Healthy Hairdresser

Ford, Interrupted: How a Top Stylist Recovered After Losing a Finger

Mary Kaleta | January 25, 2019 | 9:46 AM
Caitlin Ford had an accident with a table saw and severed her right index finger. After a second surgery required incisions in her hand to try and remove a blood clot, the decision was made to remove the reattached finger completely.
Photo By @caitlinfordhair Photo 1 of 5
"This was the year that hundreds and hundreds of you had my back during the worst trauma I’ve ever experienced, and showed me what this community is made of, and why I love it so muchh," Ford wrote on her Instagram, @caitlinfordhair.
Photo By @caitlinfordhair Photo 2 of 5
"Here it is!! My very first project since my accident, and I’m so grateful I got to create this with my friend @kristinacheeseman♥️♥️♥️ It’s amazing how going through something like this shows you who your real friends are, the people who will have your back no matter what."
Photo By @caitlinfordhair, @kristinacheeseman Photo 3 of 5
"I can’t change the things that have already happened but I can choose how I let them shape my future."
Photo By @caitlinfordhair, @kristinacheeseman Photo 4 of 5
"I’m really happy with how I’ve been able to adapt so far, there are even moments where I forget about my hand."
Photo By @caitlinfordhair Photo 5 of 5

The end of a year can bring a flood of emotions. For some, it’s a time to reflect on accomplishments, gauge the success of the year’s resolution or to prepare for how things will be different in the year ahead.

For all intents and purposes, Caitlin Ford’s 2018 year end should have been a look back at the milestones she had achieved. In addition to winning awards and being named a part of the MODERN SALON 100, Ford grew her @caitlinfordhair Instagram following to more than 90,000 and continued to build her loyal clientele.

But on October 3, Ford’s life changed forever. During a break in her day, Ford left her St. Louis studio to finish building shelves for her salon suite. She had built several things in the past, so she figured this would be a simple task. But while building the shelves, Ford had an accident with a table saw and severed her right index finger.

“The moment that it happened, the first thing that went through my head was ‘Oh my gosh! How can I do hair?,’” she says. “It was a mixture of being terrified of what was happening to me but of also not knowing what would happen next. I had never broken a bone or needed surgery.”

She was immediately taken to a hospital, where her first surgery lasted 10 hours. For Ford, the entire hospital stay was full of ups and downs. The first surgery aimed to reattach her finger. Once out of surgery, Ford woke up to a reattached finger inside a bair hugger, a convective temperature management system utilized to maintain a patient’s core body temperature. The doctors told her that everything had gone well with her surgery, and that they were hopeful. Ford turned to Instagram to let her followers know that she was in recovery.

The next morning, an occupational therapist came to Ford’s room and began to fit her for a splint. But the machine monitoring her finger’s pulse flat lined. Ford was taken into a second surgery, where incisions were made on her wrist to try and fix the blood clot. Although the second surgery was initially successful, it ultimately failed, and the decision was made to remove the finger permanently.

“It was a moment I had to get through; it was the lowest of the lows,” she says. “I had to get into the headspace where I wouldn’t get too hung up on this. Nothing was going to make my finger grow back.”

Luckily, Ford had an amazing support group. When she woke up from the initial surgery, Ford saw that Rebecca Taylor @rebeccataylorhair had started a GoFundMe and that tons of DMs, emails and messages from people were flowing in.

“It showed me how much this community really cares about each other,” she says. “It was having that support system and just kind of knowing I was going to have people there. I was very lucky Rebecca set up the funds for me because it helped me so much. The biggest way to overcome a difficult situation is to have the mindset that you’re going to get over it and it’s going to be OK. You can’t go into panic mode because as soon as you head into that dark place, that’s when things start to fall apart.”

When asked how she has kept such an upbeat and positive attitude, Ford admitted there were moments she struggled to stay so strong.

“Of course there were moments of crying and stuff like that,” she says. “But grief is a lot different from feeling hopeless. I still have times every now and then when I’ll look at my hand and wish this didn’t happen. My core support system was my family and friends, but especially my husband. He made sure I had everything I needed and helped talk me off mental ledges whenever I went into panic mode.”

Ford was able to take four weeks off work to heal and practice getting back into hair. She says she recognizes how fortunate she was to have the GoFundMe and her husband’s insurance. According to an article from SALON TODAY, the average trip to the emergency room for an adult is $700, and that doesn’t include test or a hospital stay—a nightly stay averages more than $1,500 and having a broken leg set with x-rays could be as much as $7,500. Planning ahead and having insurance can prepare you for the unthinkable.

Over time, Ford was able to slowly transition back to cutting and coloring hair. Before going back to the salon full time, she collaborated with her friend Kristina Cheeseman @kristinacheeseman to do a desert-inspired hair series.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Ford says. “There were a few things I struggled with at first, such as holding my tail comb and color brush at the same time or hand positioning. It was really surprising to me, though, how quickly I was able to get the hang of it. It was definitely a cathartic experience. Now I’m back at the salon every day working and using my hands. It’s crazy that sometimes I catch myself not even thinking about the missing finger.”

Today, Ford says she’s pretty much fully recovered physically.

 “I still have weird nerve stuff still,” she says. “In the beginning, I had a lot of phantom feelings and pains. That will eventually get better. It’s like your brain doesn’t understand that your finger is gone. So actually watching my hand working without that finger has helped to make that mind-body connection.”

Ford says the love and support of the beauty community has meant so much to her. She said she never imagined she would have everyone rally around her as much as they did.

“Going in to my first surgery, I was at an ultimate low point. When I woke up and saw all those people supporting me, I was just like thank God there are people supporting me and keeping my spirits up. I definitely feel like that has part to do with it. Having an amazing support system as well as reaching out and having people reach out to me.”

Through the use of her Instagram platform, Ford was able to update her followers on her condition and recovery. On October 18, Ford wrote on Instagram that she was taking things day by day: "Forgiving yourself is the most challenging and painful process you can go through, but it is absolutely necessary."

She continues to post about her journey, and says she’s had people with similar or recent injuries reaching out to her for advice and inspiration. When reflecting on 2018 and thinking about the year ahead, Ford says she plans to use this part of her journey to inspire and help those in the beauty community and elsewhere. She also wants to focus on being an educator and has future aspirations to open her own salon.

“You don’t realize how quickly your life can change; it takes 2 minutes,” Ford says. “I certainly didn’t wake up that morning thinking I would lose my finger that day. If nothing else comes from this, I hope that other people can see this and say 'she was OK, so I can get through whatever I am going through.'”

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