If having head lice “is not a social disgrace” and has “nothing to do with cleanliness or socio-economic background,” then why do I feel like such a scuzzbag?
Granted, I wasn’t the one with little bugs parading around my scalp, but I still feel like they invaded while my guard was down.
A few weeks ago we got a phone call from the parents of one of our 9-year old son’s friends. I don’t remember much about the casual pleasantries that were exchanged because all that kept resonating through my brain was the part about their son’s hairdresser finding lice on his head. He was being kept home from school, treated, and sheared like a sheep to try and counter the (and I quote) “infestation.”
Normally, knowing that one of Michael’s classmates had head lice wouldn’t be all that alarming. It’s estimated that 25% of elementary-aged school children will have lice anyhow, and it’s not like Michael and his friends are in the habit of rubbing their noggins together, swapping combs, or playing dress-up with each others hats.
But, as our luck would expectantly deliver, this particular friend had just spent the ENTIRE previous day, night, and subsequent morning in our presence. Plenty of time for him to pepper our linens, furniture, and children with his free-range Pediculosis Capitis (aka head lice).
All I could do was look around our home and wonder what this kid had touched. Everywhere I looked his faded apparition was fluttering about touching our things and grinding his buggy little skull into our couch, chairs, and carpets. This kid had touched everything.
They had built forts using our cushions and blankets. They played video games while Lice Boy rested his vermin-infested head on our pillows. They wrestled together. They even watched a movie with Kamryn nestled between them. The enemy could be anywhere, but was probably everywhere.
As far as I saw it, we had two choices:
We could ignite everything we owned with kerosene, or;
we could be vigilant and conduct aggressive scalp reconnaissance missions.
As logical as burning all of our possessions seemed at the time, we ultimately opted for Operation Lice Watch. After a week of foraging, scraping, and follicle-by-follicle searches, we saw no signs of enemy advancement and stood down. As a precaution we again washed everything we could sensibly clean and went on with our lives.
Like little buggy snipers, the enemy was hiding, growing, and plotting in the shadows. Apparently, these things can live for 30 days and they use every bit of their lifespan to dot the head’s landscape with a wide assortment of impossible-to-see uber-sticky eggs (aka “nits”). These nits then hatch into nymphs 7-10 days later and run rampant about the head while engorging themselves on an endless buffet of human blood.
We must have missed a few nits because it seemed like one day our daughter was clear and the next she had unwelcome visitors. My wife discovered the lice while brushing Kamryn’s hair and screamed for me to second the finding. Steep in denial, we both hoped they were fleas (as though this would have been any better), but soon resigned to the fact that our daughter was officially…a lice bag.
Of course, upon discovering that our children had endured lice transfer, my wife immediately began to itch all over her entire body. Sure, the itching was probably psycho-somatic in nature, but she was still walking around the house like a deranged meth addict scratching furiously at imaginary bugs.
We checked Michael for over an hour and learned that his infestation was far less severe. Armed with flashlights and a comb we were only able to find a few lice and nits clinging to follicle prosperity. All of which were summarily removed and executed.
Fearing a siege by the stubborn insects we sounded the “hair raid” sirens and thrust our household military forces into action.
I’ll tell you this. Between my wife’s obsession for sanitary living and her Grizzly-like maternal instincts? This batch of lice chose the wrong family to invade. To propose an analogy: If the lice are 1990 Iraq, my wife is the Intergalactic equivalent of an advanced extra-terrestrial society capable of eradicating earth just to get rid of the problem. Picture a “why use a fly swatter when Napalm is available” kind of mentality.
Led by my sexy Commander-in-Chief, everyone manned their positions and stood to post.
My wife sprinted around the house gathering linens, slipcovers, and clothing to create an insurmountable pile of laundry that could only be transferred to the laundromat by cargo plane. I immediately turned to the Internet to gather intel and formulate a strategic plan of action. Michael worked himself into hysterics and prepared for imminent death. And Kamryn ate popsicles. Oh, and our 15-year old mumbled something along the lines of not even THINKING about cutting his hair and then resumed xBox patrol.
In my cyber travels I learned that I have nothing to fear. Lice hate sunlight and one would be hard-pressed to find adequate cover on my noggin. Kamryn could use my head for a pillow and I’d repel infestation. So I suppose you can add lice immunity to the long list of balding benefits.
My wife, on the other hand, had reason to worry. Not only are girls more susceptible to lice than boys, but she has long, flowing hair. As well, lice are easier to spot in blonds because of their chestnut color, and as luck would have it, my wife has chestnut-colored hair. It takes an estimated TWO HOURS to properly lice-comb hair like hers and she made me do it every. single. day. Even though I never found one.
I felt like one of those monkeys who sits there picking at his or her mate’s scalp to search for licey tasty treats. It’s a good thing I’m not one of those monkeys, though, because I would have starved to death due to my wife’s lice-barren head.
I also read that Americans spend $367 million trying to eradicate lice. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money. I knew I had to search for cheap alternatives. I read about people using all kinds of goofy home remedies, including mayonnaise, vinegar, olive oil, even kerosene (unlit) to try and kill off the head lice and nits. None of these were deemed proven, much less adequate, so we decided to break out the heavy artillery.
I walked into Rite-Aid for what should have been a 30-second trip. Walk in, grab the goods, and head to checkout. Easy as pie. Unless, of course, you’re carting an armload of lice products for all the townfolk to gawk at. We’re still pretty new here and the last thing I want is a reputation for scuzz. I decided that I needed to do this on the down low.
I did my best to cover up each of the box labels and nonchalantly milled around the candy aisle waiting for the all clear. I knew Heather was waiting in the car but I didn’t want anyone to see my arsenal of treatments. The plan could have worked but people kept treating this place like a store. They wouldn’t stop buying things for two freakin’ minutes.
I’m not sure how much time had passed but I knew I was getting dangerously close to a loitering charge so I wandered off to check out the latest lip balm, perused the toy aisle, and feigned interest in the myriad of 1960s-era DVD’s. I eventually gave up on a front-counter checkout and ventured to the pharmacy where there’s a bit more privacy.
I’m standing there, all alone, begging with my eyes for someone to come help me. I could barely grapple and conceal all the boxes and bottles in my hands yet only I sensed the urgency. Then, from behind me, comes this:
“Oh, good luck with that!”
I turned to see a woman standing there with her young daughter. I didn’t say a word but I could feel my eyes widening to the size of saucers. People started pouring out of the aisles to eavesdrop on the conversation. Cell phones, hand-held recorders, even a sound crew emerged.
“We’ve been trying to get the lice out of her hair for months,” she said while running her fingers through her daughter’s hair, “but we can’t get rid of them no matter what we try.”
My first thought? How the heck did she see what I was buying? Only the UPC codes were visible between my contorted arms. I had clutched these products so awkwardly for so long that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d regain movement in my fingers.
My second thought? Keep that bug-infested kid away from me.
I know, I know. Lice aren’t airborne. Lice can’t jump. And having lice is nothing to be ashamed of. Normal people get lice. Heck, I had two kids sitting in the van right then, who I KNEW were normal and healthy, teeming with lice.
But no matter how often I repeated in my head, “lice are normal, lice aren’t a disgrace, lice can happen to anyone,” I couldn’t take my eyes off that kid’s scalp. The child scratched her head out of habit and I believe that’s when everyone took two steps back. As though lice were going to spring forth like locusts and gut us all.
Seeing every single lice website start out with, “Having lice is not a social disgrace,” makes me think that having lice is a social disgrace. They like to make it sound all normal and matter-of-fact, but in reality, people are going to look at you differently if you waltz into a dinner party and bring up your lice infestation. Try it and you’ll be sitting at the kid’s table. Alone. While all the kids are sitting on their parents’ laps. In the other room. But don’t worry, you should still be able to join in the conversation from behind the tarp they bolt up in the doorway.
Lice aren’t a social disgrace? Whatever.
Anyhow, back to Bug Girl.
Her mom started going through the litany of tactics and products they used without success and ensured us that we would be saddled with lice for-ev-er. That’s when all the older women from the peanut gallery started chiming in with their proven remedies. Hot water, cold water, olive oil, motor oil, drowning. Everyone had the cure.
To try and deflect the discerning eyes and character judgments, I decided to lie. I explained vocally, making sure I made eye contact with everyone around me, including the news crew that had just arrived, that we weren’t sure our son even HAD lice. We had simply gotten a call that a friend of his had lice. And, as Parents-of-the-Year, we simply wanted to dry out their scalps with chemicals as a precaution.
I think they bought it because no one sprayed me with Lysol but it was obvious that checking out at the front of the store was now the better option. I wished the mother good luck and made my way through the crowd to checkout.
“I’ll pray for you!,” she shouted from twenty feet away, “I’ll pray for me too because mumble, mumble, unintelligible mumble.” Her voice faded into the Muzak with every step.
I reached the front of the store, and aside from me and the cashier, the place was abandoned. Probably because everyone else had already migrated to the Pharmacy counter. I handed her the boxes, creams, and lotions one at a time hoping she’d scan ‘em and bag ‘em just as fast.
“Wait here,” she says walking away, “I’m going to sign you up for our discount card because Lice-Free is on sale.”
I felt like Michael Keaton in that scene from Mr. Mom when the cashier asks Irv over the loudspeaker if the maxi-pads he was buying were on special. “Okay. Kotex. 19 cents off!”
She was gone for what felt like an eternity and returned with a form for me to fill out. By now, I had three people behind me and she’s just standing there with my lice products in plain view as I complete their ridiculous form. All to save eight bucks. My ego is worth far more than that. I should have just declined the stupid card.
“Okay, well, we’ll hope he didn’t catch lice from his friend. But, even if he did, we’ll be ready!”, I said while clasping my bags. I even asked if the products could be returned if it turned out he didn’t have lice. She said they could be, but we won’t be back. Ever.
No lie, thirty minutes after I entered, I finally exited the store. I was frazzled. Heather could tell I had been through the wringer and didn’t even ask about the delay. We drove home in silence and emptied our lice ammunition on the table.
We had three family-size boxes of Nix, four metal lice combs, two bottles of Lice-Free gel, lice spray, and an electric lice comb. The lice comb was our bad-ass treatment. It sends an electric charge into any nit, nymph, or lice it finds, basically tasing them until they are dead and crispy. While combing out a live lice is therapeutic, nothing is more satisfying than knowing you electrocuted the little buggers.
Short of a scalp-probing lice-eating monkey, we had more than enough weaponry to take these lice to task.
Over the next five days Heather did approximately six thousand loads of laundry. We washed or vacuumed absolutely everything in the home and we worked each of the treatments as directed. We also meticulously combed Kamryn’s and Michael’s hair twice a day with a regular lice comb and then again with our lice taser comb to remove any leftover nits and nymphs. I even went through Heather’s hair pre-shower and post-shower for literally HOURS to make sure she was in the clear. Andrew, our 15-year old, was clear as well. Which stands to reason considering he avoids contact and affection at all costs.
Little by little, they faded. I think they realized that they were no match for my wife. As of yesterday, everyone is in the clear. That’s not to say we’re at rest. We’re still on high alert. We will do a follow-up precautionary treatment on Saturday and we’re still combing with the portable bug zapper daily. Just in case.
Truth be told, based on what that woman told me in Rite-Aid, I thought we were doomed to a lifetime of lice. But after a lot of hard work, numerous scalp missions, and seemingly endless strand-by-strand reconnaissance, we gained the upper hand and went lice-free in less than a week. Our kids didn’t have to get their hair chopped and they didn’t even have to miss school considering all of this transpired during winter break. We were lucky in that we caught it early and acted fast.
Even with this landslide victory, the war isn’t over. It’s not yet Mission Accomplished. Nits can live off their host for up to 10 days and live lice can live for 2 or 3 days. So we’ll continue our aggressive stance for another few weeks and advance until we’re certain the enemy has been annihilated, eradicated, and evicted. All it takes is one or two unseen nits to once again face infestation. We’re not going to let that happen. We’ll probably be taser-combing until they leave for college.
My son’s friend, the inspiration for this post, asked to come over today but I noticed that his head was shaved even closer than before. I have to wonder if he’s bug-free. I have to wonder if they went through all the same rigorous steps and jumped through all the same flaming hoops as us. Needless to say, we’re a bit on edge right now, and until we’re assured that he and our household are in the clear, Michael will have to deal with a house without outsiders.
Even when we do reopen our doors, we might enact a mandatory lice tasing to gain entry. For I refuse to go through this ever again. I may even require Speedo caps for all house guests. This may seem drastic to some, but quite honestly, I don’t know how else I’ll feel comfortable.