I’m sure I have mentioned before that I used to have a blog before it was a thing apart from having a web page. Back in the 90s, if you wanted to broadcast your thoughts about your favorite cheese, not only could you do so for free, but random people would stop by to let you know that they enjoyed cheese, and others could email you death threats if they were having a bad day. Things haven’t changed that much, there’s just more of everything and it’s easier than ever to broadcast the blather.
The people who provided the local internet were feeling their way along, like the rest of us. They had to decide whether or not to host porn or gambling and whether or not it left them vulnerable to a legal attack. My host decided to draw the line at profanity for some reason. They took my blog down without notice for an excessive sprinkling of fucks.
A real fucking shame. They said that someone complained, but I remain skeptical.
My most visited post for a long while was a semi-educational diatribe about lice and children and how hard it was to have both.
Since it has occurred to me that I never resurrected it, nor did I check to see how many total fucks were in the post, here it is. [No profanity to speak of, and the treatment for eradicating head lice is exactly the same decades later. Huh.]
Yes indeedy. The fun is well underway. We’ve all spent too much time soaking our heads with lice-fighting shampoo, which is strong enough to make the eyes water and smells like a permanent wave cocktail in an old phone booth.
Our first clue arrived in the form of a notice from Sparky’s school that lice were overrunning the building. I checked her head and found nary a nit. She complained of itching, however, and when she complains about itching, nothing in the world can persuade her to knock it off and just scratch.
I was certain that it was just the power of suggestion at work. I suggested that to her, too.
A week later, I checked her again for nits and still found nothing. She made every hairbrush in the house disappear in turn after compulsive and somewhat convulsive brushing. It was an odd sort of side effect, but her hair looked mahvelous.
Sparky wanted to know what else might cause the itching. I suggested that she might have dandruff (carefully avoiding any mention of the dreadfully spelled psoriasis, just because). She wanted medicine for it and was perfectly thrilled when I came home with a bottle of foul-smelling dandruff shampoo the next day.
After her self-administered dandruff dousing, she complained that the itching was still miserable. I explained that her hair might need to get dry before it felt better. Just to reassure her that she didn’t really have dandruff or nits, I peered at her wet hair and sifted carefully through the strands nearest her ears while she watched the TV.
Her scalp was teeming with lice. I found actual adult lice scurrying to and fro, a small group having a skin flake picnic, another group playing follicle ball, and watched an egg hatch before my horrified eyes.
“Honey, you’ve got nits,” I announced. “You’ve got lice, too.”
“How many?” she asked.
“All of them.”
“Show me! What are they! What are they eating?!?” She was more curious than disgusted, after all.
I had to admit that I was not an expert on lice, but I thought that with chemical shampoos and careful washing we could be rid of the little creeps.
“Do we have to kill them? Why do you want to get rid of them?” She asked.
“Because they make you itch, and you’ll give them to other people who will start to itch and pretty soon nobody will get anything done from all the scratching,” I replied. I was feeling pretty itchy myself.
We had our First Annual Delousing Day, and our Second First Annual Delousing Day was scheduled to be a dual celebration with Bo’s second birthday the following week.
I tackled the baby first, since she was both the most exhausted and the most likely to put up a serious fight. Buck held her down over a hand towel while I poured the lice-icide all over her head and rubbed it in. It reminded me quite a lot of bathing cats.
She was indignant about the indignity of it all, but calmed as soon as we began the timing phase. Buck carried her around for ten minutes, making sure that she didn’t rub the glop into her eyes or his eyes in the interim.
Both of us were forced to cooperate during the shampoo phase, and it was an utterly ugly effort. I ended up in the tub with her, pouring buckets of water over her head while he held her chin up. He wisely donned earphones for this step, but it complicated my situation a little.
“I’ll do the pouring!” I said.
“What?” he shouted, “I wish this was boring!”
“Hold her head again!” I said.
“What? You’re going to hold her head? You want me to pour? Where are your pants?”
I don’t know why he ever asks questions with those things on his ears. I think it’s part of The Plan; The Plan to Drive Me Insane.
He dried her while I changed her bedding and sprayed her mattress with killer chemicals that promised to curdle lice, bedbugs, crabs and cooties. It promised nothing in regard to husbands who are home too much.
With Bo packed off to nap, the real work began. I collected all the pillows and bedding and threw them all into the basement. An impressive mountain of fluff accumulated down there. For the sake of thoroughness, I included all the sofa pillows and throws.
Breathlessly, I lectured the big girls about the bedding. No one was to touch any of the covers or pillows until they were returned to their rooms. No one was to touch or otherwise involve themselves with hairbrushes, combs or barrettes until they’d been soaked in hot water and declared safe.
“How far away exactly do we need to keep from the pillows and things?” Sparky wanted to know.
I imagined the champion flying lice she must be envisioning. “Not far at all, but not touching at all.” I said. “Got it?”
She nodded, but Spunky gave only vague signs of having heard any of it. Sure ‘nuf, an hour later, Spunky wanted to know if she could play in “all the comfies downstayers.”
“NO!” I shouted, “They are fulla bugs!”
“So?” she blinked. “It’ll be fun.”
Sparky chimed in helpfully, “She already jumped in all of them.”
Everyone was banished from the basement for the duration for being nitwits.
This was a battle that I intended to win–no part-way, half-assed war on bugs was this, nono. This was going to leave nothing but devastation in the tiny parasite world, our heads and beds would become pristine wastelands, there would soon be no memory of the carnival of lice upon our pillows. The itching would stop because I would become unstoppable.
Buck made the mistake of trying to interrupt my recruitments for the stuffed animal decontamination brigade. We had a tug-of-war over a tiny Teletubby. I’m sure he thought he had some sort of point to make, but I had my priorities, and Po was going in the basket before anything else would interfere with the procession.
“Let go of the Po!” I demanded. “Move!”
“No! I will not let go of the Po!” he countered, not moving.
I tickled him, but his arms are longer and I had to relinquish control of the Po.
“Put the Po in the basket,” I said.
“I need to talk to you.”
“First, put the Po in the basket. Then you can talk to me.”
Apparently, he only wanted to tell me that I am the most intensely stubborn person that he knows. It was hardly worth kidnapping a Teletubby in transit to state the obvious like that, I thought.
I instructed him to shampoo the kids while I kept up work on the bedding and Things That Have Touched Hair. Dispatched, he quit complaining about my strategies and pig-headedness. Leadership is a curse, but a good curse at such times.
Once the children had been scrubbed and hosed, I took my turn. I discovered that no one else had been combed out with the Special Lice Comb Tool. Buck was easily persuaded to comb me and declared me clean except for two lousy lice. Later, I realized that he wasn’t wearing his glasses while he fished thorough my hair, I could have had gazillions of presumably dead eggs in there.
Sparky did have dozens of eggs remaining in her hair, I found. I nitpicked her for an hour and we both found it tremendously satisfying in a simian sort of way. The Tool did nothing on the eggs, so each one had to be lovingly and stubbornly slid off the hair by hand.
She nagged me to show them to her, but I couldn’t find them once they were off. At last, I slid one down to the end of her bangs and held it steadily about three inches away from her eyes.
“They are tiny!” she exclaimed.
Nobody believes me, but I suppose that’s the price of raising itchy little skeptics. She must have assumed I was terrorizing everyone just for my own amusement. She would only believe in nits when she could see the whites of their eggs.
To move on to the next stage of the cure, I belated decided to know my enemy. I found an excellent medical article on medscape, along with the usual assortment of head lice conspiracy web pages.
The author, Dr. Witkowski, covers all the basics that were bothering Sparky, and explains puzzling things like the usefulness of vacuuming and clearly distinguishes between the available chemical treatments. He also dispels some of the worries that the other web pages poked into the equation.
The trouble with head lice infestation (pediculosis) isn’t just that they are ugly, tiny, six clawed parasites. The intense itching, which can lead to intense scratching, which can lead to abrasions, which can become infected by bacteria, some of which the lice can pass along. They itch because they SUCK BLOOD and move fast while having their little detection avoidance drills.
The adults can go without a blood party for a few days or longer, while the newly hatched nymphs must have a HUMAN blood meal during their first day of head hunting.
Females only need to be fertilized one time to lay more than a hundred eggs during the rest of their short lives, the males need only to feed, mate if they feel up to it and avoid light.
The female louse lays each egg with very strong adhesives along the base of a hair shaft. The eggs are easier to find as the hair grows and the eggs remain firmly attached to the same strand of hair. Within ten days, the eggs hatch, so by the time an egg is discovered more than half an inch away from the scalp, the nymph has generally hatched out and joined the fun.
Human head lice and their eggs don’t survive for long periods without a human host, they need the moist tropical environment of the scalp (or facial hair– ICK!) to remain viable. It’s still a good idea to launder bedding and vacuum rugs and upholstery to remove stray hairs with eggs, but the odds for successful nit transmission decline with time and temperature loss. Hats, brushes, pillows, headbands and things like ski masks are the main target aside from the scalp itself.
The first strike needs to be made at their preferred feeding ground. Three preparations are available for direct application to the hair: pyrethrin, permethrin and lindane.
Pyrethrin, which we used, is prepared from an extract of chrysanthemums and is only for cautious use on people with ragweed (or presumably chrysanthemum) allergies. It’s the most readily available preparation, requires no prescription but does need to be reapplied after about a week to be effective.
Permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrin, and it resides in the hair long enough to kill any emerging lice, so it doesn’t require a second application.
Lindane requires a prescription and is not recommended for use on people who are vulnerable to its toxicity, nursing mothers, infants and hypochondriacs included.
Other systemic drugs are available, but are generally only used on people who have persistent infestation that the usual methods haven’t cleared. In the U.S., pyrethrin- and permethrin-resistant species are not a problem, but in other parts of the world they are beginning to pop up and wave. How nice.
After the lice fighting shampoo is performed on all household humans, a solution of 50/50 vinegar and water can be applied to their hair to loosen the nits. Commercial nit looseners may perform better, but associated hazards, such as the embarrassment of asking the pharmacist to help you locate the Nit Looseners may make the old fashioned alternative more appealing.
Nits should be removed, even if they’ve hatched already, so that the nit detectives will be able to spot new infestation. Some schools will not allow the children to return with nits in their hair even if, like Sparky, they have become vaguely enamored of having a tiny hatchery on board.
The secondary targets are all the objects and surfaces where lice and nit-laden hairs may have been deposited. Soaking in very hot water for several minutes will simmer any surviving bugs beyond their ability to recover. Anything that can’t be soaked should be vacuumed, and the vacuum bag should be removed and sealed for disposal. Likewise, anything like stuffed animals or bed toys that can’t be soaked or vacuumed should be sealed in plastic bags for two weeks.
An ardent combination of noxious shampooing, nit-picking, boiling, sucking and smothering seemed like a good-enough solution.
For about a week.
After the follow-up treatment, Sparky still had signs of lice. I found a live adult louse during a cursory scalp check and groaned in frustration.
We suited up and hit the drug store, yet again, and went for the long-acting, name-brand killers. With a wallet fifty dollars lighter, I intended to make the second nit battle the last of the war.
It took an entire day to complete the plan. Sparky and I bagged every stuffed animal, whether loved or unloved, every scrap of fabric, pillow, and every thing that might have hair on it. We tossed the bags downstairs to Spunky, who gleefully turned it into an elevated game of dodge ball before tossing the bags down the next flight of stairs.
Sleeping bags, giant stuffed dinosaurs, tiny giveaway bunnies, possums, hedgehogs, more bunnies, lions, bears, and a tiger tail from a costume, some Peruvian doll things, Guatemalan goody bags, creepy plastic-headed baby dolls, and an assortment of large insect hand puppets disappeared into a sheath of white plastic without being sorted in any way.
The shampooing drill took longer, each of us had to shampoo normally, glop on the killer creme rinse, wait, rinse, glop on the nit loosening agent, comb, rinse and use a new towel at each phase.
Sparky’s hair alone took two hours to comb free of creepy crawlies. She was hosting easily one hundred eggs. During all this, we crashed up and down the stairs in our underwear and argued about who smelled the worst. That part was almost our normal modis operadi.
After dinner, I finished vacuuming and eventually sprayed pesticide on whatever I couldn’t confidently vacuum. I eyed the cat, but she just appraised me smugly. She knows she’s not the preferred hostess, I think. She’s so filthy, even the fleas won’t have anything to do with her.
Once the little femmes were bedded down with actual clean bedding, we proceeded with the grown-up grooming. Buck checked my scalp and I checked his. Sparky and Spunky popped in to watch, deciding that bedtime wasn’t really for them, after all.
In a fit of peculiar generosity, Spunky volunteered to comb her father’s legs, then his arms, chest and back. I tried to persuade her to do her best to comb his armpits, but she claimed that that wasn’t part of “her plan.” I was disappointed, of course.
If this doesn’t work, if I’m still itching for a reason, something entirely different will be in the Next Plan: we are getting scalped.