By Jane Flanagan
My hair is falling out.
I’ll be 45 next month and have had various assaults on my womanly sense of attractiveness — age spots, wrinkles, etc — but losing my hair, that’s a doozie.
I decided to take matters in hand. I boarded the subway to a prestigious, Uptown hospital. Its team of dermatologists are tops in the field. I consulted one physician, then a second. Neither had any idea why my hair was falling out. They referred me to a third.
“He’s the smartest man here,” I was told.
This is no doubt true. This physician gets up at 3 a.m. each day to study slides. His vocabulary included many obscure words to describe hair growth and loss. He also explained things clearly.
“To say that hair loss treatment is in its infancy stage is a gross understatement.” He wasn’t kidding.
He took a biopsy of my scalp that required two stitches. I couldn’t wash my hair for a week. The wound didn’t close properly and I had to take a course of antibiotics that kept me up at night.
But the results were good:
“The findings are consistent with a reversible type of hair loss,” the nurse reported.
“This looks like very good news,” concurred the doctor.
What a relief.
But my hair kept falling out.
I called back.
“Is this still consistent with the reversible type of hair loss?” I asked.
“No,” said the doctor. “Not if it’s still falling out. That’s consistent with the permanent type of hair loss.”
But what about the biopsy?
“That only analyzed a particular moment in time,” he said.
At the time my biopsy was taken, it seems, my hair loss must not have progressed to the point where the permanent clues were evident.
Well, evidence keeps dropping all around me. Into the sink, onto my computer keyboard, on my pillow…
So, finally — Rogaine. A clear substance I pour on my head two times a day.
The directions said that I can still style my hair — even mouse is okay. Just wait until it dries. Since drying takes four hours that would mean getting up at 5 a.m.
So, instead, I arrive at work with my hair flat and my scalp wet which highlights the thinning spot.
One of the possible side effects of Rogaine is that hair can grow in unintended places — i.e., on the face. In order to minimize this risk it’s recommended that I let the liquid dry completely before I go to bed. That means putting the second application on at dinnertime. It’s tricky because in the kitchen I’m always bending low – down to get pots, over the stove, etc. — and Rogaine drips.
I’m also supposed to use it indefinitely. If I stop, any benefits accrued will disappear, i.e., hair. It may also be at least eight months before I will know if it’s working. And, if at any time, I notice hair growing in an unintended place, I’m supposed to stop. At which point, presumably, I would have hair on my face but not my head.
It occurred to me that Rogaine must be quite a product for the pharmaceutical companies. Because the directions don’t say when it might be safe to stop using it: one year; five years; 10 years? And even if I don’t see obvious results, would I really want to stop using it and risk losing whatever plusses I think I might have gained?
This may be one reason hair-loss research has progressed so far.
Oh well, at least I’m not alone, right?
No, I am. That first physician I consulted was a warm, kind woman, who was frustrated about not being able to help me. Back in the early stages, when she was hopeful of a fix, she told me not to stress. .
“Let me worry about it for a while,” she said.
Shortly after that she took a month-long vacation — the Greek Islands I think.
When she was due back I phoned for an appointment.
“She’s no longer seeing patients,” said the receptionist.
She went into researching skin diseases.