This time three weeks ago, it was Easter Monday, and my head looked like it had been wearing a Crown of Thorns for a few days – I’d just had my hair transplant!
I should mention that I booked my hair transplant through the very lovely Sharon at betterhairtransplantclinics.co.uk. She was great at answering the many questions I had in the couple of weeks before the procedure and put me in touch with a cis woman and a trans woman who’d already had FUT hair transplants at the same clinic.
Day or night, she was only too happy to help by email or text – and if she didn’t know the answer to any of my questions, she soon found out and got back to me.
So the morning had arrived. As I say, it was a bank holiday. I didn’t think the surgeon and his team would be working that day, but they were, so I was booked in for 7.30am – very early for me!
I didn’t get much sleep the previous night but I felt OK and drove over to Nottingham without incident, arriving a few minutes early and sitting in my car playing on my phone.
The procedure was to take place at the Harris Hair Transplants (aka Leenside) clinic. I’d visited before when I met Dr Harris for my consultation. It’s a smart place which looks like it used to be a house.
I knocked on the door and was met by Dr Harris himself and shown into the same little consultation room where we’d chatted a few weeks earlier – white walls, a huge mirror, filing cabinet, shelves, desk, all white.
And then, once he’d checked I was feeling OK, it was down to business – no messing about! I was given a consent form to read through and sign, and then told to remove my T-shirt and don a very fetching (not!) blue disposable top.
He then drew a hairline on to my scalp with his magic black pen and asked if I liked it. I did. Actually, it was loads nicer than the one he drew when I had my consultation. The female hairline “bumps” weren’t quite so big this time round.
Then I had to take nine pills. Two were painkillers (co-codamol) and the other seven were steroids, which were to reduce swelling. They were all washed down with a glass of squash.
And, after a bit of a chat about the process and a few final checks, I was whisked into the operating theatre. Everything was speedy and efficient – but not at all rushed.
I had assumed that Dr Harris would do the whole procedure himself – but there’s an insane amount of work involved, so he was joined by a team of four technicians. One of them, Julie, was there before the others, and she really put me at ease with her friendly chatter.
The FUT process is done in three parts. The first involves removing a strip of scalp from the “donor area” (and then sewing up the wound) at the back of the head. The second involves removing the hair follicles from the strip. And the third involves implanting the follicles into the baldy bit of scalp at the front.
So despite this whole process being about getting more hair, the first thing to do is shave a load off! Reclining in the big, comfy surgery chair, my “hair island” at the front of my scalp was buzzed away, as was the first centimetre or so of my natural, receding hairline.
Buzzing the strip off the donor area is a bit more involved as my hair’s getting pretty long now. But, unlike the FUE process, FUT means you don’t need to shave your whole head – just the donor area strip. This meant using tape to keep my hair above and below it out of the way.
And then the fun begins. I wasn’t too worried about pain as I knew I’d get a local anaesthetic. But I wasn’t prepared for the pain from the anaesthetic itself. Because it contains an acid, it really, really hurts!!! And because I needed several jabs, all over the back of my head (ear to ear), there was much clenching of teeth and digging of fingernails into palms.
Fortunately, I had Julie to tell me I was being a big, brave soldier, and the discomfort didn’t last too long. After a couple of minutes or so, the whole back of my head felt heavy and numb – coupled with a sensation a bit like wearing a helmet.
And so to the operation itself. If anyone reading this is worried about pain, don’t be. That’s what the anaesthetic’s for. There is zero pain. The most painful thing about the whole procedure is the anaesthetic itself.
You can feel the scalpel – but it just feels like a finger or a pen being moved across your scalp. You can also *hear* it. If you imagine a heavy fabric, such as corduroy, being cut by large dressmaking scissors, that’s what it sounds like.
I wondered how deep the scalpel went – and whether or not Dr Harris was going right down to the skull. But no, he said there are five layers of scalp, the top one being skin, plus four more I can’t remember the names of. FUT only goes down as far as the skin layer.
The strip was removed within a few minutes, and there was no discomfort. One plus point about the operating theatre is that there’s a big TV screen in front of you. You can choose Netflix or whatever TV channel you want to watch, so I was enjoying the Snooker World Championships while he was busy!
One the strip was removed, he began to stitch up the two sides of the wound, beginning with 20 individual stitches on the more “inner” part and then one long stitch on the outer part. The “after” photo looks a little Frankenstein, but I reckon a dressmaker would have been proud of his handiwork.
Once the tape was removed and my hair brushed back, the wound completely disappeared, never to be seen again.
Julie was then joined by three more technicians and work began on separating the follicles from the strip of scalp. This process involves slicing the strip into thin slithers (a process called slithering (not to be confused with Slytherin, Potter fans!) before they are divided among the four technicians to work with.
Then begins a painstaking process beneath powerful microscopes of separating the follicles from the slithers. I got to take a quick peep in the lab, too. Impressive work.
While the technicians worked their magic, Dr Harris was creating more crazy patterns with his pen on my head, and making thousands of tiny holes in the front of my scalp using a tiny tool called a chisel. And yep, this meant more local anaesthetic. Ow, ow, ow!
Again, once the anaesthetic had done its job, there was no pain. If you gently tap your index finger on your head a few times, that’s about all you can feel – tap, tap, tap. There’s a sound, too, a little like the “crunch” you get when walking through fresh snow.
This took a while, during which time I watched more snooker and just generally chilled out. For saying what was happening up top, I felt really relaxed.
The technicians then announced that they’d managed to extract 3,512 follicles from my scalp, which is an amazing number. The record in Dr Harris’s 23 years of doing these procedures is 3,800, so mine was the second best, ever!
There were plenty of raised eyebrows and “wows”. I was feeling thoroughly chuffed as, the more follicles, the better the end result. The average extracted is 2,500 – and some people end up with considerably fewer. It all depends on the luck of the draw and how many follicles are in your donor area. I got lucky – VERY lucky. :o)
The follicles were then neatly divided into three petri dishes. Some had a single hair in them, some had two and some had three. There were even a few with four.
And then the technicians began the transplant itself, starting with my new hairline. This involves holding open the tiny holes made by Dr Harris with one set of tiny forceps while pushing in the follicles with another pair, one by one.
And repeat – more than 3,500 times! At some points I had one technician working on me, at others two or even three – one at the back and one each side, meaning I could still watch Ronnie O’Sullivan struggling against a qualifier at the Crucible!
We stopped for lunch at one point – the manager of the clinic popped out to Subway and picked me up a salad – and then work began again. Open hole, insert follicle, repeat.
And that was the rest of my afternoon really. The operation, which should have taken six hours, took about ten because there were so many follicles (extra holes needed creating to accommodate them all). But nobody seemed to mind the extra work.
At one point towards the end of the procedure, the anaesthetic began to wear off, so I was subjected to a few more jabs. Ow, ow, ow! And then we were done.
*After* photos were taken, and Dr Harris led me into the consultation room to give me a debrief – and plenty of aftercare instructions. I was also handed a goodybag containing an inflatable pillow, saline spray, baby shampoo, more steroids and painkillers and a flannel. I’ll go into detail about the aftercare in my next post. Suffice to say, it was excellent.
Oh, and he had one more bit of news. Although I’d come close to beating the record for the amount of follicles extracted, I’d broken it for the number of actual hairs transplanted – 7,016. The previous record was about 5,500 to 6,000, according to Dr Harris.
And that was it. I gingerly got into my car, being careful not to bump my numb head, and headed home. I was hugely impressed with the professionalism of all involved, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Dr Harris, Julie and all the team to anyone.
Finally, from a transgender point of view, I should say that female pronouns were used throughout the day, and before and afterwards, even though I wasn’t exactly “en femme” – I thought wig and makeup might not go down well! I’m not the first trans person to have a hair transplant here, and I’m sure there will be many more in future.
Some of the photos might be a bit gory and I don’t have a full head of hair yet! But remember, these were all taken on the day. It will take a few months before I see the full benefits. When I do, I’ll be sure to upload them.
Bring it on!