How Tiny Bugs Broke Me

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View from the Shoreline East Train

Sometimes when I’m not paying attention my thoughts begin to turn against me. In the story that follows, however, barely visible bugs invaded my scalp leaving no question as to the cause of my melt down. Since this occurred those sneaky bugs have entered our house again, and somehow I have managed to keep my sanity. I much prefer the more recent lady bug invasion.

I could see the phone number of the school on the caller id. Immediately I answered, fearing some child-related tragedy had occurred.  It was the nurse with a totally unexpected catastrophe. “Your children have head lice. When can you pick them up?”  Finally an explanation for the itchiness on the back of my head, but I was not going to admit that to her.

The car key was trapped in the ignition and yet the car would not start, so I grabbed the bike with the Burley and off I went to face the humiliation of being a mother with head lice picking up two children from school with head lice.

Once home, I put the children to work cleaning up the Lego sprawl covering the office floor so I could vacuum. I then spent my day stripping beds, throwing anything with cloth into a washing machine with hot water, bagging all toys, and generally feeling panicked. How could these insects have entered our house? Well according to the internet, they walked into the house on our heads. One of us had made contact with someone else’s lice-filled head within the past month.

While explaining my situation to the pediatrician’s nurse over the phone she asked, “Is this the first time they have had it?”  “Yes,” I replied in disbelief that someone might go through this more than once. Yet the more I read about lice as the day went by, I realized head lice had become more common than ever. This was just a rite of passage for any elementary school student.

We walked to a nearby store to pick up a prescription. The pharmacist informed me that maybe the medication would arrive by mid-day the next day and mine would not arrive until Friday (this was Wednesday).  Did the pharmacist know why we needed this medication? Was he wishing he could extend the width of his counter to keep our vermin away? My shoulders slouched to my stomach.  All my yoga practice lost in the moment. Yet after a phone call we found the kids’ medicine at another nearby pharmacy. I grabbed the over-the-counter remedy for my own head and we walked home to continue ransacking the house.

After cleaning a few more hours, and delousing myself, I decided we should go to the pharmacy. Surely after three hours, the half hour predicted to fulfill the prescription would be plenty of time. But the youngest was having a melt-down, and by this time it was dinner. So I attempted to charge the battery in the car to avoid walking along a major roadway and I threw together something I called a meal.

We sat calmly at the table as if it was any other day. The kids seemed unfazed. On the other side of the table was me, mom, supposedly calm and in charge, but actually drowning in thoughts such as, how was I ever going to defeat of an invisible enemy? The nits were tiny and barely detectable. The nurse’s words echoed in my head, “If you miss even one nit, you will have lice again.”

The car roared to life and we set off for the drive-thru pharmacy. At the drive-thru a lady with a squinting right eye told me our prescription was not ready and would not be for another 15-20 minutes, an estimate she provided with a lot of doubt in her voice and a more tightly closed right eye.  Turning the car off was not an option, so we went for a drive. We stalked the coast at sunset. Photographers, leisurely walkers, and fisherman filled the causeway as I plowed through, unable to focus on anything except the itching of my head.

After returning to the pharmacy the squinty-eyed girl (was this due to her anxiety or was I channeling my own?) informed me that if I was using my insurance, well that was a whole other thing and she casually waved me into the parking lot. I considered barricading the drive-thru with the giant car, but then acquiesced. We waited in the parking lot ten minutes and then drove through again, and without a squint, she handed over two boxes with four bottles of cream. The elixir of death to the nit and louse alike!

We went home. I applied the medication.  Eggs and bugs… it’s all a blur.  After a fine combing I declared them bug-free and off to bed they went.

The next morning I biked away my bug anxieties with kids in tow on our way to school. We waited our turn in the nurse’s office to see if they were insect-free children.

Finally the nurse acknowledged us. As she poked through each child’s head, she interrogated me on my cleaning methods and I realized I reeked from my sweaty bike ride. Despite having awoken at 4 AM from the smell of a stinky skunk, I still had not showered. At 4:30 AM possessed with the fear that freshly hatched lice would invade the bathroom, I turned on every burner of the stove to boil water that I then poured down the drains of the sink and bathtub. Around 5 AM I was checking my head for nits and lice. All those silvery hairs… how could I possibly tell if I had a nit on my head? By 5:30 AM I was wiping the surfaces of everything and then at 6:30 AM, when I had run out of patience for the eldest child to awake, I turned on the vacuum.

“She’s never going to believe that I cleaned anything smelling like this,” I thought. Finally the nurse permitted their entrance into school and I called my absent husband to let him know of my triumph. He informed me he would not be home on Friday as planned and did not have a scheduled return date. I wanted to cry, but I was too exhausted. I went home and de-loused myself again. This time with the kid’s medicine because the nurse had mentioned that another child had used an over-the-counter remedy and it had not worked. Even after the second treatment I was convinced that bugs were burrowing into my head and now I feared that two head lice treatments in two days was going to have dire physical consequences such as the number of side effects listed on the side of the box: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches….

By the weekend, I had continued my cleaning tirade as I vacuumed everything for the third or fourth time, washed bed linens for the fourth or fifth time and cleaned every corner I feared I had missed.  Still, when I checked the kids’ heads on Saturday night I found some nits that would not comb out. Tweezers in hand, I pried them away and then realized that I had no one to check the back of my head.

Sunday morning I found more nits and I realized I had no choice. I could not give my children lice. I could not live with the nurse calling me every day. I could not spend more days cleaning everything in the house. I could not live with bugs living on my head! Was I crossing a line by shaving the back of my head? Would this qualify me as officially crazy? I decided I did not care and I shaved the back of my head and cut the sides. I had channeled Robert Smith from the Cure! My 18-year old self would have loved this. My 40-year old self peered doubtfully into the mirror.  Perhaps I could look more 1920s flapper girl when my hair calmed?

On cue, the fall weather set in to chill my naked neck.  But it was not the chill of six legged insect crawling across my scalp, so I’ll take it.

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