Hair Wars

In the Department of Little Nuisances, I find myself in an ongoing battle with stray hairs. This may seem ridiculous to report, but it’s one of the odd things about dealing with personal hygiene that comes along with my experience of scleroderma.

To wit, every day or so, one or more stray hairs drops from my scalp onto my face. I can feel it on my skin, but I have a devil of a time removing it with my fingers. In part, this has to do with the fact that many of my fingertips, at present, are swathed in bandages for digital ulcers, so I can’t actually sense the hair with my fingers. It also has to do with the fact that my fingertip sensitivity has declined over years of Raynaud’s, ulcers and nerve damage, so even with exposed fingers, I can’t always feel the thing.

Very annoying. And frustrating. Especially if the hair has fallen on my lips, but I can’t successfully blow it out of the way. I’ll end up wiping my face with my hands or wrists to get rid of the strand, only to have it stick to my clothes, where I can’t pick it off, either.

On days when I have a sense of humor, the whole bit feels like one of those old-fashioned slapstick comedy routines with fly paper, when no matter which way the actor moves, he gets more and more tangled up in himself. I’m imagining Buster Keaton.

But lately, this is just plain annoying, probably because the air is so dry from cold wintery temperatures and my clothes crackle with static electricity. I try to keep a lint roller handy, but the problem with lint rollers is that it’s hard to peel off the dirty layer—just another reminder of my fingertips’ inadequate pincer capability.

While I’m on a roll, here, the other issue with stray hairs involves my bandages. No matter how good a job I do every day to neatly wrap my fingers in clean dressings, within minutes, some hair from somewhere gets stuck to the edge of adhesive and becomes impossible to remove. Often, I have to resort to scissors to nip off the offending hair strand.

Now, admittedly, when dealing with a disease as complicated as scleroderma, this is a pretty minor issue. It’s not life threatening. It doesn’t keep me from doing what I need to do or love to do each day. One way or another, I manage to groom myself and not walk out of the house with a lot of stray hairs hanging all over the place.

But my hair wars are a constant, niggling reminder that there are a lot of things, even the most simple things, that this disease makes ridiculously complicated.

Our skin, the largest organ in our bodies, is an amazingly facile interface with the surrounding world—protector against infection, moderator of temperature, sensor of stimuli, transmitter of information to our brains. When our skin is damaged by scleroderma, our ways of perceiving and interacting with the world change permanently.

No easy solutions to all this. Patience, persistence, creative problem solving and a sense of humor are the best tools, I’ve found. But some days, I still get really annoyed about it all. And that’s okay, too. Anger has its place in dealing with chronic illness, as long as you don’t take it out on someone else or yourself. So I share this rant with you, dear reader, in hopes that you find a constructive way to vent your own frustrations about picayune problems of disease management. More power to us all.

And if you’re having a bad day, here’s Buster Keaton in The General, to give you a lift!

Video Credit: Internet Archive

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    Thanks for that glimpse of Buster Keaton–always my favorite silent film actor. I like him better than Charlie Chaplin–a heretical view, I guess.

    Your column was well written and poignant as always, Ev. I know what you mean about decreased sensitivity in a lesser way, due to my arthritis. I cannot always grip things reliably–drop them when I don’t expect to–and my feet do not always sense, or respond quickly, to uneven footing. This I have learned to compensate for somewhat, but I took a lot of tumbles when it first started to come on.

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