The green and brown flashes of California’s mid-summer combine with the elaborate smells of a non-sterile world to overwhelm my senses as we make our way past blurring cars and road signs on the way home. I feel suddenly consumed with tiredness as we pull into our garage, but it’s only two hours before we have to pick up my best friend Tori who has travelled from London to help us out for a couple of weeks. Just enough time for a quick nap.
The house is warm and welcoming as we enter, familiar and seemingly trapped in time since my departure as if waiting for my return. I hold firmly onto the banister and adjust to the softness of the carpet underneath my feet. Listening to the distant sound of traffic passing the house, I pull myself slowly up each of the 13 stairs to the part of the house that has been out of bounds for so long. When I finally reach the top, Mat hands me my cane and I journey steadily along the hallway towards our room, longing for the softness of a non-hospital bed.
I hardly recognise our room as I walk into it. Sunlight floods through the arched windows of the old bell tower onto the grey herringbone sheets of our imposing bed. Mat takes off my shoes with the care of a first-time dad handling a newborn and I abandon myself to a comfort I have craved for months, allowing myself to fall slowly back into the bed, every inch of my body supported lovingly by springs and feathers.
The following morning, long after Mat has disappeared off to work, Tori knocks on the door and enters our bedroom.
“Good morning”, she says to me, smiling and perching on the edge of the bed.
She hands me a cup of tea. “Shall we get the day started?”
Fortunately, Tori has already seen just about every part of me, thanks to a naked weekend at Alton Towers (as if you needed another reason to buy my book), so I don’t feel embarrassed by allowing her to help me undress and shuffle me into the shower chair to kick start our morning routine.
Despite being OK with nudity, I’ve always been a very independent person and I can’t help but feel like a massive burden on my poor friend right now. But needs must, so I decide that this will be an exercise in love and friendship, rather than of a loss of dignity, and allow the warm suds to run down my neck as she runs a sponge over my body, massages shampoo into my hair and laughs with me about the situations we get ourselves into. I feel a profound sense of gratitude as she gently pats me dry and wraps the towel around my damp hair.
Pulling off the giant gel-like sticker that has been protecting my colostomy bag, I carefully remove my waterproof neckbrace and replace it with its sturdier cousin.
My closet is up another, narrow spiral staircase from my bedroom and I am banned from even attempting to go up there, so Tori makes her way up to retrieve an outfit for me.
“Can you bring me a brush and a hairdryer down as well?” I yell up after her.
Running the brush through my hair, I revel in the cool sensation of the soft bristles against my scalp and pull it gently downwards, waiting for it to reach the tips. But it doesn’t. Instead the brush stroke seems to go on forever, and I realise in horror that this is because my hair is coming with me as I brush. I glance down at my hands to see the huge clumps of hair tangled between my fingers.
Fun Fact no 4: After a big trauma, you can expect about 70% of your hair to fall out
“It’s called Telogen Effluvium and it’s relatively common after an accident like yours”, my nurse warned me back in in rehab.
I feel tears well in my eyes, but fight them away with vigour as I remind myself how fucking amazing the human body is. Who needs hair when you have a body that fixes itself, bones that re-join, wounds that heal and functions that return miraculously.
I think ahead to my wedding in 8 months’ time, and glance at the black tower on the shelf beside my bed, wondering whether or not I want to know the answer.
“Alexa,” I brave, “how long does it take for hair to grow back?”
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