Pediculus humanus capitis.

In other words, nits!!

This is going back quite a few years now.

I was tidying up at the end of a long day and I remember feeling a tickle on my ear so I started scratching it. When the itching stopped, I pulled my finger away. Only when I looked at my finger nail, there was something crawling and wriggling between my nail and my finger. I shrieked and ran around the room in a mad panic. I had a louse in my nail and it had probably just come from my hair. 

I eventually calmed down long enough to call my mum and command her to strip my bed of all bedding and put it all onto a hot wash, as soon as possible. I remember telling her to throw my teddy in there too, just in case he was harbouring any unwanted friends. I stopped off at tescos on the way home and bought two bottles of lotion to treat my hair. I parked up, outside the house, and ran straight into the bathroom, stripped my hair of bobbles and hair grips, and started lathering my hair with lotion. My mummy dearest insisted on helping me comb through my mass of thick, curly, wavy hair as I sobbed with embarrassment. I had got nits. I hadn’t had nits in years. Not since I was at primary school. I was so susceptible to them growing up, that I always wore my hair up, in an effort to limit the chances of ever having to go through this torture again. Yet here I was, at 23, sitting on the bathroom toilet, whilst my mum dragged my hair into unknown partings, searching for lice. She only found one more louse, but that was enough to humiliate me. She carried on combing to try and drag anymore of the eggs out. 

Ever since that day, I’ve had a little stock of lotions for head lice on standby. Even if I don’t find anything in my knotted hair, when I’m combing through it in the shower, whilst I’m letting the conditioner soak in. I treat myself most holidays anyway…Just to be sure. 

When you’re sitting next to a child at school, and they start to scratch around their ears incessantly, a panic builds inside of you. Do they have nits? You begin looking closely at their hair, whilst smiling reassuringly to them and yourself, to see if you can find any eggs near the roots. Sometimes you notice them and you scramble around for the letters to hand out at the end of the day. Sometimes you see the lice actually crawling and you have to phone the parents to collect their child for immediate treatment. You can tell the boys in my class, who have been treated for headlice over the weekend, when they arrive at school with heads shaved down to the scalp. Unfortunately, it’s one of the dangers that comes with teaching. It’s an embarassing one. One that relives nightmares from your childhood. Oh the traumas I have survived!

When my family lived in Cyprus, the heat used to cause them to reproduce rapidly. I was constantly being treated for headlice during those two years. One Sunday night, when the shops were all closed, Mum found one in my hair. We didn’t have enough lotion for my mass of curly, wavy, knotted locks, so Dad grabbed the malt vinegar from the kitchen cupboard, passed it to mum who bent me over the bathtub and poured it over my head. I smelt like a bag of chips, the vinegar stung my eyes as it leaked past the flannel I had covering my face. Fat load of good it did too! Mum watched with glee as the nits drowned in the vinegar, falling from my scalp and into the bath. She combed through my hair and washed the smell of vinegar out with shampoo. She dowsed my head with tea tee oil before she sent me to bed. The next evening, she used the proper lotion and tortured my scalp once more, just to be sure I was all clear.

I live in fear of finding nits in my hair, or on my pillow. I have white bed sheets to make it easier to spot them, if ever I do. I rarely take children’s books home, unless I really have to. When I was on my final teaching placement at university, I opened a child’s book to find a monster sized louse crawling in the crease of the pages. I nearly threw up. I’m sure that headlice didn’t used to be as big as they are. I think they could be evolving. 

After reading the lotion bottle carefully, it appears Lyclear have done some proper research into headlice and realised that they are in fact bigger than a match head, as the internet seems to suggest. I’ve been looking at the pictures of a louse next to a match stick head, thinking, “Are you sure that isn’t a kitchen sized match stick?” Hmm 

The worst case of headlice I have ever witnessed, was on a young girl in a school near the seaside. I was doing some supply for a year and I arrived at the school at about 8am. As I walked into the classroom, I was immediately hit with the smell of tea tree oil in the air. It didn’t give me much hope for the day. I am not joking when I say that her hair was riddled with lice and eggs. The nape of her neck and hair line was knotted with clusters of eggs latching onto what ever hair she had left. She’d obviously had them for a long time because, by scratching her scalp, she had caused some hair loss. You couldn’t deny the fact that she had headlice, so I filled out a school’s form for child protection. Her mother appeared oblivious to the fact and despite being told by the school, several times, she had neglected to treat her daughters hair. It was awful and I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for the other children in the class. I felt sorry for the school staff who had reported it countless times, yet nothing was being done. 

Currently, I’m sitting here typing away, as the lotion sets into my hair. It’s time to wash it off now, so I’ll leave you with my tips for headlice.

1. If you can’t go out and get lotion, use malt vinegar, but for goodness sake put it in a spray bottle for application instead of blinding your poor child with vinegar to the eyes. 

2. Use a fine tooth comb to scrape any lice or eggs out of the hair. To do a thorough scavenge, part the hair in many directions and angles. Wash the comb under a tap on a bowl of luke warm, (vinegar diluted) water after every stroke. 

3. Keep hair tied up for school. Use lots of hairspray and tea tree oil to deter the little blighters. 

4. Use Vosene’s 3in1 shampoo that has tea tree oil in it to keep them at bay. They usually advertise the latest animated film on the bottles to make it more exciting for children, and teachers! At the moment it is Trolls -FYI!

5. Regularly check the hair when it’s wet with loads of conditioner applied, to allow the lice to slide out of the hair easily as you comb through it. I have thick, uncontrollably wavy hair so I use a tangle teaser brush in the shower first, then I use the fine tooth comb. Otherwise I’m stuck with a nit comb in my hair, again!

Oh and finally, if ever you have to fight a wriggling, unco-operative child to wash their hair in this situation, get an evil Aunty Jo to do it instead. (Throw a jug of cold water on them regardless, it will sound like you are murdering them in the bathroom, but they’ll soon realise you aren’t messing around and will get them no matter how loud they scream.) My friend laughed at me when she heard me tell my niece one summer, “The louder you scream, the colder the water will be.” I was drenched by the end. Afterwards, my darling niece declared she’ll be good for her mum next time she has to do it. I haven’t been called back into duty yet… I messaged my friend about this and she agrees that it is true. Her daughter was suitably traumatised by the ordeal of being de-loused by Aunty Jo, that she has never once complained about how her mum does it since then. And if she starts to act up, my friend mentions my name and all of a sudden, she’s sitting as still as a statute, quietly waiting, whilst her hair is washed. Ta-da! (I have my uses.)

Disclosure: no nieces were harmed during the de-lousing by Aunty Jo, on that boiling, hot summer’s day. She just stood there, in the bath, screaming at me and shaking her head so that her drenched hair sprayed water everywhere. Including up the walls, on the ceiling and all over me! 

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