Here, Pia Winberg, 48, tells the story in her own words.
P￼ushing open the door, the early morning sun lit up my office. I worked as a marine biologist and had recently opened my own laboratory, researching and farming seaweed for wound healing, cosmetics and gut health.
My hubby Anders, 54, and our daughters, Saskia, 21, and Felicia, 18, were so supportive of my long hours in the lab.
‘Morning!’ my colleague Rachel smiled.
After slipping on my white lab coat, I pulled my long brunette hair into a ponytail and threaded it through a cap.
Then I got safety goggles and ear plugs before making my way towards the factory which was about 200 metres from my office.
There, I bent down to turn on the machine that extracts nutrients from seaweed and the pump began to spin at speed.
Suddenly, I was pulled head first into the pump. Then everything went black.
Coming to a few minutes later, I was sitting on the floor with my head fixed against the machine, which had come to an emergency stop.
Dazed and confused, I tugged at my hair but it didn’t budge.
It must be tangled around the pump, I thought, feeling my head with my palms.
That’s when I saw it – crimson blood dripping from my hands onto my white lab coat. That’s odd. Am I dreaming? I thought confused. I didn’t feel like I was hurt.
Unable to move my head, I blindly used my hands to follow my twisted hair. Every minute I spent trying to free my hair from the pump, more blood pooled on the floor. But tugging at my knotted locks did nothing.
Frustrated, I used both hands to tightly grip onto my tangled hair. Three, two...
I braced myself, then on the count of one I thrust my head forwards.
As I ripped myself free, I almost fell face first onto the floor. Still, I felt nothing.
When I stood up though, I started swaying and my vision went blurry.
This can’t all be mine, I thought, looking at my blood-soaked coat.
Then I saw a chunk of my scalp sitting in a pool of blood. Had I ripped off my scalp? I wondered. It felt like my mind was playing tricks on me. How could I not feel anything?
Picking up the missing chunk, I knew I would need it later.
Dangling my scalp in one hand beside me like a zombie, I made my way down the hallway.
‘Rachel,’ I said reaching my co-worker, ‘there’s been an accident, call an ambulance.’
Then I walked into my office.
Tracing my head with my fingers, there was a near-perfect circle in the centre where I could feel my skull – where my hair should have been.
Another part of my scalp folded down loosely, flapping against the side of my head.
In a daze, I placed the piece of scalp I’d picked up from the floor back on my head.
‘What happened?’ Rachel cried, darting into the room.
The truth was, I still wasn’t sure. My body must’ve gone into shock, because there was still no pain.
As Rachel took the flap of scalp off my head and placed it in a plastic bag filled with ice, I was in a trance-like state.
Then she helped me into the recovery position on the floor where I drifted in and out of consciousness.
Next thing I remember is being wheeled into the helicopter, then seeing a surgeon’s face peering down at me at St George Hospital in Sydney.
‘We’re going to attempt to reattach your scalp,’ he told me as I closed my eyes.
Next time I opened them, I met Saskia’s eyes. ‘Mum!’ she smiled, squeezing my hand. ‘What happened?’ I croaked.
I learnt that strands of my hair poking out from under my cap had got tangled in the machine.
My scalp had been ripped off from the front of my hair line, leaving a 13cm hole exposing my skull.
During a six-hour op, surgeons were unable to reattach my scalp as it was too badly torn.
Instead, they used a graft from my thigh to cover the wound.
‘You were carrying your scalp through the office like in a horror movie!’ Rachel said, when she visited.
A few weeks later, the bandages were finally able to be removed.
Falling down the back of my head, my lush brown locks remained, but from the front there was a bald patch right on top. Because the nerves were ripped I have no sensation in the area.
Later, I can opt for surgery to encourage hair growth.
But I’m a bit nervous about the procedure, so for now, I decorate my new head with colourful scarves.
Plaiting the long hair at the back, I tie a beautiful scarf around the front.
‘You’re stunning,’ Anders tells me.
Two months on, I still can’t believe I tore off part of my scalp. My accident hasn’t stopped me from getting back in the lab though. And what I learnt from my own injuries can be added to my research about wound healing.
I’m so thankful to the amazing doctors and surgeons. I may not have part of my scalp but at least I’m still here.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.
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