the bald, stuttering poet who used to be me.

on June 20, 2011 in things that have fallen out of barbie's mind.... with 9 comments by


By the time Hurricane Frances flooded parts of Asheville, NC in September of 2004, I had

Biltmore Village in September of 2004 after Hurricane Frances. Those are railroad tracks.

already made a bit of a name for myself in the local poetry and open mic scene here.  I had gigs lined up and musicians who were interested in collaborating with me on innovative projects.  When the Swannanoa river flooded I had no idea that it would wash all of that away.

I worked in the area known as Biltmore Village.  For over 24 hours the buildings in that part of town held upwards of five feet of water inside them.  Cars, trucks and massive dumpsters were lifted and moved by the force of the turbulent river.  When my co-workers and I set foot in our building the following day, most things in the store had moved into the back room, carried by the water as it seeped out the rear exit.

Most of the cars were washed away.

My position at the company was such that I was the most knowledgeable person when it came to locating items we would need to remove and place in storage.  The fact that I spent more time than anyone else in the now fetid business coupled with my severe allergy to mold, I was surprised that I was the only person involved who was not suffering from incredible headaches and vomiting.

I was, however, completely floored when my hair started falling out one week later.

By the time Hurricane Ivan flooded our store exactly 7 days after Hurricane Frances, I was

Hurricane Ivan was just as devastating.

missing a quarter-sized section of hair in the middle of the top of my head.  Within another week I had become so bald that I had my very long hair cut to the nape of my neck.  Over the next 2 1/2 months I acquired over 75 more symptoms which included daily vomiting, physical ticks, vision & hearing sensitivities, and an impossible-to-understand stutter.  The company which I worked for insisted that they were not responsible and put me on a medical disability saying that I was unable to help customers in my current condition.

Christmas of 2004. I was told that you couldn't see my bald spots in the photo.

The stutter and ticks kept me off the stage for quite some time.  I handled my new affliction with a sense of humor of course.  Since just saying “my name is Barbie Angell” took about 4 1/2 hours to accomplish, I did what any self-respecting performer would do, I told jokes to anyone who would listen.  Nothing amused me more than watching as someone would be in excruciating agony waiting for that punchline to finally finish its struggle out of my mouth.  I told stupid jokes, witty jokes, inappropriate jokes and even one about a boy with a stutter who goes door to door selling bibles.  The punchline there was that if they didn’t buy the bible he would just stand there and read it to them.

My hair was cut so that most of the bald patches were covered by longer layers. By the time it stopped falling out, I was completely bald at the top of the back of my head and over both ears. In addition to all the patches of missing hair on the rest of my head.

My doctors finally determined that I had a bacterial infection which spread to my brain.  Since my workplace wouldn’t divulge what I had been exposed without admitting fault, we couldn’t find an antibiotic which was targeted enough to cure me.  Several specialists agreed that my actual illness was being masked by the changes in my hormones.  Apparently a variety of conditions can affect these tenuous levels and cause additional unrelated symptoms.  I don’t recall if anyone ever suggested a hormone therapy at the time, but it seems like it would have been a good option for me.  Instead, I was put on birth control pills to adjust those crazy levels in an effort to alleviate some of my issues.  Here’s a little known fact about the pill.  When you first start taking it, you actually become more likely to get pregnant.  Although I love my son more than words could ever accurately explain, that would have been handy information to have prior to my conceiving him.

In the end, biology prevailed.  My pregnant body insisted on the best living conditions

I'm smiling in the photo....but I never actually ate. In fact, I threw up about 5 minutes after the picture was taken. This was over a year after the flood and I was still mostly bald. When I gave birth to my son I weighed 176 pounds.

possible for my little embryo.  My hormones gathered together like an invisible army and expelled the infection over the course of the last two trimesters.  Prior to that, I actually was so ill that I assumed I was being killed by my infection.  I didn’t discover I was merely pregnant until I was four months along.

My son is five years old now.  The day after I gave birth to him my symptoms started to go away.   I stopped stuttering when he was six months old and my hair had started growing back by that point as well.  There were two studies done about my illness.  At the height of my sickness, I dropped over 30 IQ points, still considered extremely intelligent, I was not the genius I had been.  My last test was when my son was 3 months old, I was already back up to 166.  I presume this means that I don’t have any lasting brain damage from my ordeal.  Looking back, I consider it a positive experience.  Not only because I had my son, but I learned what it’s like to have afflictions which create such negative responses from society.  The bald girl, who stutters, weighs 90 pounds, whose arms twitch and hands flail.  The girl who cowers at bright lights and high-pitched noises, while asking you to repeat almost every word you utter.

For a year and a half, I was that girl.  She is still very much a part of who I am today.

Halloween 2004. By Christmas of that year I weighed a little over 90 pounds.

October 2010. The most recent full body photo I have. I currently have a full head of hair, no stutter and weigh about 100 pounds. I have never had my IQ test taken again since my illness completely disappeared.

thank you to BodyLogicmd.com for the little push i needed to tell this story and post these photos.  it was rather cathartic.

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9 comments

  1. Bob
    posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 2:50 PM  |  

    You are astonishingly strong and intelligent, and I am so glad you are healthy today.

    • Barbie Angell
      posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 3:13 PM  |  

      thanks bob. : ) i’m pretty glad i’m healthy again….everyone treating me like i was about to die was rather scary. i hope i never go through that again.

  2. posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 2:54 PM  |  

    It took a lot of courage to tell this story. I’m so sorry for what you had to go through, but I admire you very much for sharing this. As far as the effect on your intelligence: based on our online interactions, you’ve always struck me as incredibly smart–witty & sharp as a tack! Not to mention the fact that your memory for details is kind of mind-boggling :)

    • Barbie Angell
      posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 3:19 PM  |  

      thank you john. : ) i always forget that people don’t know this about me. i’ll mention something about when i used to be bald or stutter and i get the oddest looks. : )

      even if i’m still at 166, i’m okay with that. i’ve never cared much for iq tests, but it was cool to have the studies done on my brain. i felt like my illness was actually being useful, which it was. my dr’s said the cdc used it to diagnose and treat people more quickly after katrina.

      and yes, my memory is mind-boggling. one of the symptoms i had was nominal aphasia….the inability to recall nouns. that drove me nuts. 10 minutes to get someone to realize i was talking about a table. : )

  3. posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 4:15 PM  |  

    The aphasia thing sounds awful. So glad you’re healthy & hope the plans & dreams that got dropped when you got sick come to fruition–or maybe even better ones :)

    • Barbie Angell
      posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 5:31 PM  |  

      it was awful….i felt like ridiculous all the time. people stared at me, talked about me as if i weren’t there and talked down to me once they heard my stutter. specialists, phlebotomists and pharmacists were the worst actually….how sad is that?

      my dreams are still continuing and yes….i hope to someday achieve them. : ) thanks.

  4. posted on Jun 21, 2011 at 3:54 AM  |  

    The small part of me wants to know where you worked so I can go in and give them hell next time in Asheville. Immature, maybe. Deserved? Definitely.

    • Barbie Angell
      posted on Jun 21, 2011 at 5:03 AM  |  

      it’s okay, the small part of me wishes i could’ve said….but i’d lose my job. : )
      thanks for taking such an interest though. : )

    • posted on Mar 07, 2014 at 11:36 PM  |  

      marty, i just posted a link to this today, because i was getting my hair cut & reread the comments. i no longer work for the company, and the man whose job i was really trying to protect, my former manager, died in 2013. the company where this all happened was fedex office. there’s no reason for me to keep that quiet anymore.
      : )

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