoothly as I moved across the top of my head. It pulled a little coming up the side of the back that still had hair. Up the sideburns and around my ears, and all the shaving cream was gone, rinsed down the sink along with the stubble. Myhead was smooth and bare. Being blond, the hairfree patch didn't show at all. Well, Amy was right! You couldn't see the bare spots. Other than the fact that I was totally bald, the bald spots didn't show. I rinsed off my head and studied myself in the mirror. Yeah, I was bald, and somehow I didn't care. I was in charge again! I wondered what Kathy would think. I gave her a call and left her a voice mail to warn her. When I picked her up she looked at me and grinned, "Nice job! Aren't you glad you did it?" I had to agree with her. I kept my head shaved for school the following Monday. The reaction was fabulous-everybody thought it was a big improvement.

Shaving every morning was a bit of a bother, so I bought myself a pair of clippers, and most days I just run them over my head before my shower. For dates and important things I use the razor, since Kathy thinks I look better with my head smooth. My yearbook picture will be a total baldy. I even shaved my head before my college interviews.

The alopecia is progressing, too. The new bald patch is a big one. The first spot regrew some hair, but then lost it again; the patch in the back has a little stubble, but there seems to be the start of a thin spot right in the front on the other side. I wish it would make up its mind. It would be great to have hair like everybody else, but if that doesn't happen, I almost wish it would fall out completely. I have been bald long enough now so it seems normal, and not having to shave would be an advantage. We'll just have to see, I guess, but I'm not going to sweat it.

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