Operation Day

Early Start

There’s nothing like a home-cooked breakfast to begin a life-changing day. Yep, I was lucky enough to be staying at my parents while in Ottawa, so my mother fed me well before my “big procedure”!

Final Preparations

Upon my arrival at the Rahal Hair Institute, I was greeted by a friendly staff member named “Mike”. (For anyone who hasn’t yet had a procedure with Dr.Rahal, Mike is kinda like your “best friend” for a day, looking after you when Dr. Rahal isn’t around, and frequently asking if you’re doing okay…)

By 7am, I had completed the necessary paperwork (legal stuff and lunch selections). It was then that Dr. Rahal came out to greet us. My girlfriend and I followed him into his office to discuss the final design.  I reminded him of what I liked, showed him a few pictures, and sat still as he began to draw on my head like an artist on a canvas. Just as I was about to grab the handheld mirror to take a peek at what he had drawn, he quickly said “Wait! Not yet!”. I thought that was funny, because it shows how passionate he is about his artistry –  no artist likes to show his designs until they are finished! While he was drawing I noticed a Ferrero Rocher by his desk and thought to myself “Hmm, I wonder if that’s how he rewards himself after a surgery well done?”.  Little did I know that a few hours later I’d be the one eating a Ferrero Rocher in order to regulate my pulse!

Once I had approved his designs on my scalp and gotten an agreeable second opinion from my girlfriend, he said “OK, ready to rock?”, to which I answered affirmatively, eager to get it over with. We proceeded to take some final pre-op photos (which unfortunately I never got to see because, I was told, they were inexplicably deleted… otherwise I would have posted them). After taking the pictures, I was instructed to get changed into a pastel blue gown. Once ready, Mike accompanied me to the operating room, where I was greeted by a remarkably friendly team of nurses and technicians. It was comforting, and I felt in very good hands. Furthermore, because I was the only patient scheduled that day, I couldn’t help but realize that everyone had come in to work just for me. I felt so much gratitude for everyone that later in the day I blurted out loud to the technicians quietly working at their microscopes: “I love you everyone and thanks for handling with care my precious hair!”

First Impressions

Once in the chair, it didn’t take long before the top of my head was shaved and gauze was taped all around it. My vital signs were being monitored and, I admit, my heart was racing a little at the thought of having my head cut open, no matter how superficially that would be. I’d never had a hair transplant before so I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of pain or discomfort.

But on that note I must say that Dr.Rahal’s team was brilliant at doing “everything” outside my line of vision. I never once saw a needle or scalpel despite my keen sense of observation. In fact, the only thing I ever saw was a piece of my strip floating in a little stainless steel container – but that’s because I asked the technician to show me what a piece of my donor area looked like. And even before showing me, the technician was professional and caring enough to ask: “Are you sure you’re okay to see this?”. Normally I might not have been, but that was later and by then, I’d consumed a cocktail of drugs so I felt relaxed.

Before phase 1 of the surgery began (extraction of the strip in the donor area), I was given a couple of pills and some Gatorade. Then I waited. There was a lot of action going on around me but it didn’t stress me out. To the contrary, I felt impressed by the efficient system Dr. Rahal had in place. I thought to myself, “No wonder this guy can do mega sessions of over 4000 grafts!” It was like watching ants at work. But something did bother me, and made me slightly more anxious: the music being played in the operating room. Don’t get me wrong – a bright, up-tempo, latin jazz instrumental is very enjoyable when going out for a glass of wine on a Friday night, but for head surgery with only local anesthesia, I would have really preferred some relaxing spa music. And for that reason, I would like to suggest the following as an improvement to the experience: Please have a selection of music for us to choose from (just as you have a selection of movies to pick from)…or allow us to bring and connect our portable device to your sound system, or have WiFi in the operating room so that the patient can stream music of their choice on an app like TuneIn Radio from their mobile device.

I asked for more calming music and Dr. Rahal jokingly said: “You don’t want us falling asleep during your procedure do you?” He then asked around and tried to get some spa or classical music, which I really appreciated.

Phase 1

After Dr. Rahal froze the back of my head (which didn’t hurt that much), he began cutting a strip from my donor area. It didn’t hurt… however, I could hear the “crunch” inside my skull as the pressure of the scalpel pushed against my head. I was also afraid he might cut a spot where I wasn’t numb yet but Dr. Rahal continuously asked me if I felt “anything”, and the moment I said I could feel some pain or discomfort, he added more anesthetic. During the first part of this process, they had me lie down completely flat on two occasions because I was getting pale and queezy. After the second time, Dr. Rahal had Mike bring me a Ferrero Rocher. He asked if I liked chocolate… Do I ever! And after eating the Ferrero Rocher, I did feel alot better. Dr. Rahal said he’d recently started giving his patients chocolate when they don’t feel well and found that it really helps.

After the Ferrero Rocher, I was mainly okay for the rest of the extraction. However, I didn’t like it when he cauterized the wound, because it felt like someone was using a taser on my head. I could definitely hear the electricity, and I even felt a jolt thru my skull more than once. But it was brief, so I didn’t complain.

I’m not sure if I had lunch after Phase 1 or Phase 2 but I remember how fresh my salad was. Very crispy with slices of cheese on it, and a generous amount of deli turkey slices rolled up on the side. There were no options for the salad dressing so I just poured some from the large bottle of Italian dressing they brought on my tray. Halfway thru my lunch, I noticed the dressing had expired 4 months ago. I wasn’t impressed by my observation but I ate it anyway, and it seemed to taste okay.  (Incidentally, I did vomit later in the evening… but whether or not this had anything to do with the expired salad dressing remains unknown.)

Phase 2

During Phase 2 of the FUT procedure, Dr. Rahal is again the star of the show. This is when he has you lie down completely so that he can perform all the artistic incisions needed to create a natural hairline. It starts with the freezing, and I have to admit this time I found it to be quite painful… as the forehead is a very sensitive area. Once I was numb and he was ready to start the incisions, he asked if I wanted to chat or sleep. I found this very respectful on his part. So we chatted like buddies for a while, and then I snoozed for a bit.

Phase 3

Before starting Phase 3, which consists of placing the hairs into the recipient incisions, I was given a binder of movie selections and asked to pick something. At first I was going to choose “Superman Returns” to get a dose of  courage but then thought my mind would be better distracted from surgery if I picked something I’d never seen. So I chose to watch “It’s Complicated”.

It should be noted that Dr.Rahal doesn’t actually perform this part of the procedure (as it would most likely take too long), but he does supervise a team of well-trained nurses and technicians that are very quiet throughout the entire procedure. For instance, I was really impressed during Phase 1 when I observed a bunch of technicians sitting side by side at their microscopes in almost complete silence. One might have expected them to be chatting each other up about what they did last night but for the most part, everyone was focusing silently and without distractions on the task at hand: harvesting the grafts from my strip of donor hair. Bless them.

Phase 3 took a long time because we were going for 4500 grafts. I think I slept thru most of it. When it was finally over, my head was wrapped in a surgical blue hat with lots of gauze around and I was accompanied to the changing room, where I got out of my hospital gown and looked in the mirror only to realize I looked like a smurf. I was given some post-op instructions in a purple folio, took a picture with Dr. Rahal for my own souvenirs, and came out excitedly to see my girlfriend in the waiting room. The staff had shown courtesy by calling her on my behalf, to let her know approximately when I’d be ready.

Final Thoughts

Overall, what I observed on the day of my surgery was that Dr.Rahal has a very well-oiled machine, a very efficient system. It’s easy to see how the Rahal Hair Institute, unlike other clinics, are able to do mega sessions of over 4000 grafts so easily and comfortably. I was impressed not only by the ant colony-ish efficiency of Dr. Rahal’s team but also by the precision of his work and the friendliness of everyone encountered. I’m glad this day is over but I’m also very relieved to have chosen the Rahal Hair Institute, now that I know what such a procedure entails. I just can’t imagine having gone anywhere else!

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