Health Stories

Waxing my legs made me bald

So scary!
Tony McKay/Supplied

Jessikah’s pamper night led to serious agony.

Here, Jessikah Curran, 24, tells the story in her own words.

Opening the door to my friend Petra, I drew her into a big hug.

‘Come in, I’ve got wine!’ I grinned.

It was a Friday night in February this year and we’d decided to have a girly session at my place. It had been a tough few months as I’d been battling glandular fever, so a bit of pampering was just what I needed. As we chatted, we painted our nails and waxed our legs.

The next day, I noticed the skin where I’d waxed was a little aggravated. My sensitive skin meant I always experienced some redness afterwards, so I wasn’t worried. Plus, I’d done my own waxing for years without any problems.

But two weeks later, it had got worse. All over my lower legs and bikini line, there were tiny, painful bumps that would burst and not heal.

Then they started to form on my face and eyebrows too.

Applying some antibiotic cream I had at home, I hoped they would go away. But when the lumps were still there six weeks later, I went to the doctor. ‘It looks like a bacterial infection,’ he said, prescribing antibiotics.

As a piercer and burlesque dancer, my appearance was important to me, but soon the lumps developed into abscesses and I was in agony.

Unable to work, I struggled to pay my rent. The doctor prescribed a second round of antibiotics. Please work, I thought, desperately. But alarmingly, the opposite happened – more and more sores started to cover my skin. They’d even weep with pus and blood.

What on earth..? I thought, looking in the mirror one day. There were bald patches on my head where the lumps had formed!

‘What’s happening to me,’ I sobbed to my flatmates, Jenna and Alex.

I was regularly sick with headaches and fevers too, then my eyebrows completely disappeared.

eyebrows
My eyebrows even fell out

Deciding to see another doctor, I was put on a waiting list to see a dermatologist.

Meanwhile, the majority of my hair at the front fell out. I’m going to have to shave my head, I thought, as clumps came away in my hands. Running a razor over my head, I couldn’t believe it had come to this.

Then in June, four months after I’d waxed, I woke up and thought I’d gone blind. My face and eyes were so swollen, I could barely see.

Stumbling out of my room to find Jenna and Alex, they gasped as they caught sight of my face. ‘Jessikah, you need to go to hospital immediately,’ Jenna said. ‘We’ll take you.’

painful bumps
The painful bumps and sores spread to my face

In the car I called my parents, Daniel and Petrina. ‘I’m on my way to hospital. That skin infection I told you about has got worse,’ I said. ‘We’ll meet you there,’ Mum told me.

At Middlemore Hospital, I was immediately hooked up to an IV for fluid and antibiotics. Then doctors ran tests to work out what was going on. Mum’s mouth dropped as soon as she saw me. ‘Oh love,’ she soothed. ‘I don’t look human,’ I cried.

It was three days before I finally had a diagnosis.‘You have staphylococcus,’ a doctor said.

It’s an infection caused by bacteria commonly found on the skin or in the nose.Because I’d had glandular fever, my immune system had been low. And when I’d waxed and my pores were open, the staph had entered my body.

bald
When my eyes swelled shut I was admitted to hospital

From then, I’d developed cellulitis, which was causing the painful sores on my skin.

If the infection had invaded deeper into my body, or got into my bloodstream, it could have been fatal. The leg wax had almost killed me!

My eyes had puffed up because the fluid had spread to behind the sockets and was on its way to my brain. ‘You’re very lucky,’ the doctor said. ‘You were 48 hours from slipping into a coma. It would have been life-threatening.’

Before infection
Me before the infection set in (Credit: Tony McKay)

Despite everything I’d been through, I hadn’t realised it was so serious.

It took five days for the swelling to subside so I could open my eyes properly. And after two weeks I was discharged from hospital.

Going to stay with Mum and Dad, I hoped that would be the end of it. But a few days later, new sores started to appear and my face swelled again. My tongue was also covered in ulcers and I could barely speak.

Back in hospital, I was put on another drip and kept in for five days. Once out, I stayed with my parents and slept lots while my body recovered. After six weeks, I eventually returned home.

Now, five months on, the hair on my head still hasn’t grown back and it’s likely that the sores will scar. Doctors also told me I could expect flare-ups in the future.

abcess
I was left with a huge abscess

My mum set up a Give a Little fundraising page as I’ve not been able to work.

I’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity from strangers and I’m also planning to buy a wig.

The support I’ve received has made me realise I can get through anything. I just have to keep positive and move forward.

To donate go to givealittle.co.nz/cause/infection-from-waxing-proving-incurable

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!, on sale now.

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