A Louse-y Birthday

I just knew that my 41st birthday wasn’t bound to be grand. We would be spending the day driving back from Bismarck, ND where we had celebrated my grandfather’s 100th birthday with all of the relatives I only see every ten years. I actually hadn’t even seen my grandpa since his 90th birthday party. Bismarck is a long way from where I live and a long, boring drive. Happily, my grandpa knew who I was.  “Oh, Heidi. Duane’s daughter. Well, you haven’t gotten any bigger, have you?” I told him that, at my age, that was a good thing.

So, as we rolled into our driveway at around 5:00 pm, I was excited about having a relaxing evening at home on my birthday (Josh and I had been gone for over nine days, between the Bismarck trip and the 4th spent at my family’s lake cabin). Unfortunately, I caught site of a bug moving in Josh’s hair. It was a little, slippery thing, but I captured it with my 41-year mastered pincer grasp. I waved it in front of Chris and said, “Is this a louse.” He didn’t know. Neither of us had any experience with this L-word. I immediately went inside, fired up my Mac, and consulted Dr. Google. I quickly realized it was true. Josh had lice. I panicked.

Instead of unpacking, I grabbed my keys and ran to the nearest Walgreens. They didn’t have a pharmacist on duty and, given Josh’s age, I wanted to consult with a pharmacist. I drove to the nearest Walgreens with a 24-hour pharmacy. There, the pharmacist directed me to a generic over-the-counter product that said it was “safe” for kids two months and older. I took it. I didn’t see that the product was just the Walgreens brand of Nix. I normally read ingredients lists with extreme diligence but, strangely enough, on my 41st birthday my reading vision seemed to instantaneously disappear. No matter how I held the box of lice-killing potion, I couldn’t read the fine print. It was all just a blur. I had heard that this is how it happened to my mom and brother too. They were the only other ones in the family who didn’t really need glasses until their forties. I couldn’t believe the timing. I grabbed the box and purchased it along with about four different metal lice combs. I figured Chris could read the box for me at home. He already had glasses. I also saw a homeopathic remedy called Quit Nits. I asked the pharmacist about it but he was rather dismissive of its ability to work. “It’s homeopathic,” he said, as if this was a bad thing that rendered it useless. I decided to buy it anyway. This was war and I needed all of the ammo that I could get my hands on.

When I returned home, I set the two boxes in front of Chris to read. We decided to do the generic Nix stuff as it only required 10 minutes of processing time. Quit Nits needed to be on the head for 4 hours. It was already 7:30 pm now and we didn’t have 4 hours before Josh went to bed. Just for kicks, I ran one of the metal combs through my own hair. I looked down on the comb and was horrified to see another louse. I did it again and found another. I had never in my life had lice. It was extremely humiliating to realize that I actually had lice. Although I treated myself along with Josh, I remained in denial about my own lice infestation for at least three more days.

Once we used the treatment, which was supposed to kill all of the lice, I was disheartened to be combing live lice out of both mine and Josh’s hair. I went to bed that night feeling the creepy crawling critters on my head. Whether real or imagined, it made for a pretty terrible night’s sleep.

The next day, all I did was vacuum, push through load after loud of laundry (on highest heat settings–not yet sure if my favorite brown linen pants survived this onslaught), and bagged items that couldn’t be washed. I also just threw away a good deal of Josh’s stuffed animals. Why risk it. During Josh’s nap, I conducted more extensive web research. I learned that I had voluntarily placed a pesticide, permethrin, on mine and my infant son’s head. I learned that permethrin is linked to cancer, particularly in children. I was and remain ashamed and horrified at my actions. I was so anxious to get rid of bugs that people can safely live with for years on end that I exposed both myself and, more importantly, Josh to a bath of toxic chemicals. I may have just as well sprayed us both down with a can of Raid. Worst of all, the treatment didn’t work. And I learned that, since 1995, both Rid and Nix have become largely ineffective against lice. Lice have evolved to be resistant to this particular pesticide. And yet, it is still sold and promoted by the pharmaceutical industry! Even my hair dresser, when I called her the next day to see if she’d cut my hair (the answer to this, by the way, is not until 7-days after you first treated), told me I had to use Nix or Rid to get rid of it in me (because I had so much hair). But don’t use it on Josh, she warned. Okay, too late for that.

As I sit here tonight, Josh seems to be in the clear. I bought some clippers on Tuesday and Chris and I shaved his head. He is going back to school tomorrow. I kept him out for a full week. I didn’t want him infecting the other kids who would just re-infect him when we finally got rid of it over at our house. Chris and Ethan haven’t contracted it at all. Thankfully. I managed to get a very short haircut on Friday. But my favorite nit picker, Chris, still found six nits in my hair tonight. This post has grown too long. I plan to do a second post over the next few days to document my battle with lice to help others who might be doing the same. Hopefully the post will come from a standpoint of victory. If not, I too may be sporting a buzz cut in a few days.

The one message I wanted to get out to everyone is this: NEVER EVER USE RID OR NIX OR THE GENERIC FORM OF PERMETHRIN ON YOUR KIDS. LET’S GET THIS USELESS PRODUCT OFF THE SHELVES. Also, this product is washing down the drains of showers everywhere. It is being found in our drinking water. By the way, on that same note, so are many other prescription drugs. When you are done with a prescription, do not flush it down the toilet or wash it down the sink. This is not an acceptable way to dispose of your prescription meds!

  1. Julie Coleman said:

    Oh, no! I’m so sorry, Heidi. What a yucky way to spend your birthday–and the following week! I hope you are winning the war against lice.

  2. ugh…I’m so sorry! When we were in India, the nannies regularly combed lice out of the kid’s hair. I asked my friend who lived there if she has ever had lice. She replied that EVERYONE in India has lice. mmmmhmmm…made my head very itchy thinking about it. Lily and I did come back lice-free, however. I was very grateful!

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