Because I’m Worth It
I got my first gray hairs when I was 19. They came in my bangs, so they were very prominent and visible to me. Shocking white and coarse, they were more like horse hair than any of the other hair on my head. I used to search for them and pluck them out from the root. I had a boyfriend who referred to them as “platinum blonde.” God bless him.
My hair at that time was a very light brown or almost a dishwater blonde color. Frankly, I’ve been coloring it for so long now that I don’t know what it would look like naturally except that there would be a lot of gray with some kind of brown color mixed in. I got wise and started coloring my hair almost immediately after I spotted the first gray. This wasn’t solely because of the gray. I didn’t have enough back then. I started highlighting it at first. Next, I went blonde. Then I went red for many years. And now I’m a brunette.
During my redhead years I was really serious about the hair dye process. I bought my own salon apron and a box of gloves, my own reusable applicator, etc. I had my very own salon. I would go to Sally Beauty Supply and pick out a bottle of color and a bottle of crème developer and mix my own color. It was cheaper that way.
If you’re coloring your hair at home and you don’t have a fancy sink like they have at the salon or a detachable shower head, then the easiest way to rinse off the color is to just step under the shower head. So, I got into the habit of doing my color one night on the weekend and then combining the rinse and a shower before I went to bed.
One Saturday night I decided to try a new color. I picked out this slightly more outrageous red color from L’oreal. You know how the boxes of home hair dye come with instructions that say to always do a patch test? A patch test is when you mix a small amount of the hair color with the developer and then apply that small amount to a small patch of your skin and wait for a while to see if you experience an allergic reaction. I don’t believe in them. Patch tests are, as Charlie Sheen might say, for trolls and clowns. I’m a winner. I don’ need no stinking patch test.
I mixed the color with the developer, put it on my hair, waited for the required amount of time, and then I got in the shower and rinsed out the color and washed myself. When I got out of the shower I grabbed for a towel and rubbed the excess moisture off my hair. Then I used the same towel to dry off my body before ultimately wrapping it around my head like a turban and putting on my nightshirt.
I went to bed. At about 3 AM I was half awake and itching. So, I scratched the itch. I went back to sleep. At about 5 AM I started itching more. This became sort of an uncontrollable compulsion, and it spread all over my body. I finally realized that this was not normal, so I got up and went to the bathroom to look in the mirror.
The person in the mirror was not me. Instead, it was this hideously swollen, red bumpy thing. Hives! I’d seemingly broken out in hives, and my face had puffed to about four times its normal size. A quick scan of my body confirmed that I had the same problem all over. I was a giant raspberry, and an uncomfortable one. Naturally, I wanted to stop the itch, so I reached in my medicine cabinet and found a bottle of calamine lotion. I liberally slathered the calamine lotion all over. It didn’t work, of course. I still itched.
Then I quickly put on some clothes and shoes and grabbed my purse and my keys and headed for the nearest emergency room. When I show up at the emergency room I am the only person there. It was the only time I’ve been to an emergency room in my life when there was no wait. I sat right down across from a nurse who started taking my vitals and I guess performing triage.
The nurse was very sympathetic to my plight, and I remember spending what seemed like a long time talking with her. Since my blood pressure wasn’t super high and my breathing seemed alright she didn’t seem to be in any rush to get me in to see a doctor. Maybe she thought I normally looked like a giant raspberry.
She did seem concerned about the fact that my skin was peeling, but I assured her that was the calamine lotion. Yes, the calamine lotion I slathered on had dried rather quickly and started cracking and peeling, causing my face and the rest of my body to look like my skin was falling off in patches, sort of like a bad sunburn or maybe leprosy.
At one point during our interview, the nurse said, “It’s a shame about your hair. That’s such a pretty color.”
To which I responded, “Why? Are they going to strip it?”
Not my finest hour. I was suffering a severe allergic reaction to hair dye, and I imagined that once I was admitted to the hospital the doctor was going to sit me in a barber’s chair and begin applying beauty treatments.
Finally, we got done with the triage, and the nurse disappeared behind a door and down a hall for a little while. I heard some snickering. Then the door opened back up and the nurse came out to get me. She led me into an examining room where I was told to wait for the doctor. The room was cold.
Finally, the doctor came in after what seemed like an eternity in freezing itchy hell. He looked like he was working hard to suppress a shit-eating grin.
He said, “So, you had an allergic reaction to some hair dye, huh?”
“Yes, I think that’s what it was. I colored my hair last night. It was a new color. And in the morning I woke up like this.”
“It is a pretty color.”
“What’s up with the peeling?”
“That’s calamine lotion.”
“Why did you put on calamine lotion?”
“I thought it would help with the itching.”
“Well, it doesn’t. Calamine lotion doesn’t do anything.”
“I guess I figured that out.”
“You know what does?”
I shook my head no. He held up a syringe.
He gave me a shot of cortisone, and I felt better almost immediately. Then he asked me if I had driven myself to the emergency room. I told him I had. He told me that he was going to make me wait for a while to make sure that I was alright to drive before he would release me. He also told me that in the future Benadryl was something I might try for reactions like mine and that maybe a patch test wasn’t such a bad idea. Then, my favorite advice was that maybe I might want to avoid using the same towel to dry both my hair and my body in the future since using the same towel was probably why I had hives all over my body instead of just on my scalp and my face.
I must have stayed for at least an hour and a half after that, and every twenty minutes or so the door to the room I was in would open a crack or so and a head or two or three would peek in, shut the door and then laugh it up in the hallway.