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Friday, June 9, 2023

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The Secret Society: Head Lice

A blanketed hush fills the room. Eyes drop towards the floor and bodies clear the pathway. One realizes, that which is held in one’s hand is a strong symbol to so many.

I’m in a secret society, and the member list is unavailable to outsiders. It’s the don’t-ask-don’t-tell club. One only knows the member list once one is fully inducted. Then it becomes painfully obvious how many others whom we have known all along are already members.

Until my induction, I had no idea this club existed in Fredericksburg to the extent that it does. It is one, however, of which I cannot keep the secrets for any longer. It is a secret too difficult to bear, and one that families everywhere need to be made aware of.

I joined in the spring of 2006. It was a significant emotional event for me, of which I can still replay in my memory at will. I can remember conversations, apparel, and the weather that day. It is that meaningful a day in my life.

Exposing this now stems from the absurdity of the game. The isolation, the inequality, the rules, that continually change, which makes the state of membership quite uncomfortable. Once a member, always a member, though, by bond, by secrecy, by tears. I could not, in fact, leave if I wanted to because my allegiance cannot be erased.

I am talking about head lice: elusive, pronounced, abundant, and everywhere. They are more prolific than realized. They are never spoken of except in a whisper or a tearful admission to a friend you hope won’t back away as you share the devastation.

“Casseroles should be sent, because it’s like a death in the family,” states one mother. “It ruined an entire year.”

I guess if you’re bald, homeschooled, and only shopping online, this may never be a problem of yours. If you have clean hair, long hair, or try on a hat to see if it fits before purchase, start boiling everything in your life all at once at 130 degrees. And don’t miss a single item because an egg may be there.

I remember the day the phone call came from the elementary school that head lice eggs were found in my daughter’s lovely mane. She had been sitting in a quad (four desk unit) for six months with a child with chronic head lice. No notification letter had been sent home by the school so we could take proactive measures and keep watching or boiling.

The first paper came that day I picked her up from the nurse’s office, on how to treat head lice.

There is a confidentiality clause protecting the children with head lice or head lice eggs, but not warning for protection against or prevention from head lice for the classmates.

Having lived the nightmare, I can see the desire for anonymity. It was no small feat to overcome this, of which I deem a plague. Anonymity, embarrassment, disgust, are all reasons this can become an epidemic. Without discussion and education, it spreads. I compare it to a plague because historically plagues are misunderstood microscopic pests that are easily transmitted.

The purpose of this article is to educate parents and to encourage inquiry and to open dialogue with medical providers. My journey battling these little buggers was one that almost put me in the looney bin and almost cost me some friendships I am certain because I both alienated myself from others so as not to spread the problem and also felt so defeated that I cried crocodile tears.

It is seriously an almost insurmountable task to launder all of your household at once. It is a substantial investment to purchase products to spray everything that can’t be laundered. It is so time consuming that relationships cannot be maintained and commitments outside of the family cannot be kept. It is exhausting due to the tasks at hand, physically and emotionally, and the loss of sleep from phantom bugs crawling in your hair.

It lasted six months for me, and it cost hundreds of dollars. I could say I am stronger now because of it but honestly ignorance is bliss. I am in constant fear. What was the only thing I discussed with the teacher at open house? I request notification of head lice or eggs within your classroom and I request my child sit between boys.

Fiction: Head lice = Dirty hair.

Fact: Lice “glue” eggs only to clean hair follicles. The glue won’t adhere to oily or dirty hair.

Fiction: This only happens to dirty families.

Fact: That’s a nice comment on society. Definitively, more girls than boys get them due to length, otherwise, it is not socioeconomic, and my sources are from both public an private schools.

Fiction: Head lice fly and jump.

Fact: They can only crawl. They must crawl up the hair shaft, as from one individual’s head to another individual’s. They can be on clothing such as hats or coats and crawl on adjacent outerwear when they are touching.

Fiction: Head lice can be transmitted from one species to another.

Fact: Some say “yes,” some say “no” that they are species specific. Fido is not likely the culprit for human head lice. Dogs get fleas, and that is different. Like any plague, however, this is not proven.

Fiction: They are easy to spot.

Fact: They are fast, elusive, hide on the hair line, behind the ears, and feed on the skin.

Fiction: Head lice eggs can be combed out with head lice combs.

Fact: Lice eggs are so tightly glued to the hair shaft that they must be pulled off between your fingernails, one at a time, and discarded by fire, flushing, or atomic bomb.

Fiction: Head lice eggs are white, the size of a dandruff flake, and easily discernable.

Fact: Head lice eggs are white, translucent, brown, beige, or dark grey. They grow in size as they mature. They will not brush off like a dandruff flake.

Fiction: Head lice can be controlled with over the counter products.

Fact: Good luck with that. Some strains are immune, apparently, and the cost is prohibitive.

Fiction: Pharmacists are consistent with their remedies for head lice and their eggs.

Fact: Call a pediatrician for a prescription to be phoned in. It will do the job the first time.

I realized I needed to write this article in my sixth month, and third round of newly hatched head lice within my household. It further humiliates when a physician’s office will not see a patient for this. In fact, I found that no doctor’s office will allow a patient with head lice to cross their threshold, because…..they can’t jump or fly? I think it’s for the comfort level of patients. Call in tearfully and assertively and request the nurse, who undoubtedly has gone through this with her kids. She’ll counsel you and prescribe something (which you can use, too, but they can’t legally tell you that), which will kill lice, their eggs, their genetic sequence, your hair’s roots, the health of your scalp, your hair color. But at that point, you’ll write a check for any amount necessary and drive anywhere to get it (if they’d let you in).

So now you’ve found the dandruff flake that won’t brush off the hair shaft. It’s a louse egg.

See you in six months, my friend. My tips are these, trust no one to respond the way you hope they will with compassion or sympathy because you are scary, disgusting, and very, very dirty in their eyes. Mostly they are scared to death of living your nightmare. Because it is just that: a living nightmare. One of my friends didn’t recall telling me she had the problems a few years earlier (I’m trying to repress it, too) when I inquired about remedies. It made me realize this conversation is taboo. Do not discuss this until you are strong enough to face adversity and help educate, otherwise the embarrassment turns to self-promoted guilt and self-doubt regarding housekeeping.

One mother hired a cleaning service because she couldn’t deep clean her entire home by herself one more time. I simply flipped out beyond recognition in front of my family and my husband suddenly got the gravity of the unified cleaning movement necessary to combat these buggers. I had the carpets deep cleaned more frequently, and tortured my children with head checks several times a day for much too long.

I set my hot water heater to 130 degrees, burned myself several times at the kitchen sink and in the shower as I forgot the modification, but boiled my linens, pillows, hairbrushes, combs, etc. I vacuumed and edge-cleaned carpets in the house and cars, for the third time, and all kids stuff went in garbage bags and into the attic for not the prescribed two to four weeks, but several months. Proactively we scalded our scalps with medicine for three consecutive weeks trusting we’d get each new possible generation, but each new generation came anyway, three times.

If it’s a seven to ten day gestation period then when does one reapply the medicine? What if you reapply on day seven, but they actually hatch on day eight, nine or ten? One pharmacist told me to apply the medicine on wet hair, even though the instructions said use dry hair. Another told me to apply to dry hair even though it said something else. Finally, at Goolrich’s downtown, the pharmacist smiled at me kindly, conversed with expertise, loaned me a magnifying glass, sent his dear wife to counsel me, and ordered what they knew worked. That was the only pharmacy out of six that treated me with care, compassion, interest, and validated the magnitude of lice.

What if your family partner isn’t helping or you are a single parent? Get a cleaning person and take your laundry to a dry-cleaner because the work is overwhelming. If you have an unsupportive partner, hurl invectives. We save them for special moments like these or they lose their effectiveness.

After hours of picking nits (lice eggs) from hair shafts and carefully pulling them down the shaft into a tissue tomb, you will be cramped and so will your child. “Nit picking.” This is where the phrase comes from, and it was more prevalent in days when several people shared beds in overnight accommodations like the Rising Sun Tavern. I couldn’t get my husband to nit pick. If someone can’t see the nits, for example, or doesn’t have a steady hand, then they have laundry and cleaning duty. Picking will take hours several times a day, per child’s head. Equal time will be needed to boil, spray, or bag everything else. Point of note: vacuum bags must be deemed hazardous waste just like the nit riddled tissues, because eggs (nits) do eventually hatch.

There is so much misinformation out there, and so little known, and so many biases for a civilized society. So, I implore you to sympathize if you can’t empathize, and I also trust this message will evoke an interest to self-educate, and furthermore, insist schools notify of outbreaks while maintaining confidences, and bag clothes individually when an outbreak occurs.

As we head into the winter months, the coats hang together in elementary schools, and the probability increases for transmission of head lice. Obviously I speak from much too much experience, and I encourage dialogue, acceptance, prevention. Prevent the spread of head lice by not washing hair every day, but every other or every three days. Put hair up in hair bands, and expose the hairlines. Wash garments at an insanely high temperature. Frequently stop into the nurse’s office for an update on head lice sightings. Insist on better and fairer policies, for all students, by school boards.

It rocked my world; I didn’t have to jump, I was ready to fall off.

-Anonymous at the request of my child

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