I couldn’t believe it. My beautiful boy, Ryan, needed brain surgery. I felt myself sink into the brown pleather chair in the consulting room. Ryan was only 18.
“Oh, and Mrs. Gallagher, one more thing. Ryan needs to have the right side of his head shaved for the surgery.” The doctor was so matter-of-fact about this.
“I’m a professional hairdresser, I can do that. But is my baby going to be OK?”
“I can’t promise anything, but I think so. I’m sorry.”
At this point Ryan himself was called into the consulting room and told the diagnosis, along with the need for surgery. The doctor didn’t mention the necessity of a headshave, though, which I guessed would be quite upsetting for Ryan.
I resented her a little for not telling Ryan herself. This meant that I had to be the bearer of bad news. Nobody likes to be the bad news bear.
The night before his surgery, I finally steeled my nerve to tell Ryan. I couldn’t put it off any longer.
“I’m sorry. I have to shave your head. I know you spent the past year growing your hair back out again after you broke up with Becky, but it can’t be helped. Your life is more important than your hair. You can always grow your hair back after you get better, anyway. Besides, I think you look better with short hair. It takes a good looking guy to look handsome with a shaved head, and I think you’ll pull it off beautifully.”
Having a life-threatening illness does tend to put things into perspective, but it’s still the little insignificant things that bother us the most. I understood why Ryan didn’t want to lose his hair. He wanted to cling to his long, shaggy, wavy red hair, because it made him feel normal.
On the other hand, he was old enough to know that protesting was not going to save his hair, and that it was much more important to save his life. He nodded, eyes locked onto the floor, as he accepted his fate.
I cut Ryan’s father’s hair at my barbershop, and while Ryan was dating Becky I cut Ryan’s hair there as well, but this time I opted to shave Ryan’s head in the bathroom at our house.
My husband, Kevin, helped me set up the stool in front of the mirror. “I’ll be around in the bedroom if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Ryan’s lip quivered.
Once he sat down and I had caped him, I realized that I would need to chop off most of the length first, although I could just plow into his hair with my clippers. Maybe that was better to get it over with quickly.
I briefly fingered the attachments in the box before opting to leave the blade as-is. Normally I would never dream of plunging clippers into long hair straight down from the middle of the forehead, but I decided to do it this way tonight.
The clippers made a dull hum as they plowed through the long hair at the top of Ryan’s head, then a clearer whine as I went over the strip again. Ryan could see in the mirror that there was no turning back now.
I moved quickly and methodically, thinking that if I took my time tears would cloud my vision. Poor Ryan. I buzzed the sides of his hair a bit more carefully, pulling his ears out and down so that I could get around them without injuring him. I still think my son looks best with an all-over buzzcut with no guard.
When I finished this part, Kevin helpfully handed me his shaving cream and a fresh razor. I was going to spray the foam onto Ryan’s head, but struggled with the spray trigger. Really it was more a matter of being too emotional. I handed the spray can back to Kevin, who of course uses it every day to shave his face, and thus had no trouble with it.
Once Kevin had gotten our son’s head sufficiently lathered up, I set to work with the razor. I went down the middle of Ryan’s head, starting at his forehead, the way I did with the clippers. I could see a tear gleaming in Ryan’s eye as I worked my way down to the sides, widening the smooth swath.
The next morning I tried not to let it show just how big of a mess I was inside as my son was wheeled away into the operating theatre. I sat in the waiting room with Kevin for hours. We weren’t sure if we could possibly survive the rest of our lives without our son if the doctors couldn’t save him. I was too old now to have any more children, although no child could possibly ever replace my Ryan.
After what felt like an eternity, a nurse came out to the waiting room and ushered us into the recovery room. Ryan lay in a hospital bed, sleeping. He had a huge cut across his head, which had fresh stitches. The scar would probably be visible even if he grew his hair back.
“Your son is recovering well. The stitches will be able to come out in a few weeks. Till then we’ll need to keep his head shaved. Other than that, he’ll be all right much sooner than it seems.”
When Ryan eventually came home from the hospital, he surprised me by being quite proud of his scar. “I survived brain surgery, and have the scar to prove it. What a blessing it is to be alive! I want to be able to see my scar easily to help me remember. I think I’ll keep my hair short.”
This was music to my ears. Not only did my boy survive his ordeal with flying colors, he let me buzz his hair regularly, just like his dad.