Wow, here’s a taboo subject: head lice. If you’re in need of some information about this, read on. If you’re suddenly feeling itchy and creeped out, save it for another time.
One day last year, we got a call from the school nurse. Head lice had been going around, and it was suddenly something I needed to know EVERYTHING about. My kids had it. We worked out a deal where the kids could stay at school while I acted like super-woman and deloused our entire house, car, and world. I won’t kid you- it was a truly horrible day. “Lousy” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’ve never worked so hard in one day, but I did it. They went to school the next day with NO live critters and we worked for three weeks to remain free. Here’s how.
First, you’ve got to spend a few minutes getting over your very natural and understandable feelings of shame, guilt, and horror. They happen to everyone who gets that phone call, but they will not be useful to you in this project. You didn’t do this and it is not your fault. It’s not a hygiene issue; supposedly lice like clean heads best. As the school nurse said to me, “The only way to avoid getting lice is to not have kids.” It is more common than most people realize. And it’s going to be okay.
Next, you’ve got to channel your inner Winston Churchill and “Never, never, never give up!” You’re going to need some serious fortitude. You can do it! (But you won’t be able to do anything else on that first day.)
Your new mantra: WASH, SPRAY, SEAL, DISCARD.
Live lice can be killed in one of three ways: high heat, chemicals, or suffocation/starvation. The first two are quick, the last one takes up to two weeks. Educate yourself about what a louse looks like so you know what you’re squinting at. They are very small and the nits are incredibly tiny. Don’t worry, though, you’ll soon be an expert identifier and remover. They can swim, hold their breath, and move quickly. Live ones like to hide behind the ears and at the nape of the neck (not exclusively), but nits can be anywhere. Nits hatch after two weeks, so your vigilance has to last at least that long. It’s a very long two weeks, but you can do it.
Go to Amazon and order this comb immediately. It’s called the Nit Free Terminator comb and it is the main thing you will use for the next three weeks. If you can afford next-day delivery, do it. The combs that come with the drugstore kits are okay for removing live lice but are pretty worthless for the eggs (nits).
Start removing sheets and wash them in hot water and dry them in the dryer on high for at least 40 minutes. Do the same for ALL laundry, towels, hats, coats, scarves… anything washable. Anything not washable (stuffed animals, special dress-ups, etc,) gets bagged in a trash bag and sealed with duct tape with a date two to three weeks out written on it. That’s when you get your life back. (When you do open those bags, shake each item vigorously outside.) Also tightly seal each pillow in a trash bag then cover with a clean white pillow case. Don’t give up!
Go to your local drug store and buy a RID kit and/or a Nix kit- enough to treat everyone in your house. Track down some permethrin spray and buy 2 cans. (I found this at Kinney’s Drug store.) Also pick up some disposable gloves, white trash bags, duct tape, and new brushes/combs for the whole family. If you have girls with long hair, also consider buying mayonnaise, bobby pins, and one shower cap per girl.
When you get home, do more laundry, vacuum each bedroom and the mattresses. When you have vacuumed everything, remove the contents of the vacuum and carefully seal them in a trash bag.
Spray the mattresses, your couch, and the seats in your car with permethrin. (Keep the doors open for a while after.) Place trash bags over the car seats. Remove children’s car seats and wash the covers as above. Spray laundry hampers, recently used suitcases, etc.
When the kids get home, explain what’s going on in words they can understand but that don’t scare them too much. It’s helpful to cut boys’ hair very short if you can. (My clippers got sprayed and bagged when the spray dried.) Follow the instructions for the RID shampoo and give everyone the treatment, using disposable gloves. I used the Nix permethrin creme rinse on my own hair just to be safe.
Under a strong lamp and using a magnifying glass if needed, search every inch of each kid’s head and comb out every single louse using the comb from the RID kit. I used white tissues to hold the critters and then flushed each when I was done with one kid. For those with long hair, use bobby pins to hold many small sections as you go through their hair. It takes HOURS.
Order pizza or get your spouse to make dinner because you won’t want to cook.
Long hair can also get slathered with lots of mayonnaise (think suffocation), wrapped in plastic wrap and then covered in a shower cap for the night. (Good thing the pillows are covered in trash bags.) It’s not very fun, though it’s actually good for dry hair…. In the morning, wash the hair with dish soap.
Don’t forget to do more laundry. Don’t give up yet! You’re doing great!
In the morning, use the comb on each person’s dry hair again. When the Nit Free comb comes, go through each person’s hair (including your own) very carefully under a strong light. Empty the comb on a tissue by carefully running your fingernail along the tines. You will begin to see what the nits look like. This very tedious step is crucial to the success of the project. Each person should be checked every night for two weeks. You will hate it and they will complain, but it has to be done or the nits will hatch and the process will begin again. When you can comb through the entire head without finding any nits for two or three night in a row, that person is free.
When it is all over you will have a lot of empathy for anyone going through this and you will hope it never happens again. You will also win a major endurance award.
Congratulations!! You did it!
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