I’d been chewing my hair for as long as I could remember, but I never imagined the hairy situation it would land me in…
By Jasmin Percival, 23, from Chatham, Kent
I threw myself down onto the sofa and stuffed a fat lock of hair in my mouth.
‘You’ll ruin your dinner,’ Dad joked.
I paid him no attention. I was used to getting into trouble for sucking on my barnet. I’d been doing it all my life. I’d adopted my bizarre but comforting habit as soon as my hair had grown long enough.
‘You’ll end up with a giant hairball,’ added Mum but my parents’ nagging always fell on deaf ears.
‘I’m not a cat!’ I shrugged dismissively, through a mouthful of hair. I was used to blocking out their concerns. Like anyone with a nasty habit, I was in no rush to give it up despite the risks.
However just a couple of days later I collapsed at school with excruciating stomach aches.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me Mum,’ I said through tears, while clutching my stomach, when she came to pick me up.
Mum held the back of her hand to my forehead. ‘You have a temperature,’ she told me, with a worried look on her face. ‘We’ll get you to bed and I’ll call the doctor.’
I went to visit the GP the next day with Mum.
‘Sounds like a bad case of irritable bowel syndrome,’ he told me. ‘It’s probably just a flare-up.’
I let out a sigh of relief.
‘Don’t worry, it’ll pass,’ he added.
But it didn’t and the pain continued to come and go, flooring me each time.
Mum and I spent months traipsing back and forth to the doctors in search of an answer.
‘IBS can be awful,’ I was assured. ‘Make sure you get plenty of fibre in your diet.’
But I could barely eat anything. Everything I tried to swallow would hit my belly and shoot straight back up again. My stomach was in knots.
I wanted to eat but I could keep nothing down.
I’d missed so many classes that everyone around me began to suspect that I was trying to get out of school.
‘I promise you I’m not making it up Mum,’ I said to her one day after I’d been sent home early yet again.
I knew Mum wanted to believe me, but until I had a proper diagnosis, I knew people would continue to think I was making it up.
My weight dropped and at just five stone I looked skeletal. I was in a terrible condition.
I was prescribed countless medications to clear the blockage but nothing seemed to work.
For two years, I was plagued by pain and ill health. I was classed as a medical mystery and resigned to my fate as a severe IBS sufferer.
Then one night in December 2009 as I lay in bed, trying to get to sleep, I felt a surge of agonising pain sweep my abdomen. This was nothing like I had experienced before. I let out a huge scream and curled up into a ball.
The sound of footsteps thudded up the hall and my bedroom door flew open. Mum ran to my bedside.
‘Mum help me!’ I cried, in between shrieks. ‘I think I’m dying.’
Mum managed to help me out of the bed and guide me to the car. ‘You’re going to be fine,’ she assured me. ‘I won’t let anything happen to you.’
She drove as fast as the law permitted to the nearest hospital, where I was examined immediately by doctors.
‘You need to have a scan straight away,’ he said. ‘We need to find out what’s causing the pain.’
I fastened my fingers tightly around the arms of the wheelchair as I was quickly whisked away for a scan.
I kept my eyes fixed on the screen as they ran the probe across my aching belly, terrified of what they might find.
‘There is a huge mass in your stomach,’ the doctor suddenly announced with a grave look on his face.
‘What is it?’ I cried. I clutched Mum’s hand and prepared myself for the worse.
‘It’s hair,’ the doctor said. ‘We need to get it out immediately.’
I could have fainted at the news. Years of sucking on my long locks had formed a giant furball and now I required emergency surgery to remove it.
Mum burst into tears but this was no time for ‘I told you sos’.
I was devastated. I’d brought this on myself.
‘I can’t believe it,’ I whispered as I was given an epidural while medics prepared to deliver my giant hair baby by C-section.
The surgeon sliced open my belly and carefully removed the gooey, matted mass.
It was revolting. Weighing over 3lbs it felt like I had actually given birth!
No wonder I hadn’t felt healthy for years. I’d been carrying that around.
But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. It was a truly hair-raising ordeal and at one point, Mum didn’t think I’d make it.
After a few days of hospital treatment however I finally came around.
Mum was at my bedside. ‘You were right,’ I said, managing a small smile.
‘I think it’s time you gave up that habit of yours,’ she replied.
There was no doubt about it, I’d had a lucky escape.
Thankfully, I eventually made a full recovery and the details of my horrible hairball were recorded in the medical dictionary.
I was told my hairball was the second biggest to be recorded in the world!
Once I was discharged from hospital I began wearing my hair up in a ponytail so I wouldn’t be tempted to have a nibble for old time’s sake.
To this day, I still can’t believe I gave birth to a furball. It was certainly a hairy moment and if anything was going to shock me into giving up my hairy habit, that was it!