nits are not nice | Health & Fitness

marion winick

There are things we just don’t talk about in polite company. There are issues that one does not address at the table. Take body vermin, for example. A few months ago, I couldn’t have imagined myself drinking a post-lunch cup of coffee and Sambuca at a friend’s house, chatting about the effectiveness of various techniques for ridding the house of lice and their cowardly descendants, the nits, the latter almost as invisible as invincible. But as a member of the growing group of Austin parents who know more about this topic than they ever dreamed possible or necessary, that’s exactly what I was doing. And to think that I once thought of fussy as a word with a funny etymology.

My Sambuca drinking friends and I have been dealing with this lice issue for quite some time now. Long enough that we, like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her study of death and bereavement, were able to identify several distinct phases a person typically goes through in order to come to terms with this experience. Kubler-Ross has five phases; we got to ten. But after all, lice are much more complex than death.

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Phase 1: Disbelief. You get a call from your child’s school or daycare, or perhaps a friend’s parent, apologetically warning you that your little one may have head lice. You should check for nits. He pays absolutely no attention as they go on to describe the procedure for doing this, knowing that this is simply not possible. No one in their family history has had head lice. No one you know has had head lice. Maybe the people who live on the streets of Bombay, poor things, but not your son.

Phase 2: Humiliation. Shortly after this phone call, she notices the aforementioned boy scratching his head. The first time, you tell yourself it’s the cream rinse you’re using or too much chlorine in the pool. However, as the scratching becomes more frequent and vigorous, you can no longer deny the truth. He has lice. Incredible. How did they say you were supposed to check it out? Didn’t they mention any special shampoo? Oh God, the mortification at the pharmacy. Not to mention the school and the neighbors and everyone who came to that sleepover. What about those parents who so kindly stayed with their children overnight so you could go to Antone’s house last weekend? Do you really have to call them too? Now everyone will think that your family has questionable hygiene practices and eats canned meat.

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Phase 3: Acceptance. Once you know how to look for nits (look for a tiny whitish bubble attached to the hair shaft an inch or two from the scalp, usually behind the ears or at the nape of the neck), you’ll learn the extent of the horror. The day of the louse has dawned. You have lice, your partner has lice, all of God’s chilluns have lice. If you’re lucky, there aren’t enough hatched to enjoy the spectacle of dozens of disgusting brown bugs crawling on your loved one’s head.

Phase 4: Trust. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not just your family. They are the friends of your children and the parents of the friends, and you are all in this together. You will figure out what to do, you will do it, and soon it will all be just a distant memory. Following the instructions on the package of the lice kit you buy at the supermarket, wash all the bedding in your house with hot water and bleach. Spray sofas and pillows with the handy can. You have everyone at a lice removal party to rub the shampoo into their hair and then comb it out with the plastic nit comb. Look, all better. The children are playing in the backyard, the adults are inside drinking wine and telling soothing jokes. After all, we are not neglectful parents! — clean sheets are back on the beds, and everything is fine.

Phase 5: Disbelief. A few days later, you have a little itching. That horrible lice shampoo probably dried out your scalp. Then you realize that all those kids sitting in front of your TV watching Animaniacs are scratching themselves too. The beginnings of a frown appear on his face as he calls out to one of them, bows his head and puts him on a lice watch. Your frown deepens as you go through the strands of hair one by one, finding lots of little bubbles, and not the Lawrence Welk kind either. Welcome back to Night City! You reach for the phone. Anyone who dies in your house, you ask your friend, trying to stay calm. Um, I’m not sure, he replies uncertainly. Well, start checking, you say grimly. They are back.

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Phase 6. Rage. Okay, now you’re mad. You’re not just angry, you’re serious. You are not only serious, you are determined. You are on the horn to the doctor. Isn’t there some horribly toxic prescription-only poison you can get your hands on to kill this pest? Why yes, there is. It’s called Kwell, generic name Lindane. Comes complete with two pages of six-point type warnings about the dire consequences of allowing a single drop of the poison to spill onto your skin, eyes, kitchen utensils or the foundation of your home, with dire implications on application more than once every ten days, with manufacturer disclaimers on the effects of the slightest misstep in observing these detailed precautions. You, who have been carefully buying pesticide-free fruits and vegetables for your precious babies since birth, clench your jaws, put on your rubber gloves, and pour the vile stickiness right onto their sweet little heads. Then you drive straight to the nearest salon, biting your lip as curls fall to the ground. On the way home, you have the interior of the car steam cleaned. Then you sterilize everything in the linen closet, pretend the couch is Vietnam and this can of bug spray is Agent Orange, and secretly take their favorite baseball caps to the trash. It has not been easy, it has not been fun, but you have prevailed.

Phase 7: Guilt. Nope! NO! NO!!!!! This has gone too far. You have done everything. ALL! And they are back again. No more mr.nice. No more namby-pamby-sorry-but. This time, it’s not your fault. So whose fault is it? What about these friends of yours? Did they really make their bedding? Did they do the nit thing after the shampoo thing? Maybe it’s the cat. Yes, it must be that. You’re ready to take the family pet to the kennel when you find out that the animals don’t have lice. Well, then it must be daycare or school or summer camp. After all, they’re not actually washing those nap pads. You, however, are washing your sheets for the fiftieth time in three weeks and SOMEONE HAS TO PAY. Everyone is a suspect: your closest relatives, your close friends, your neighbors, your doctors, your public institutions, your child care providers, everyone.

Phase 8: Madness. While one friend makes jokes about kids growing up to play in bands with names like Scratching Heads and Itchy Scalp, another is deciding whether to move to Alaska or Vermont. Is there a list in the almanac of lice per capita by state? A divorced couple devises a plan where she keeps the kids for 10 days while he deworms her house, then he keeps them for 10 while she deworms hers. No adult can share her bed with anyone else during the 20-day quarantine. The purpose of this, like so many agreements forged between the divorced, seems only to torture each other. Meanwhile, someone is spraying the phone with Lysol.

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Phase 9: Matter of fact. By now, you can spot and dispatch a new generation of lice with no more horror than attending the making of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You carry a high-tech forged aluminum nit comb complete with 5x magnifying glass in your back pocket at all times and aren’t shy about pulling it out when you notice characteristic scratching behavior, even among simple acquaintances or strangers. You can delouse your home and family in less than two hours. You have 20 refills on your Kwell recipe. When considering a sleepover at the home of another group of vermin victims, the only question is this: have you washed the bedding yet? Because if not, I won’t bother with the shampoo until tomorrow. Lice, big deal. It could be worse.

Phase 10: Worse. Friend A’s cleaning lady finds worms in her driveway. Friend B picks up her 3-year-old son from preschool after receiving a tip about a giardia outbreak. You, on the other hand, receive a call from the school nurse informing you that both of your children have a contagious form of pink eye and will be sent home immediately. Unfortunately, she can’t pick them up, as she has kept the car keys in the trunk. What is this, the Old Testament? Are there kits in the pharmacy for lobsters, frogs and boils? At least you have the teenage years to look forward to, when you’ll have to deal with familiar problems like unwanted pregnancies, venereal diseases, and drug addiction.

If you’re scratching your head at this point, rest assured, just like everyone else.

Originally posted on consumer.healthday.compart of TownNews Content Exchange.