Oh, #$!@. What have I done?" I asked out loud as I stared blankly into the men_s restroom mirror. Only moments earlier, a buzzing blade had sheared off the remaining functioning scalp follicles I hadƒleaving them abandoned and strewn in small clumps on the ambulance bay floor.
I was just one of the many EMS crew members to be scalped that day. Our cause was noble in its intent, which was to support a fellow paramedic_s son going through chemotherapy. This act of visual solidarity and camaraderie is no doubt practiced across the country on a daily basisƒand rightfully so.
So why was I so suddenly panicked by my own cephalic reflection? It_s not like I was sacrificing afull head of hair here. A direct flush infusion of Rogaine via a scalp vein wouldn_t have had a chance of resuscitating my frontal skull follicle seed pods (see cartoon). Still, I felt completely exposed and vulnerable. No baseball cap could hide the fact that I looked different, and in a society that places an incredible value on a multi-billion dollar industry of hair products and salons, I suddenly felt very alone.
Even family and friends who knew in advance about this scalp-shaving process looked at me as if I had lost not only my hair but also my mind. For the next several weeks, I felt like everyone was staring at meƒwondering if I belonged to some kind of fascist organization, such as the National Association of EMTs. Just kidding. Ú I was already an active, card-holding member beforehand.
My head began to slowly adjust to varying outdoor temperatures, and I started to secretly like the feeling of freedom it gave me. My head was simpler now. (Whoa! I left myself wide open for that one, huh?) Seriously, though, I no longer wasted electricity with hair dryers, and I parted with my combs and graying issues.
I also enjoyed the intimidation factor it offered when my daughter introduced me to the boys she was dating. Of course, the combination of black leather jacket and mirrored shades helped that ruse along, too.
Other benefits revealed themselves on the job. Newborns bonded with me immediately after they exited the womb. Combative patients gave me less grief. And military patients didn_t salute me with just one finger as much anymore.
Still, I couldn_t help but notice the stares at my sleek cranium. Whether they were pro or con is irrelevant. People were basing their judgments solely on my hairless features, rather than the adorable, sweet and humble person I was within. But it made me more sympathetic toward my patients who had become outwardly changed secondary to disease or injury. Not that I_m associating manelessness with disfigurement, but after experiencing superficial judgment, I was less inclined to prejudge others, specifically those cancer patients who had lost the ability to maintain or regenerate follicles.
Soon after several of us had adopted our smooth-on-top look, my partner and I were dispatched to an MVC that required spinal immobilization of a young female driver from behind the wheel of her car. On arrival, my partner began holding C-spine from the rear seat while the rest of us began the routine process of sliding a backboard under the patient.
Suddenly, my partner gasped. I looked up to see him holding this poor woman_s wig above her hairless head. Embarrassed, he made multiple attempts to reaffix her hairpiece. However, he made things worse to the point where the patient finally grabbed her wig and tossed it out the window, shouting, "To hell with it!" We proceeded with our spinal immobilization, all the while pretending there was no elephant in the room, er, car. But as we locked the stretcher in place, the woman burst into tearsƒquickly reminding us that we had humiliated her. My partner and I began to apologize profusely for our mishandling of her hairpiece while placing it next to her head blocks. She picked up her wig, angrily glared at it from her supine-and-locked position, and defiantly yelled at it, "I hate you."
Without hesitation, I told her, "So do we. We think you look just fine without it." In a defeated whisper, she asked, "What would you know about it?" Without even cueing each other, my partner and I simultaneously took off our hats to expose our own similarly bare domes. A cop who was standing outside the doors was also sans hair. He stuck in his head and asked, "What is this Ú a bowling ball convention?" The patient howled with laughter, at the same time cursing us for not having a bed pan readily available.
Until next time, don_t forget the sunscreen.JEMS
Steve Berryhas been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He_s the author of the cartoon book series I_m Not An Ambulance Driver and invites you to join him and others of the EMS community to ride in the 2009 National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (www.muddyangels.org). Visit his Web site atwww.iamnotanambulancedriver.com to purchase his books or CDs.