PART 3: What's Next?

My older brother is losing his hair. Did I mention that? The thing about having an older brother is that he becomes something of a crystal ball, in this case a shiny crystal ball, and the best baseline projection of where I'll be if I don't take any action. He recently looked at me—specifically, at the top of my head—and said, "How are you holding on to that hair?" It sounded more like an accusation than a question. Though the answer was clear: a little brown-ish pill that cost nearly $100 a month (until the Merck patent runs out in late 2013, at which time prices should drop).

Faced with this black-and-white medical study from June 2011 suggesting there was maybe something we didn't know about the drug, I wondered: Was the cost actually greater? Was it time to embrace my genetic destiny and go the full Lex Luthor?

Yet whenever I considered stopping the medication, I thought back on how I felt before taking Propecia, when I used to monitor my hair loss with the kind of manic obsession I only ever recognized in one other place—on the faces of those people on Hoarders. For my part, I'd wake up in the morning and inspect my pillow, counting the individual hairs I'd lost in my sleep, asking myself, "Was today's shed worse than before?" Or I'd get out of the shower and immediately check the drain ("Yesterday's clump was definitely worse, right?"). I'd even obsess about other people's hair. I felt like those New York City construction workers who gawk at women passing by on the street. Except I'd spot a dude and think, "Wow, that's a nice hairline." This wasn't healthy behavior either.

There are all sorts of cliches about baldness: That we equate expansive scalps with weakness. That there's a reason movie villains—from Hellraiser to Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder—are always follically challenged. This may sound crass (bordering on offensive), and my apologies in advance, but sometimes it seemed like baldness was its own handicap. In business meetings, in social situations—one's scalp seemed to speak up before he had a chance, telling strangers everything they needed to know about him. So why not do something about it if you could? We come from a generation that takes pills to ward off every unwanted growth and errant thought. And it wasn't like we were ordering Propecia from some underground lab operating out of the former Soviet Union. The FDA approved the drug. And so, as long as I wasn't pregnant, I figured I'd probably keep taking the drug.

I realized my friends and I never discussed Propecia because there wasn't really anything to say. As long as it worked, what was there to discuss? We took it so we didn't have to talk about baldness. I didn't suffer any side effects. And when I looked in the mirror, putting my hand over my hairline to imagine what I'd look like rocking the Borg, I renewed the prescription. Another old cliche rang true: The devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

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