Jun 03 2013

How to wash your hair with a halo vest

This was a search query that made its way to my site and for whoever that was I’m sorry to say I don’t have any info online. It gave me reason to pause and consider this, perhaps I’ve been working out something and sharing my experience could help. So let me fix that now for the next person.

The question matters to anyone who has to learn to live with a halo vest because:
1. you know you’re going to be wearing it for a while
2. you can’t take it off
3. it’s a bad idea to get the lining wet
4. and hair needs to be washed

So…
I’m aware of a few different methods and have discussed it at some length with my “Halo nurse” Tracy (official title is Acute Spinal Cord Injury Nurse; Trauma, Emergency and Critical Care Program). One method used in New Zealand that Andrea brought up is a full shower; getting everything including the vest all wet, and then swapping out the wet lining with a dry one. Tracy was aware of this and all of her comments suggested that it’s hard on the pins because you’re yanking things around a lot more. Pin care is paramount with a halo vest and it’s the primary source for complications. So no thanks I say.

Before I got this hardware I had been shaving my head for over 2 years. No hair washing, out of practice. I now have hair after almost two months and counting, it needs washing and has all along. If I were to offer advice about length of hair I’d recommend that you get the hospital to cut it all off before they install a halo. Once you have it on, cutting hair (even shaving) means you will get itchy hair inside the vest and it will make you very unhappy. I’ve shaven my face but not trimmed my hair. I don’t plan on doing that until the halo comes off.

Unless you really really need to keep your hair you should seriously consider shedding it. It will grow back. If you want to keep it you probably want them to cut it around where the pins will be. Pin care is paramount.

Next up is the act of washing. It ain’t pretty, it can even be a challenge to your self esteem and dignity. Any time you think that though remind yourself that it’s much better than what could have been. If you can scratch your head (or wipe your butt, but not at the same time!) you know how precious it is to have working limbs. Get over the challenge, and get someone to help. It’s much better with someone to help. If you really can’t get help for this, you have a challenge I haven’t tried to overcome.

I’m lucky that Andrea has been here all along and she’s been great about it. Bathing is much easier because she washes my head. We try to make that happen twice a week, and washing inside the vest a couple more times during the week. Cleaning under the vest is another challenge, I’ll save that for some other blog entry and stick with hair for today.

Start with a thin towel around your neck to block the water. Then put on the hair salon bib you got for this purpose (yes, it’s worth buying one). Try to seal up the neck and shoulders as best you can.

Then make sure you have something to sit on in the tub. And run some warm water over it before sitting down, you’ll feel better about it before the bathing has even started! Learn forward, enjoy the feeling of warm water running over your head. Don’t worry if a little water leaks through, you’ll have lots of opportunities to improve your technique.

Now for washing…
To clean under the vest you want to use a baby soap so if there’s any left behind it won’t be an irritant. Don’t use that for your hair. Find something you like and do it right. On top of that, your scalp will likely be itchy so get your friend/love/spouse/helper a scrubber glove. It’s just a slightly rough wash cloth in the shape of a hand, I’m sure there are lots of different kinds but you’ll like the feeling. It helps get rid of the dead skin that naturally happens and you’ll like having your ears scrubbed too.

Have a towel handy for the occasional leak, don’t want to get the vest wet if you don’t have to. Plus from time to time you’ll want to get soapy water out of your eyes.

Then it’s time to rinse. Lean forward, and enjoy the feeling of the water on your head for as long as your comfortable (and the water is staying out of your vest).

Dry off, enjoy the feeling, and thank the person who has invested their time and care to this moment of pleasure.

Oh, and it’s a good time to clean your pins since they’ve soaked a little… pin care is ____ 🙂

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