It seems like only yesterday that we were lining up in Miss Redfern’s 4th grade class to be inspected for head lice by the school nurse, Judy Jaynes. I remember Judy’s glistening white hair, short and coiffed. Like all of the staff back then, she was smartly dressed in a navy tailored suit with nude hose and matching pumps. Reminiscent of a drill sargent, she made her way down the line, picking through our hair to look for the dreaded bugs. I had escaped unscathed during prior outbreaks, but that year I wasn’t so lucky. Back then, there was no private meeting to ensure nobody knew that you were “the one” with lice. The memory of her pulling me out of the line in front of the entire class was one of my most humiliating days at Nayatt School. Like damaged goods, I packed my bag to go home to be cleared of the infestation in my thick dark hair. Hot tears burned my eyes, and a few kids jeered as I slunk down the hall to wait in Mr. Hassan’s office for my mother.
Getting rid of lice, even back then, was no easy task. I remember the shampoo that smelled like pine sap and a sharp metal comb suited for a large farm animal. My mother scrubbed my head so hard I was certain my scalp was bleeding. Then, she spent at least an hour going through my tangled hair with the comb, pulling and tugging as I screamed in pain. She washed everything we owned: bedding, clothing, coats, stuffed animals, table linens, and towels. Her tireless frenzy seemed to last for days.
That reality almost became mine yesterday when an email arrived from my kids’ school nurse letting me know there is a lice outbreak at our school. In roughly three seconds, I was overcome with a visceral reaction. After five minutes, I was itching so much that I had to take a Claritin. Within ten minutes, I had booked Tom for a buzz cut at the barber. Within the hour, I drove my car to the nearest CVS, speeding as if I were trying to get to an emergency room. We were all in the car together, including my husband. He was clearly aghast at my panic, as I pulled in, certain that every car in the lot was from Topsfield. Like a contestant from Supermarket Sweep, I was off, making a mad-dash for the shampoo I needed. I emerged victorious, having secured the last package of Lice Shield on the shelf (which I recommend buying in case you ever need it), shooting my husband an “I told you so” look. I was in full-on crisis mode, determined to stave off any outbreak in my house.
We came home and scrubbed everyone down like they were disrobing from hazmat suits. The preventative treatment has a pungent scent like citronella candles, so now my entire house smells like a campground. This morning, we coated their head with the spray, and rubbed their necks and the back of their ears with the treatment stick. Now I wait, and pray it’s not me who gets the call. If those nits think they have a chance around here, they’ve got another thing coming!
Where to start if you DO get lice at your house:
Wash all bed linens and clothing that’s been recently worn by anyone in your home who’s infested in very hot water (130° Fahrenheit, 54.4° Celsius), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
Dry clean any clothing that isn’t machine washable (that means ALL clothing in your home).
Have bed linens, clothing, and stuffed animals and plush toys that can’t be washed dry-cleaned. Or, put them in airtight bags for 2 weeks. ALL.
Vacuum ALL carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your home or car).
Soak ALL hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1 hour. You can also wash them in hot water or throw them away.