Until Thursday – approximately 24 hours before the shave-a-thon – when I walked past a couple of my faculty members (both female with very short hair) and heard, “Hey, what’s this we hear about you wimping out on shaving your head?!”
I laughed, then launched into my litany of reasons: “Oh, you know, I have clinicals coming up in three months…”
“Come on, just take an extra multivitamin! It’ll totally grow out in time!”
Coming from a couple of PAs, that cracked me up. “But, I mean, I didn’t even raise any money for the foundation, so there wouldn’t really be a point to my shaving…”
“Well, I donated to your class as a whole,” one of them pointed out, “so you can kinda count that as money that ‘you’ raised…!”
They kept saying yes, I kept saying no, and after some more good-natured back-and-forth, I continued on my way and forgot (mostly) about the conversation.
After the school day ended, I was feeling rather melancholy and went for a run. The second-years had been in the building with us all day and it had been a weird, ‘transition’-feeling type of day for me – clinical year suddenly felt incredibly close, and the idea of losing my comfortable first-year routine was looming particularly large. I didn’t have any plans, but didn’t feel like going home to an empty apartment, so I texted a few classmates to see what they were up to. One friend responded that she had a bunch of girls from our class at her house making homemade sushi, and that I should come, which I eagerly did.
Sitting around the table with full bellies a little while later, someone mentioned the fundraiser, and I made the mistake of mentioning the conversation I’d had a few hours earlier. Everyone at the table was two or three glasses in by this point, so naturally the mass response was, “Oh, you should TOTALLY shave your head!”
I smiled, shook my head, and started reciting my excuses again. “Nah… clinical year starts soon… and I’ve had short spiky hair before, which looked awful… and I didn’t raise any money for St. Baldrick’s anyway…”
…at which point one of the girls across the table cut me off short, smacking her hand on the table and saying, “I’ll give you fifty bucks right now if you shave your head.”
After a beat of silence, the girl next to her nodded and said, “I’ll match that.”
The next girl raised her eyebrows and said, “Well, I’ll pledge a HUNDRED bucks if you shave your head!”
And so on and so forth, until the girl at the end of the table stood up and said, “Okay, Jess – I will match the donation of every single person at this table, if you will shave your head.”
Silence. Everybody looked at me expectantly.
Oddly enough, it felt right. I couldn’t help but grin. “I’m trying to figure out if I’ve had too much to drink, or if I’m actually considering this,” I said, “…and, you know, I think I’m actually considering this!”
“Okay! So. We need a computer,” someone said, very businesslike. The hostess ran to fetch her school laptop, and ten minutes later, there was a new team page on the St. Baldrick’s website. “How do you spell ‘booyah’?” the typist inquired, and suddenly we had a team name: “Jess Is Shaving Her Head, BooYah!”
Credit cards were whipped out, promises were kept, and I was approaching four-digit territory within minutes. I was starting to get excited by this point, thinking about my rockstar cousin Anna and her recent victory over lymphoma, little Vinny from Kernersville whose heroic saga I’ve followed online for years, the (thankfully) few pediatric patients I dealt with firsthand who were diagnosed with various forms of cancer, and my own misdiagnosis of osteosarcoma as a thirteen-year-old. Here was something that I could do – actually do, not just talk about – that would make a difference. Not to mention that part of me had sort of always wanted to shave my head anyway, but had just never had the right opportunity. I started to feel ridiculous for having waited so long to get on board. I grabbed the laptop and wrote a short message on the team page, stating that I would shave my head IF, and only IF, I reached my fundraising goal by the start of the shave-a-thon at 5:30pm. It was nearly midnight by this point, which left us just eighteen hours to work with. Deep down, I knew that I’d take the leap regardless of how much more money I managed to pull in, but wanted people to work for it.
Within minutes, I started getting text messages from others in the class, wanting to know if one of the guys had signed me up as a joke. When I assured them it was for real, Facebook started lighting up with people enthusiastically reposting my team page, with variations on “the ONLY girl in our class brave enough to shave!” The donation total crept steadily upward. We’d set the goal at $4,000, knowing that if others in our class joined my ‘team’, that their already-accrued donations would transfer towards my total, but there were a sizable number of new pledges coming in, too. My class is roughly 80% female, and I think it was exciting to suddenly have a lone representative from Team Estrogen at the eleventh hour.
My class had yesterday off, but the 2011ers were watching the numbers from the lecture hall, and my class was keeping track from home. I don’t think I’ve ever received that many texts in a single day. “OMG, you’re halfway there!” “Wow, look how much you’ve raised!” “Only $1000 to go!” Faculty members were emailing me, “I’ll donate in your honor!” and “I’ll try to make it over there to watch!” I got donations from old high school classmates that I haven’t spoken to in years, as well as from second-year DPAP students and even a couple of 2013ers, who will be entering in August; I also got a large donation from the amazing doctor that I worked for prior to entering school, and a couple of lovely, touching personal messages from other donors. I made a special trip to Target to buy a few headbands and scarves, and posted on Anna’s Facebook wall “Um. So. My class got me into this thing, and it kinda snowballed, and… well… I think I may need some hair advice!” (Chica was brave enough to rock her bald head in all its glory the whole time, but I wasn’t sure that I would be.)
By the time I left the house for the event, I had raised $1,271 in ‘new’ money, putting me in the lead for individual fundraising. After factoring in all the classmates who had pledged their totals to me, I was at $3,806 – and in an unbelievable show of goodwill, the girl in our class who, until the day before, had raised the most money, who was supposed to be a shoo-in to win the jacket for number-one individual fundraiser, transferred her entire four-digit total to me at the last minute.
And there I was, over goal. By a lot.
The event was held outdoors, under part of the covered brick pavilion at Tyler’s Taproom; the philanthropy committee did an amazing job of setting up tables, hand-painted signs, band equipment, raffle tickets, shaving stations, and so forth. Stylists from Posh had come to do the dirty work; after the preliminary niceties, we got down to business. Our class president went first, followed by a group of four guys from our class, who held hands the whole time in a show of solidarity. (So friggin’ cute.) A second round of guys went next, and then I joined in the third round. (And I’m not sure whether I personally shamed him into it, whether the other guys did, or whether it was just the excitement of the atmosphere – but the lone male holdout from our class plopped down into the chair next to me, completing the baldness picture for the testosterone contingent of DPAP 2012! :))
Before I sat down, one of my friends grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You are my HERO. And if my mother would not LITERALLY throw me into the Atlantic Ocean, I would be right there with you!” Truth or not, it made me giggle.
I sat down in the chair, the young blond stylist introduced herself, we talked for a second… and then she walked away. Everyone was whooping and hollering and taking pictures of me, and I wasn’t really paying attention to the goings-on behind us, but then a slightly older woman with a kind face came and crouched down next to my chair. “You get the old stylist,” she said with a smile, gesturing to herself, “because the young ones are all scared.”
Oh. So that’s how it is. Okay then.
“What exactly… were you thinking of doing?” she asked a bit tentatively, gesturing to my head.
Wasn’t it obvious? “Uh, if I’m doing this, I’m gonna go big or go home. Take it off!” I said.
She laughed, and we talked for another minute about exactly how short to go, finally settling on a ‘three’. I’m still not clear on exactly what the numbers mean, but she seemed to know what she was talking about, so I let her do as she pleased. I’d been expecting that all of us were going to be shaved completely bald, and was both slightly disappointed and slightly relieved that that was not the case; I didn’t see anybody who went down to a full ‘zero’.
And then… the clippers touched my head. My class was clustered around me, taking photos and video, screaming “You look great!” and “Ohmigod, Jess!” The clippers felt so strange, vibrating closer to my scalp than any hair implement ever had, moving in broad strokes, tickling and yet not. She started from the bottom, leaving the bulk of the fluffy hair on the top for last. At one point, at the back of my head, she stopped short, then leaned down and asked me, “Uh, did you have surgery back here, or something?”
“Oh! Yeah, I had a hemangioma when I was a baby,” I said, realizing I’d completely forgotten about that bald spot.
“Well, we just found it!” she said with a shrug.
Not much to do about it by that point, so we both just laughed, and she continued cutting. “Jess, you have a good-shaped head!” someone called out. (Oh, the things you never expect to be complimented on…:))
After three or four minutes, the stylist finally started cutting off the top sections of hair, and that was when the noise level really increased. The guys were hollering “Yeah, J-Money!” and one of them exclaimed, “Damn, Demi Moore!” which made me smile internally. The same girl who had mentioned getting thrown into the Atlantic blurted out, “Oh my – Jess, you look incredible! You really do. …You’re the only one who could pull this off!” I kept hearing various compliments from different parts of the ‘audience’, which, not gonna lie, felt pretty good.
After some final ‘cleanup’ around the edges, I finally stood up from the chair, and the stylist said, “I think I get a hug for this one!” I said, “You definitely do!” and we hugged, to cheers all around. She talked to me for a second about maintenance, telling me that she’d cut my hair for free during the ‘transition’ phase if I decided I wanted to grow it out again, “but I think you’re going to want to keep it this way; it looks really good on you!”
I ducked into the crowd to make room for the next round of shavees. Everybody wanted to hug me, rub my head, and take pictures with me. “It’s very G.I. Jane,” someone said. Another comment was, “It looks so good! Because you don’t have, like, an abnormal head.” (What?!) One of my good friends said, “You know what? I’ll admit it: I think I actually like it better this way!” (Um, thanks, I think?!)
I made my way toward the four faculty who had shown up to watch, and they started rubbing my head, taking pictures, and telling me how good it looked. “My mother is going to kill me,” I said at one point, to which one faculty member replied, “I’ve met your mother! She’s not going to kill you. I actually think she’s going to like it!”
(Update: she definitely does not. However, I am at least still alive to tell about it. :))
The evening wore on. Students from 2011 and 2012 who are particularly musical had formed a band for the occasion, “The PA System,” and they were rocking out the whole time. A few more people got their heads shaved, including one more girl, a nursing student – coincidentally, also named Jess, and even more coincidentally, whom I had actually met during one of my Patient Assessment experiences over at the hospital last semester. I got presented with a DPAP jacket for being the number-one fundraiser in our class (which I actually felt a little guilty about, seeing as I’d swooped in at the eleventh hour, but I suppose it was still $1,271 that St. Baldrick’s otherwise wouldn’t have gotten), and then a few of us went to Tobacco Road for a late dinner before heading home. The total amount of money we raised as a class, including cash donations at the event itself, came to over $15,000, which we're told is several times more than anything ever raised by any previous PA class. I can unequivocally (and totally impartially...) state that we rock. :)
My first hairless day involved a six-mile run, brunch at Guglhupf with a classmate before going to see Water for Elephants (which was quite good; I was far more impressed with Robert Pattinson than I’d expected to be), a bunch of computer business at home, and then a late-night Local Yogurt run with another classmate. I had wondered whether people would look at me funny or treat me differently, but that doesn’t seem to be happening so far; to be honest, when I’m out and about, I forget about my hair (or lack thereof).
However, things I’ve learned so far:
1. Wind and rain feel REALLY WEIRD on a shaved head… like something’s crawling up there! Such basic things as opening the refrigerator door have become an adventure.
2. I can actually drive with the windows down and not mess up my hair! This is a respite from about a dozen years of frustration.
3. I have to un-learn the habits of all the little unconscious motions I make in the shower – things we all do without even paying attention, like exactly which way to flick your hair to keep water from running into your eyes. Completely unnecessary.
4. Also, it dries in about thirty seconds, so no more worrying about the repercussions of falling asleep on wet hair! This, too, is a respite from a degree of frustration that can be measured in decades.
5. Big earrings are going to be pretty essential, I think. However, the cut actually looks really good on its own, with no head accessories – might not need those Target headbands after all.
6. Breezes aside, it’s really nice to not have hair flopping around while running… and I sweat a lot less, too!
Anyway, even though I was afraid to look at myself at first (one of my friends pulled out a pocket mirror to show me as I exited the chair, and I made her put it away after one glimpse), after 24 hours, I can honestly say that the new ‘do is really growing on me (pun intended!) and that I’m really glad I did it. I raised a considerable amount of money (in eighteen hours!!!) for a cause that I really care about, and I got a new haircut out of the deal, which I needed anyway. :) I feel like it’s a distinctive look as well as being a good potential conversation piece (“Yeah, I shaved my head for pediatric cancer research.”). I’m a tad nervous as to how it might be received in peds, since I have a four-hour pediatric outpatient assignment in four weeks, but honestly, I’ve already been asked several times by little kids whether I was a boy or a girl, even with my regular haircut (not kidding), so what’s the worst that can happen? And if my faculty aren’t worried (which they’re clearly not; they were some of my biggest supporters!), then I don’t really think I need to be, either.
Anyway, for those who like to live vicariously (and who had the patience to read all the way to the end of this post), here’s your reward: a link to a few of the photos and a one-minute video clip of the action: