It's a true Baby Boomer phenomena — the increasing attention to cosmetic surgery. According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, people in the 40-54 age group had 5.7 million cosmetic procedures in 2008, a 4 percent increase over 2007 (the 30-39 year olds had 2.3 million, up only 1 percent).
Anyone who's seen Joan Rivers or Faye Dunaway recently can discern how flawed this process can be. Yet, the siren call of maintaining our youth still wails, at least to me. I still remember the morning in my room at the fraternity when I noticed that my hairline had receded from its original location. I was twenty. It seemed patently unfair.
When I was thirty, I scheduled a consultation with a hair-transplant surgeon in San Francisco. If the cost of the surgery hadn’t been roughly equivalent to half my annual salary, I might have considered it.
And even though I married a wonderful woman who insisted she was more concerned with what was in my heart than on my head, the idea of returning my head to a more hirsute state stayed with me. The only place it seemed that bald men weren’t dorks or nerds were in Rob Reiner movies. Even Ron Howard seems to favor nicely actors with full manes like Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe.
Now it's more than twenty years later, and the wailing is getting louder than ever. Hair-transplant surgery is no longer half my annual salary, but it's still a five-figure commitment, with other toys on the list ahead of it, such as a remodeled kitchen or a cruise in the Greek isles.
And while it may be too late in middle-age for one to consider such a hefty investment, the fact remains that my father is approaching his 90th birthday, and his mother died just a couple of weeks before her 102nd birthday. If those genetics hold, I would have transplanted hair longer than I'd live in the house with a new kitchen.
Thus I was naturally intrigued when I saw an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing a hair-transplant study and looking for men with specific characteristics: dark hair, balding in a specific pattern, and between 30 and 59. The study was being done by a start-up in Sunnyvale called Restoration Robotics, which has developed a device that would harvest hair follicles individually (more elegant than plugs) faster than a cosmetic surgeon could. The goal of the study was to determine that the robotic device could harvest follicles as safely and efficiently as a human surgeon.
I applied to and was accepted into the study, and underwent the surgery at the end of July. It’s important to note that the goal of the study is to test the efficacy of the machine, not to bestow full hair transplants.
But I did have an ulterior motive: I wanted to see if I could stand the pain of cosmetic surgery. Just as with my first colonoscopy, I was given a shot of the sedative Versed. But there was also a double-Valium chaser prior to the surgery, not to mention a supply of Vicodin to take home. Talk about V for victory.
I took a Vicodin before going to sleep that first night, and even then did not sleep well. When I woke up, I felt like someone had used my head for a piñata. Even raising my eyebrows caused a twinge. Another Vicodin in the morning helped considerably, but I was truthfully glad I didn’t have any deadlines that morning. The sole extent of my output that day was to coin the phrase "Vicodin vacation."
As the week has gone on, the pain has diminished but the itching sensation — both where the hair was harvested and where it was implanted — has increased. A Vicodin at night is still a good idea. All this for a patch of fuzz on the very top of my head that I can only feel, rather than see, and has roughly the same surface size and texture as a Brillo pad.
It remains to be seen whether I'll talk to the surgeon about more transplants — which would be on my dime, rather than that of Restoration Robotics. I have reached one certain decision. Rather than do a transplant in stages, as time and money permitted, I will certainly deal with it all at once. To ease the scratching and wincing, I will probably schedule a week of recovery at an oceanside resort in Hawaii. When the Vicodin ran out, the daiquiris could flow in.
Only one question remains: whose makeover am I itching for more, mine or the kitchen's?