Monday, November 10, 2008

It's a Lousey Job

The past week has brought its fair share of difficulties for our family. For starters, on Halloween the kids and I boldly ventured into Philadelphia to meet Mr. Red for the big Phillies parade. Crowded and exhausted, we witnessed everything from grown men wearing nothing but Phillies underwear, to homeless men decked out in Phillies garb (Philly fans can afford to be generous once every 25 years). We returned home without Mr. Red and my wallet. The former had an emergency arise at work, the latter was left on the train and later returned sans money. Eight canceled credit cards and $200 later, me and the kiddos were off trick or treating.

After Dad took care of the work emergency on Saturday, we awoke Sunday morning ready for some family time. We naively thought our only obligation was to prep our basement for a major construction project, an overhaul of our 80 year-old heating system, commencing on Monday. On Sunday morning as we all sat peacefully in Mass, Gianna snuggled up close to me and I began to stroke her hair. I looked down and that’s when I saw them.

Head Lice.

Actually, it was only one disgusting louse. I quickly pulled it out of her hair and threw it on the ground.

And then I doubted.

Was it really a louse? Maybe it was a gnat or some other small bug? Maybe I had imagined the entire thing? I prayed, begging God to spare us this cross. Head lice would mean a canceled trip out of town to visit B-Mama, and a hard time finding accommodations during our heating renovation. At that moment I made a conscious decision that I would look no further. I would just sit for the rest of Mass and deal with Gianna’s hair when we arrived at home.

Once home, I quickly googled head lice. I studied pictures and then returned to Gianna’s head to see if I spotted any critters. Mr. Red held his breath and waited for me to announce our fate. Sure enough, I spotted two more live lice, and many, many, many eggs. I wanted to vomit. I asked Mr. Red to check Charlie’s head, and he quickly announced that Charlie’s hair looked identical to the “blond child with lice” photo we found online.

One shaved head and several hours of combing later, we had finished stage-one lice removal on two of our three children (the baby remains lice-free). I had yet to check my own head. With shaking hands I picked up the lice-removing comb and swept through my hair. I looked down and immediately spotted one large live louse. I held back tears as I combed again and found eggs. My head was suddenly very, very itchy. I was out of breath and panicking. Frustrated, I closed my eyes and all I could see was thousands of tiny bugs crawling all over my head. We put the children to bed and Mr. Red began an aggressive lice-removal combing regimen on my hair. Definitely true love. Helpless, I sat under bright lights, listening to REM's Everybody Hurts, and I began to weep. I thought about my looming 30th birthday. I would now spend that birthday heatless and lice-infested. I was in the trenches of motherhood.

Getting out of the trenches required a serious battle plan. I turned to the internet, the doctor and friends for advice. One week later I celebrated a lice-free 30th birthday, with heat in my home and a new set of credit cards.

The first part of my battle-plan was education. Through research I learned that head-lice are a very common childhood problem. Outbreaks generally occur in elementary schools and daycare centers, or any other place where children gather and play. Unlike fleas, lice do not jump, but climb, and so children generally spread head-lice through shared headware (hats, scarves, jackets, combs or hairbands), or shared blankets/bedding. (It is best to tell kids not to share these personal items.) Lice need a blood source to survive, so they are not likely to live for long once they leave the human head.

If you think your child has been exposed to head lice, purchase a lice-removing metal comb from a local drugstore. Then, check out the internet or your doctors office for pictures of lice and their eggs (nits). Baby lice (nymphs) are clear white and are about the size of a sesame seed. An adult louse is about 2-3 times the size of a sesame seed and is usually a brown/red color from having fed on human blood. Lice eggs are called Nits and are a grayish/brownish/yellowish color. Nits are about the size of a poppy seed, and they are glued to the hair shaft about 1cm from your child’s head. Nits are easy to see on blond hair, but much more difficult to see on darker hair.

Resist buying lice removing shampoos. Many shampoos claim to kill lice. These shampoos are loaded with toxic chemicals, complete with warning labels for very young children and pregnant or nursing women, and I have heard mixed reviews as to the success of these shampoos. Instead of the chemicals, we opted for a 21-day intense combing program, and we have had great success.

Here are some other helpful tips for keeping everyone lice-free:

A temperature of 130 degrees kills lice. To kill lice on exposed bedding/clothing, throw it in the dryer for at least 20-30 minutes. Likewise, adults can try blow-drying their hair on a very hot setting, using a hot ceramic straightening iron, and/or washing hair with very hot water. Any clothing or items that cannot be washed can be dry cleaned (those chemicals will kill anything!), or sealed in an airtight bag for 2 weeks. Put away toys such as dress up clothes or helmets that are shared and touch the head.

Lice need air to breath. Try suffocating lice with natural oil treatments. Soak hair in oil/lotion for at least 8 hours, then wash, comb with metal lice-comb, and blow dry. I used olive oil on my head and it had the added benefit of making my hair feel very nice. Many pediatricians recommend using the facial wash cetaphil. I have heard good things about this treatment but did not try it myself. I did not try any suffication treatments on Gianna as they all seemed messy. Instead, we opted for intense, regular, and thorough combing.

Whatever treatment you chose, make sure you repeat every couple of days as most suffocation/heat treatments will not kill the eggs. Eggs hatch after 7-10 days. It takes baby nymphs 7 more days to lay eggs, so it is best to repeat treatments and keep combing for at least 2 weeks.

Finally, inform other parents of potentially exposed children about your child’s case of head lice. The social stigma attached to lice is partially the result of a mistaken belief that lice live in dirty hair. Lice are actually more attracted to clean hair. Dirt, grease, and hairspray weigh hair down and make it sticky and less likely to attract crawling bugs that have to grab onto a single strand of hair. Each live louse lays up to 300 eggs, so it is really important to inform parents promptly of an outbreak.

Here’s to lice-free living! And if you have a moment, feel free to share your lice stories.


AWOL Mommy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AWOL Mommy said...

My lice story cannot hold a candle to your trials, Red. However, I must acknowledge one of the best post titles I have ever seen here on B.C.! Hysterical.
Good for you for maintaining your sense of humor and constructive outlook throughout this episode. Happy birthday.

Anonymous said...

I know it might not seem that way right now, but headlice are really not that bad. They're just a pain. In some countries, head lice are just considered a normal part of childhood, and everyone gets them, including adults. I know they're common in places like India and in Israel. Here's a blog post:

Also, you are definitely taking the right approach with lots of combing and maybe oil treatments. Those shampoos are not good for anyone, and don't work. And the lice become resistant.

Alex said...

An anecdote with respect to the social stigma of lice that you mention, Red:

One of the times that I had lice growing up, when all the nits had been picked and it was time for me to go back to school, my mom told me that when kids asked why I had stayed home for the past day(s), it was okay for me to--just this once-- lie and say that I was sick so as to not have to tell everyone that I had lice and suffer any social stigma associated with the infestation. When I got home from school that day and my mother asked how I had responded to the kids' questions, I apparently told her, "I know you said that I didn't have to tell anyone that I had lice, but I just couldn't lie, Mom, so I told them that I just had one."

Anonymous said...

Every mom I know has had to deal with head lice at one point or another. My kids have been in school for years and have gone to summer camps and each year, it spreads like wild fire. (Watch those movie theatre seats) It doesn't even faze me anymore. We had bed bugs once and that was far worse than lice.

Gail said...

My kids got lice over Labor day weekend this year, and it was a nightmare. My husband was out of town, I had to delouse two kids, and I had a baby to tend to as well. Not knowing any better I did buy the shampoo treatment, and that was a big mistake. Try rinsing it off a 3 year old boy who is afraid of water on his head. One of the worst experiences of my life. And then hours and hours and hours of combing. Please God, never again.

Right Said Red said...

Alex, great story!

Gail, you poor thing! How long did it take you to get rid of them for good? We saw our last evidence of head-lice on Tuesday (only 3 days of combing). I'm really hoping we are finished.

Juris Mater said...

Red, in your honor, my husband and I recently spent a whole night discussing which was worse, mice or lice. I think we decided lice, and you know how much that means coming from this household : ) It's so true that all these nuisances are facts of life in other parts of the world, and lice and mice are meant to co-exist with humans in the food chain from what I understand, and that should be comforting... but somehow that absolutely does NOT make it any easier when you have lice sucking blood out of your scalp while you sleep or mice pooping in your newborn baby's clothes and crawling out of your stovetop while you cook dinner. It's unbelievably unnerving. Here's to the bitter relationship that mothers and homemakers have had with these vermin throughout history! Here, here!!

I pray that you're through it, Red.

Juris Mater said...


(I'm sorry I forgot to call you on Saturday... does this make up for it?)

Melinda said...

Happy Birthday, Red!

My sister and I had a nasty case of lice in middle school, and since it was before Building Cathedrals, and even the internet, we used the awful shampoos. I still remember the burning and the smell. And of course, it did a real number on our 80's-style perms. (Okay, maybe that was the good news.)

JM, lice vs. mice is a tough one, but lice are definitely worse. Think of all the great children's stories about mice, but I can't think of one about lice. We try to laugh away our mice woes by naming our little persistent visitors after our favorite story-book mice. Apply Dapply is bold as brass, and who wouldn't be after eating half a bag of grass seed in the basement?

Mary Alice said...

I think mice are worse. For one thing, the lice comb can be purchased for just a few dollars, whereas the exterminator tells us that mice are entering under our porch and there is really nothing we can do until we are ready to rip off our entire back porch, seal up whatever holes are down there, and build a new porch. In the meantime, we have poison boxes that get refilled every two weeks -- worse than finding mouse poop? Finding bright green mouse poop, that proves that the mouse has eaten and digested the poison and is probably dead in my house somewhere.

A question about lice, colds, other contagions -- how long do you isolate yourself and your children? Red's lice came from us, but we had been louse free for several days when we saw her, as far as I knew. Several families in our neighborhood have it as well, so I fear that we can just keep passing it around in church, ballet class, etc.

BTW, after washing everything, it helps my peace of mind to do an intense vaccum as well.

Kat said...

JM, you bring up a good point...These little critters, whether they be mice, lice, or in our case, bugs, are completely unnerving to us. As mothers, we make it our business to keep our homes tidy and orderly, and these little critters seem to be working against us! I must say that the bugs are much more easily taken care of than the mice or the lice, but none are welcomed.

MA, you also bring up a good point about home repairs in general. As a homeowner, it can be a challenge to know when it is appropriate to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a home repair that: 1) You and your hubby are not equipped to do on your own; 2) Will need to be done sooner or later anyways; 3) Should probably be done sooner, but it would be nice if it could wait until later! We have water drainage issues in our house, you have back porch/mice issues, Red has heating issues, and the list goes on and on for other readers. My take on it is that I would rather do the work sooner, so that no further damage is done to the integrity of the house, and so that we can enjoy the repairs sooner since we're going to have to do them anyways. Yes, budget is the main drawback here...Just when you think you're done, something new pops up!

Beenthere! said...

Good for you for doing the 21 day combing- keep it up. We had a lot of trouble at our old school with people using natural methods of killing them but not being vigilant about combing. So, the lice kept coming back...spreading like wildfire in the school. Parents were ready to break out in fistfights!! Keep up the combing and I wish you a lice free future!!

Kate E. said...

Just as a mice aside we have had them at various times but they tend to stick to our attic and then head out because we have cats. I know that sounds weird but I truly have one of the best "mouser" cats I have ever seen. She is quick, takes them down to the basement and as far as we have seen, leaves little "evidence" of her skill.

I really wish there was a way to "rent a cat"...ok some animal rights groups might complain. But think of it like a service animal. They are efficient, cheap, and non-toxic. I certainly wouldn't suggest everyone with a mouse problem going out and getting a cat (trust me, mine are a pain the tushy in all other respects besides mice). But wouldn't it be great if you could just borrow a cat for a few weeks to get the job done. Our mice usually only are seen for 1-2 weeks before she gets the problem under control...usually once or twice a year (spring & fall being the big times).

Ahhh well, I think there are probably too many logistical issues to my future business plan (1-800-Rent-Cat) but it is great in theory.

Right Said Red said...


I'd like to rent your cat for the "cave crickets" in our basement.

As for the lice vs. mice debate, I think I would rather have lice! If we are really through with the lice, the elimination process was a bit time-consuming, but inexpensive. That being said, I'm still really grossed out by things living in my hair and biting my head!

And Melinda--I'd love to see a photo of that 80's style perm!

teresa said...

Oh my, Red! What an ordeal. I'm glad you got rid of the lice. Happy 30th birthday!

Berji's domain said...

Long time lurker here, but just had to share: I grew up overseas and lice came around frequently.My mom VERY CAUTIOUSLY used DDT on us. It did work the first time, but I still remember my mom warning us to be very careful and not inhale the stuff, etc.

Love reading your blog, by the way :)

Juris Mater said...

Kate, OH how I wish I could have rented your "mouser" cat when we were mouse-infested for... two years... in two different apartments. We borrowed Bean's godfather's family's cat, a thug cat who was born and raised in the dark alleys of north Philly and who has a reputation for merciless killing. All it did was bite our legs, eat our food, and sleep. (No offense to el gato if you're reading this, MOB.)

atcpa said...

I read this post last night and have been scratching my head ever since. Seriously...I have an itch again right now as I type. I think I even dreamed of lice last night.

We haven't had the lice experience at our house yet. I'm not looking forward to it.

Juris Mater said...

atcpa, yes, it's UNCANNY how every time I think about lice my head itches like crazy. Uncanny. Please God let it only be my imagination.

Katie said...

I have the sure-fire, never fails solution to lice - and I cannot figure out why nobody seems to know about it. When my family just couldn't seem to get rid of lice - using all known means - shampoo, margarine plus saran wrap, combing, combing, combing - my friend who is a nurse in another state mentioned that her doctor (pediatrician) prescribed Septra for lice. Hmmm, why you ask - well, the Septra kills all the bacteria on the scalp - which is the food supply. Septra for 3 days off for 7 back on for 3 (to kill the newly hatched). My pediatrician was surprised but receptive (usually very conservative) and agreed with me that another round of the shampoo was much worse than some antibiotics. SO, he prescribed, we imbibed - and we have never had lice again. The End.

texas mommy said...

Mice and lice are both the worst. You all are amazing for having dealt with this without losing your minds (Kat, you get a shout out, too, for dealing with the cockroaches, and MA for the maggot situation). I usually scream and call Dash when I see a cricket. We have a hawk that circles the field behind our house picking off the mice. That's my kind of pet.

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