This holiday season has been nothing short of eventful. I have made several realizations about the holidays in general that I will probably save for another post since what recently happened to our household deserves a post all to itself. While what I have to report to you may make you feel a bit uncomfortable, I think the lessons that I have learned may come in handy to you, although I truly do hope you are spared…
So let’s see, the Monday before Christmas Audrey came home from school and said that her throat was hurting. She has been battling allergies for a few days so before I rushed her to the after hours clinic I continued with Zyrtec and added Tylenol. By late that evening she was running a fever and complaining that her throat was stinging. I knew we would be at the doctor that morning. Brian was out-of-town so of course I let her sleep with me. We were up just about every two hours with chills, coughing, and just plain discomfort. I held her close and tried my best to comfort her through the night. We made it to the doctor that morning and were diagnosed with strep throat and an upper respiratory infection that required breathing treatments.
You can take one look at her and see just how badly she feels. This contraption had to be administered to her four times a day. She was such a trooper which was a good thing considering what was ahead of us…
Later that afternoon I received a text from William’s teacher indicating that he was unusually fussy when he woke up from his nap. Of course. There is no way I will have only one sick child when Brian is out-of-town. I scooped him up to find his right ear had essentially exploded indicating an ear infection. I would normally just start his ear drops but with Audrey’s respiratory issue I wanted him looked at. There we were, back at the same office the same day. William checked out fine but was put on antibiotics just to be sure. I’m home that afternoon to find my kitchen littered with prescription bags, a brand new nebulizer with about sixteen different parts – masks, tubing, straw-like contraptions that I have no idea their use, Zyrtec, Motrin, and enough pink antibiotic liquid to feed a small family. I can totally do this, just take one task at a time. And don’t forget to breathe…oh, and be very nice and loving to your children. Somehow I managed to get everyone medicated, treated, fed, bathed, and in bed by a reasonable hour. Brian came home and we all crashed for an early night.
The next morning Audrey woke up with a red rash along the back of her neck. She said it itched. I was slightly concerned because she is allergic to Keflex which is a distant cousin to the basic Amoxicillin which she is taking but she’s never had a reaction to it before. For the next two days we watched her rash and I told several people about it. “She’s got this red rash along the back of her neck…along her hairline…behind her ears.” Several family members, two nurses, one doctor, multiple friends and strangely no one made any connection about this red rash along her hairline expect that it could be related to the medication. I interrupted a lunch date with a friend to take a call from the nurse explaining to her about this odd rash that only exists on this one area of her body. How many times did I hear myself say it and still, despite what I consider my relatively keen sense of awareness, made no other consideration expect that my child is inexplicably red and itchy along her hairline?? Finally, Friday morning as my precious, sweet angel of a child sat at the breakfast table scratching her head, Brian made the winning connection. “Melanie, have we checked her for lice?” I was clearly in complete denial at the moment because I answered him without hesitation, “She does not have lice. I just washed her hair (in my tub of course) last night.” To appease him I half heartedly looked at her hair and saw what I wanted to believe was dandruff. “See, those white spots – that’s from the leave-in conditioner. She doesn’t have lice.” Brian pulled her up onto his lap in the sunlight and began to investigate. “It’s moving.” I thought I was going to faint. “What do you mean ‘it’s moving?'” He looked up from her beautiful curly hair. “She has lice, Mel. They are moving.”
Apparently all lice-hell broke loose at that very moment. We had to calmly break the news to her and grasp the idea that we are now under siege. I tried to stay calm but it’s really hard to do when you see these bugs crawling around in your child’s hair. (And falling onto her jammies) You are overwhelmed by disgust and sympathy for your precious innocent child. Keeping my ‘oh my Gods’ to a minimum we broke the news to her and explained what was happening. She did not take it very well at first. What else is there to do while you are waiting for the doctor to call you back? Give her a Christmas present! Of course! To make up for what was going to be a challenging journey, we let her open her aquarium.
After she settled down I literally whirled into action. As a precautionary measure everyone was getting treated. Brian and I did not have it although I swore I did. Confession – I live with an itchy scalp. I have for years. So you can imagine every itch and scratch I had I just knew it was lice. At one point we were in our backyard and Brian was checking my hair (at my fiftieth request) while I was checking Audrey’s hair. “We look like a bunch of monkeys.” I had to agree with him. Of course I used the medication to treat us but I also knew of a home remedy that I was certainly using. Basically you suffocate the lice and the eggs. I coated our hair with a cream cleanser and covered up with a shower cap. One thing you need to know is that lice can live submerged under water for up to six hours! If you don’t leave the cap on for at least that long it will not work. As a family, we stayed in our shower caps for eight hours. We took a walk in them, played outside in them, and Brian even went to pick up dinner in his! God I’m so lucky to have him! Solidarity was our best support for Audrey! Need I say more?
While we spent the day pretending to be getting perms, I began the work of de-lousing my home. Another thing you need to know about lice: they cannot jump or fly. The only way lice can move is from hair to hair. Knowing this is helpful to keep you from totally loosing your shit. I know the fear we all have. You cannot help but imagine yourself in bed trying to sleep and you are convinced that the lice are planning their attack on you. You are certain they are using each of their six tiny legs crawling up your bedskirt, traversing over down, linen, and cotton just to plant themselves and three hundred of their tiny eggs into your helpless, unsuspecting scalp. In reality, that’s just not the case. It simply doesn’t work that way.
As a mother, I find comfort in being able to control things, like schedules and laundry. I didn’t think I could control lice, though. Feeling helpless is how things can quickly turn bad. I kept reminding myself that the lice needs my kid’s scalp to live and as long as I limit access then I think we can make some headway. I stripped all of the beds. I remember quickly how much time Audrey had spent in my bed during the week. I shuttered at the thought but remembered what the salesman told us about the tempurpedic material – it is resistant to bed bugs! I rationalized that lice and bed bugs certainly have to be akin, mostly to make myself feel better. If you encounter lice in your home you will be faced with a dilemma. The pharmacist will want you to purchase a spray for all of your soft surfaces like carpet and pillows. Believe me, I bought the stuff and hesitantly sprayed the rug in the hallway. I was horrified at the smell alone! I stood there in Audrey’s doorway and contemplated spraying her carpet with this toxic substance. It’s a pesticide for crapsake! One more thing you need to know about lice: they can only survive on the scalp. If they are not on the scalp, they will only last about 20 hours, then they die. So that’s an easy decision – either spray my child’s carpet with a toxic pesticide that I have no clue what will do to the air quality in my house OR I leave the lice to die in the carpet. My choice? Let the fuckers starve to death. Besides, I knew I was going to vacuum the entire house anyway. Whatever louse is left behind will surely die. I am bigger and smarter than these pests and I will not let them win.
The ultimate key in winning the battle with lice is the dreaded nit-picking. Once you treat the hair, everything dies immediately. In a perfect world that would be the end of the cycle but unfortunately it’s not. Lice in general are clearly concerned with maintaining their species because they will lay about 300 eggs in your child’s hair. If you don’t get the eggs, they will soon hatch and you will be back at it from the beginning. I tried to warn Audrey before our first nit-picking session but clearly neither one of use knew exactly the enormity of the task ahead of us. I realized that my child has about three million hairs on her head and I have to inspect every single one of them. The first night of nit-picking lasted about three hours. She cried herself asleep on Brian’s lap. I was a total horror but my motivation was to eradicate this pest. My child’s tears were not going to deter me! I used a headlamp which I highly recommend and scissors. Even with the metal comb, pulling each one of those things out can be torturous for a child so I just said the hell with it – I’m cutting those suckers out! I was able to isolate each strand with a nit and snip it off at the base. Once into a rhythm things clipped along. Literally. I fully admit to being a bit frazzled during the next few days. I showered, but wore the same clothes. No time to fix my own hair, really. I may have looked like a mad woman but I was really just a woman on a mission. Don’t mess with this mother.
We soon got the hang of it and after four nights we were basically done. One thing to keep in mind when nit-picking: Start with a different section of hair each session. You will ultimately tire and your vision will dull. You don’t want to slack in the same spot each time. Does that make sense? I am delighted to report that we were under control in less than a week. We went back to the doctor six days later and she basically declared her lice free! My advice to my friends is to stay clam, get a plan, and don’t listen to other people’s horror stories. Everyone wants to tell you about their cousin who had it in their house for six weeks. That does not have to be your reality!
Speaking of reality, when kids are little they often do what they know. Audrey’s experiences the week before Christmas certainly shaped the way she interacted with the white pony that Santa brought her:
Oh what fun…