Last year I was at a party, doing normal party things. Someone had a camera, and, as per usual, happy party pictures were taken. And, in today’s age, these photos got posted on Facebook, with the key people tagged, and hey presto, an alert popped up on my screen that I was in photo in someone’s album.
That was not a problem. It was the guy in the picture with the tag “Mark Turrell”. He didn’t look like me.
Or at least, to be specific, he was me, but something about him was wrong, very wrong. In a fraction of a second I noticed the reason. A pink bald patch in the middle of my head. Ouch!
Our image of self is very important. I remember not noticing changing from a 32 inch waist to a 34 inch waist back in 2006. I do remember being told by a store assistant that Italian jeans typically were made too small and that, yes, I was indeed a 32 inch waist, but for this particular cut… yes, we’ll take a 34… (Note – I went down to 32 inch again by Jan 2007 – but that is a story for another day).
Hair is one of those things that forms an essential part of your being. I was prepared to lose hair as both my father and brother have experienced hair loss, on the top and especially receding hairlines. I considered myself luck to have survived to almost forty without any form of significant hair loss. Maybe I had my mother’s father’s genes – he had a full head of hair his entire life.
The evidence was, though, right above my nose. In fact if I had been honest, I had noticed more and more hair sitting at the bottom of the shower for a while. I bizarrely decided to try and ignore it, pretend that there was nothing wrong. Seeing a picture in the near-public domain that is Facebook was too hard to ignore. I had to do something about it.
As fate would have it, I already knew something about pattern male baldness. In 2005 (ish) Imaginatik, the firm I founded in 1994, did a project for Merck in the US. The project was an early use of crowdsourcing and collective intelligence to uncover insights and ideas for sales and marketing of pharmaceutical products. In a world-first, the program – using Imaginatik’s Idea Central software – was designed to start with ideas collected from across 250 Merck employees (cross-brand, open innovation inside the firm), and then after a regulatory check, push out these ideas to a group of 100 medical workers (doctors, nurses and office receptionists) for them to vote and expand on these ideas. The project worked great – and many of the ideas were implemented within six months adding, by some estimates, 11% to the sales of the drug.
And the drug? Propecia. A treatment for pattern male baldness.
So, after dithering for a couple of weeks, I finally decided to check out the drug facts. Not with a doctor, but with the Internet. Like many people below 45, our first response is to help ourselves with the information we can gather from the Net, and then afterwards go through the formal routes. So, a quick check on the Propecia web site informed me how the product worked, and most importantly of all, what the side effects were.
I had learned during my project with Merck that one of the key side effects might be impotence. That did not sound good. However, getting out a calculator, my worries were eased by learning that just 2% (2 out of 100) men suffered any kind of problem, and that any problem ceased if you stopped taking the drug. That, I could live with.
Hair is one of those things that you intuitively know that if you lose it, you ain’t going to get it back. This creates a sense of urgency once you have realized that you are losing your hair. You can’t just wait another year, hoping it gets better by itself. If you do nothing about it, drawing on my non-medical knowledge, the follicles die and don’t come back again. No zombie hair!
I got my assistant to do the leg work to find me a doctor in London to help me with a check-up. I hadn’t been ill for a long time, and I had forgotten all my medical information, NHS card, all those things. I did, though, get to see a doctor on Harley Street, and after a twenty minute consultation I was out on the pavement with a fresh prescription in my hand.
I did have a few things explained to me before I left. It would take at least three months to see any form of improvement, if at all. It was possible that it would just stop the loss, and not actually regrow my bald patch again. Not super encouraging, but worth a try. More importantly, the effects – if any – would stop if I discontinued treatment. So I would be on a treadmill for life, or as long as I wanted hair. (Note – there are other impacts, you need to inform yourself or speak to a doctor).
The thin that really got me was the permanent reliance on a pill. That, for some reason, did not feel right. And then I reflected on my use of one-day contact lenses, without which I would not be able to see. And women taking birth control pills. And all kinds of reasons why we use medication of some sort to regulate our body machines.
And so I presented my prescription, and my credit card, and off I was on the path to a new head of hair.
And I waited…
Until the hair grew back.
It took about three months, almost to the week.
And it is still there. The hair, that is, not the bald patch.
It is not perfect, and after a hair cut, it is a little thinner on top. The drug has no effect at all on receding hair lines, but fortunately I am coping well on that front for now.
It is quite weird. A year ago I really was in a little bit of a personality funk, due almost entirely to my strange changing self-image. And a few months after I actually did something about it, I was back to normal, happy, bouncy, imaginative, and dashingly charming as before (OK, I might be over-stating things a tad).
I wanted to share my story because in I have related this tale a few times in recent months to strangers in all walks of like. I was in the City of London speaking to Investment Advisors. For some strange reason (and typical Mark), the conversation switched from fighting proxy battles to saving hair. Sign up two more for Propecia. Another conversation was late at night in a bar in Marrakech – again, more converts, more hair, and most importantly, an improved self-image for almost zero effort.
Hopefully you will find this story useful. Maybe it will inspire you to share it with a friend who is going through the same bald patch issue. Maybe you yourself are looking in the mirror, figuring out if you need a bit of help. Or you work for Merck and are pleased to see your customers sharing stories on their product (thank you Merck, for the treatment and for being a great customer to Imaginatik over the years). Thanks for reading, M