This very long special feature is a departure from my daily blog. From time to time I’ll have a special feature, but for the most part my post will be short and sweet. Enjoy!
Head lice… one of the dirtiest four letter words I’ve ever met. Dirty in the stress, pain and torture the little buggers can wreak on a household. Not necessarily physical pain either. The mere mention of lice can send friends into a scratching fit. It’s no wonder there is such stigma and misinformation surrounding these critters. Let’s start with debunking myth number 1: Black people don’t get lice. Just in case you are wondering (see picture below), I am Black and yes…I got lice. I get the myth. This is my first case of lice and I’m 37 years old. If you had asked me a month ago I would have said that Black people probably don’t get lice.
Olive Oil Treatment
I took this photo as I was writing this post. What’s with the shower cap? Well, just as the mere mention of lice will get others scratching, thinking about it got me scratching. I’ve been scratching for days even though I believe I’ve been nit (lice eggs) free for over a week. The itching was so bad that I broke the skin on my scalp resulting in several large scabs. The chemical treatment I used to kill the lice was harsh and likely caused dry scalp. The rest is probably psychosomatic. I am giving myself an olive oil treatment (olive oil applied directly to the scalp and left on under a shower cap for a few hours). The olive oil will act as a moisturizer and will hopefully alleviate some of the itching I’m feeling.
The good news for me is that the itching is the result of a dry scalp and not an active infestation. If you’ve never been exposed to lice this entire concept might be hard to imagine. I will do my best to let you take a few steps in my shoes. Let me say right here that I am lucky. I’m lucky that I only have one child and this is our first exposure. My heart goes out to parents who have multiple children and who may have had to go through this horror show multiple times.
It is not my aim to scare parents, especially those who are newly being initiated into this lovely club. I’m simply sharing my story. One that could have had a happier ending if I was better educated about the signs, treatment options and realities of lice. Let me say this right now, if you are just discovering your child has lice…take a deep breath. Myth #2: Lice are dangerous. Lice are not really dangerous and there is no evidence that they transmit diseases. They are a pain in the behind, and for some who have an allergic reaction to the saliva they can cause your scalp to be very itchy. They are however a nuisance that cause embarrassment and ultimately are something you will need to treat.
Myth #3: There is one preferred treatment option. What blew my mind was the scores of information about what to do once you determine your child (or you) have lice. I found treatments involving mayonnaise, olive oil, chemicals, tea tree oil, blow drying, flat ironing, nit-picking and on and on. If I could have done it all over again I would have chosen a natural treatment instead of the chemical one. Some offer that head lice have become resistant to the chemical treatments. https://identify.us.com/head-lice/head-lice-FAQS/are-head-lice-resistant.html. I would have chosen a natural treatment because I’d prefer to avoid harsh chemicals if there is an alternative. Now I see that there are many alternatives, so take a moment to check out your local resources and put a call out to your parenting circle to see if anyone has gone through lice treatment. I got the best information from another mom who had been through it. The hour you spend will likely save you time and money on the back-end.
Let’s get down to it. My daughter had complained of itchy head on Monday. On Tuesday she said that a friend had seen a bug in her hair. My kid has a ton of hair! She is a beautiful blend of my Haitian traits and her father’s Guyanese ones – she got his hair. Long, beautiful, curly hair that was below her shoulders and constantly garnered compliments. That hair quickly became the bane of my existence. I figured with hair like hers it wouldn’t be unusual for a bug to get caught in the curls. That night I decided to grease her scalp and thoroughly wash her hair. Her hair type doesn’t need grease, but I was going to use it as a scalp conditioning treatment and then wash it out.
Right after dinner I sat her down with a jar of hair grease and started applying the grease to her scalp. After a few minutes I found “the bug”, or so I thought. After the second and then the third bug my heart sunk and I realized that there was a major problem. I took a second to look up lice and unfortunately realized that the little bugger I just squished looked just like the one in the picture online. Based on the information I scanned on the website I went back to check the front of her hair. When I made the part and spread the hair it looked like someone has sprinkled a handful of teeny sesame seeds onto her hair close to the scalp. Heart sinking further, I realized that those were nits.
I promptly ran to the pharmacy and asked for help in picking the right treatment for my child. The pharmacy representative showed me the treatment options – chemical and natural. I asked a few questions including was the natural treatment as effective as the chemical one. She didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about treating lice or the efficacy of chemical vs. natural treatment. I scooped up the complete chemical set, which ran me about $26, and headed home grossed out but determined not to alarm my daughter.
This kit came with three components: 1) Chemical shampoo that you leave on for 10 minutes 2) a gel and comb which are to be used to comb the nits off the hair and 3) a spray for anything you can’t throw in the washer like mattresses, couches, etc. I lined my floor with newspaper as directed, sat her in front of her favorite television program and started to get down to the application of the shampoo at 8:30 pm. My daughter’s bedtime is 8 pm so this was a huge bonus for her – staying up late AND getting to watch TV. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen next, but I was pretty sure I’d be done in a couple of hours.
Let’s call that myth #4: Treatment is quick and easy. Treatment was HELL! Note to parents – read the instructions carefully. In hindsight I used only a fraction of the amount of shampoo that I was supposed to use on my daughter due to the length of her hair. That might account for the fact that after I rinsed out the shampoo and began combing through her hair I was still picking out LIVE lice. The shampoo should have killed them, but I think with my application it just slowed them down. I combed out approximately 9 live ones. The recommended procedure for going through your child’s hair is to separate the hair into small sections and use a lice comb (please do your research on this as there are many different brands of combs and different techniques) to comb out the remaining lice and nits.
The thing I didn’t know is that the lice glue their eggs onto individual strands of hair making it easy to distinguish them from dandruff and very difficult to get off. The lice combs didn’t work for my daughter’s hair, it was too fine. The comb would slide right down the piece of hair and over the nit, leaving it stuck firmly in place. I had read some people just use their nails to pick them off, hence the term nitpicking. I have a new appreciation for that word. I spent 7 hours, yes…that’s right 7 hours that first night separating, combing and picking lice and nits out of my daughter’s hair. I finished her hair at 3:30 am.
Ok, so maybe some of you are saying that’s not terrible. Yeah, it might not have been if I still didn’t have to put my exhausted five-year old into a shower and then ask her to wait while I stripped her bed, sprayed it with lice killer (something else I wouldn’t do again) and remade it with clean sheets. I got her into bed about 4:30 am. Then yup, you guessed it – I had to begin the treatment on myself (which they don’t recommend as you can’t see all over your head). On one of my bathroom breaks whiled doing my daughter’s hair I ventured a peek into my own hair. To say I was defeated to see a little critter CRAWLING around when I parted the front of my hair would be the understatement of the year.
It was bad enough to realize that my daughter had a case of lice, but I had already used all of my physical and emotional resources keeping her calm as I tugged, parted and picked at her hair. My heart broke when she asked me, “Mommy, is this my fault?” I wanted to cry. Thankfully I had the presence of mind not to verbalize how grossed out I was. I explained that she got it from someone else who had lice, that we’d never know who and that lice actually like clean hair so there was nothing to be ashamed about. Too bad I wasn’t listening to my own counsel.
I was wondering how and why this had happened to me, but I hadn’t yet fully begun to appreciate the long hard road ahead. I stayed up to treat myself (which took 3 hours) and make the appropriate notification calls to her school and extracurricular programs. I notified them that she had lice and that she wouldn’t be attending school the next day. I put myself to bed around 8:30 am Wednesday morning, exhausted but thinking that life was going to return to normal when I woke up. Was I ever wrong! Once you discover you have lice you need to bag up all the stuff that you or your child came in contact with - stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, etc. I was advised to leave the stuff I couldn’t wash in bags for two weeks in the garage until all the lice would die and to launder everything else in hot water and hot dryer.
By the time I was done I had 12 trash bags in the middle of my living room. Three of them contained my daughter’s stuffed animals, toys and other items that could not be washed. As if it wasn’t bad enough to subject my child to sleep deprivation and hours sitting still in a chair having her hair combed out (for the first time in her life), I now had to take away her sleeping buddies. That first night we slept on mattresses with no pillows or blankets, only sheets. Bless her soul that she didn’t cry about having lice or the hair torture, she only cried because I had to take away her stuffed animals and wouldn’t give them back for two whole weeks. The other 9 bags were full of laundry, curtains, towels and comforters. One thing that sucked but was unavoidable was that I had just done my laundry and had several loads sitting on my bed. Well, all those clean clothes went right into those black bags to be re-laundered. I also had to quarantine myself us to certain areas of our place so we wouldn’t risk transferring the lice.
On day 1 I used the comb that came in the treatment kit. It was a plastic comb which I DO NOT recommend. My daughter was already overdue for a haircut but after using the comb she had nothing but frayed ends. By day 2 I was back at the pharmacy purchasing a metal lice comb, which was approximately $9.
So now I have a kid with beyond shoulder length hair that is terribly frayed and tangled at the ends – a nightmare to manage with a fine-toothed metal comb. My daughter’s hair has been a very sensitive topic in my family. As I mentioned it is beautiful and almost everyone in the family was against me cutting it (at all). She’d only had two trims in her 5 plus years and I was afraid to cut it so I thought I’d take her to get it professionally cut. Not with lice or nits in it. So I was left with little choice but to move forward.
This is the after shot
You might think the next days would have been better. Nope. On Wednesday I spent another 7 hours on her hair (4 hours of that was with the help of my sister-in-law who came over because when we spoke that day I sounded so distraught). At the end of that comb out my sister-in-law chopped off about 3 inches of her hair. It was a much kinder haircut than other friends of mine had offered to give her. My brother even recommended shaving it all off.
On day two we found approximately 40 nits. By this time we had a system going. I don’t recommend it, but it’s what I decided would be the best course of action. Once we found a nit…we cut out the entire hair. The comb wasn’t pulling them out and if you could get it off with your nail then you couldn’t see where it went. God forbid I dropped a nit in my hair or somewhere it might accidentally attach (I’m not sure that was possible, but I didn’t want them anywhere in my house). I also picked up the tip of dropping the nits in vinegar once we got them off (I guess it kills them).
Why the nit-picking you might ask. Myth #5: The lice treatments will kill the problem. Not so. The lice treatments typically kill the live lice, but it does not kill the nits. If they are left on they will hatch and then you start the entire process all over again. The challenge with the nits is that they are close to the scalp and can be on the underside of the hair so you have to look carefully at each strand of hair. That surely offered me incentive to get into her hair and to be methodical about it.
Between the combing, laundry, sleep deprivation and the need to take care of my daughter I was becoming a mess. I can’t recall how many times I cried in those early days and I know that not one single meal was prepared by me. I remember the first time I cried was when I realized that I had to comb through her hair like that every day for 14 days! I continued the process of combing out, laundering our sheets and towels daily, vacuuming the comb out area and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy for the next 12 days. There was no room for work, socializing, me time. We ate nothing but take out that first week.
On Sunday I had what I felt was an incredible set back. I was about to wake up my daughter up and decided to just peek at her hair while she was lying down. I saw a live louse (singular) but I couldn’t catch it. Then it was escaped into her hair. I tried to find it, but it eluded me. All I could think about was that she was scampering around in my daughter’s hair laying more glue stuck nits that I might never find and we’d be caught up in this awful cycle forever. It was just too much.
We had swimming lessons that day. I was five days in, had spent an average of 8 hours a day JUST on her hair and was incredibly sleep deprived (like back in the new-born days). I took her to her lessons pulled the manager aside explained the situation and bought her a swimming cap to prevent any transmission…then I promptly fell apart. I’m welling up just thinking about it. The manager (a teacher and mother) was so sweet. She’d been there before with other parents.
I’m a pretty strong woman who has been thorough my fair share of stuff, but these creatures brought me to my knees. Another mom saw me and asked if I was ok. When I broke down crying while trying to explain what was going on she called over her sister-in-law. She was also a mother who happened to be a hairdresser. She gave me a bunch of suggestions; commiserated with me on how terrible it was (both of her girls had it at the same time) and offered up a big old bowl of hope. I still felt like dirt, but maybe…just maybe I’d pull through. That afternoon I was doing the comb out and found that little sucker that had eluded me earlier that day. My spirit lifted and I finally thought that I had turned the corner.
Things improved over the next week or so. I was able to get down to comb-outs lasting only 4-5 hours a day and finding 10-20 nits. It’s odd because there were no more live lice, but I was still finding nits that I didn’t see the day before. I’m still not sure if I was finding nits that were growing and thus were easier to see or ones that I might have missed due to eye fatigue. My goal had been to get to three days nit free. I felt like when I achieved that I could relax a little bit. Day 12 was my first nit free day, Day 13 I found 2 and on Day 14 we were nit free again. After that I checked every other day.
We are four weeks and two days from D-Day (discovery day). I kept notes on my calendar so I would know what day we were on and how many nits I’d found. I haven’t found any nits stuck to her hair since day 14, but I do admit to being nit fatigued.
If I could do it all over again, I would have just found the money ($175/head) to have it professionally treated. When I look at over 60 hours spent the first week just combing out my daughter’s hair, approximately another $50 on a different natural treatment (recommended by a friend) and hair care supplies it would have been cheaper and less stressful. At least I think it would have been.
My lessons learned – don’t panic, talk to and reassure your child, check with other moms because they’ve likely been through it, know your options before you treat, use preventative products containing tea tree oil before it happens to you and if it does happen know that you will get thorough it. It might suck, but it will end one way or another.
If I NEVER see another louse or nit in my life it will be too soon. Tomorrow we are going to visit a lice treatment center in the area for a head check and to learn about additional products that are said to kill any larva that might have hatched from any nits I could have missed. I’ll let you know what we find out because I know that there is another parent out there who is discovering lice in their child’s hair and who might not know what to do. I won’t recommend any products yet, as we are still working through them. I hope this post helps!