14th April 2008

So, there’s this thing going on where I’m allergic to everything. For the last year or two, I’ve been dealing with many bumps that look and itch like mosquito bites. Sometimes a few of them pop up on my face! It’s fun. It’s a 24-hour party with go-go dancers, and laser effects, and shirtless men who bring you martinis.

Unfortunately, we’re not here to talk about my allergies — mostly because I’m not 122 years old, and therefore have not yet exhausted all other avenues of conversation. I mention the allergies story as a precursor to the real story. The story about the bugs in my hair.

Yeah. You heard me.

A mom friend recently sent an email letting me know that a kid at school (probably a nasty, horrible bully who enjoys name calling and stealing decorative erasers) had given one of her utterly adorable, perfect children lice. Since we like to cuddle her adorable kids regularly, she thought we should check our heads. Of course, my head began to itch upon reading the first sentence of her email, so I asked Bryan to check my hair whilst I shuddered uncontrollably.

Nothing, he said. I bleated with anxiety. Please check again, I said. He agreed. Nothing, he said again, rather more impatiently.

The next day, still obsessing and still vaguely itchy, I insisted Bryan check my head again. He did. This time he did it with the forbearance of someone who must regularly deal with hysteria-induced itching. No, he said wearily. There are no bugs in your hair. I skulked away — a pouty, bitter, hypochondriac.

Over dinner that night, I grew reflective as the itching grew more intense. Clearly I have begun to get allergy hives on my scalp, I thought. I may crawl out of my own skin with the discomfort. Perhaps, I thought, I should stop eating all the things to which I am allergic. Farewell, booze. Goodbye caffeine. Wheat? No more wheat for me. And then I sobbed quietly over my pasta. My teardrops made concentric circles in my red wine, and be-salted my after-dinner tea. My desert, garnished with a fine dusting of crushed Vivarin, went untouched.

A while later, I was washing my itchy hair, and looked down to find bugs on my hands. Exactly two bugs, in fact. They were each 4 feet long and had jaws like Drill Baboons.

photo source

I’ve no idea how they’d been hiding so successfully. Perhaps I have a very large head.

I emerged dripping from the shower to email Melissa, whose kids had lice a few years back. I told her I planned to strip the family naked and use a flame-thrower to destroy our apartment and everything in it. She noted that using a flame-thrower without protective clothing was imprudent, and might raise eyebrows, even in San Francisco. I agreed naked flame throwing was more of a Burning Man thing.

So what happened next? You can’t wait to hear all about it, can you? Well you’ll have to, because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the washing machine lately. Not to mention all the hours I’ve wasted scrubbing my skin until it was raw.

Tune in tomorrow to hear more exciting adventures! To whom did I loan hats? The baby! Good lord! What about that innocent baby? Is this where the swarming ends? Don’t miss one action-packed minute of infestation!

58 thoughts on “Swarm!

  1. jck

    We’ve been through lice warnings in my daughter’s classroom twice recently – and went through it for real 3 1/2 half years ago when my boys picked it up from friends in Ireland.

    You’ll never sit in movie theaters or in airplane seats with the same innocence. My condolences. Ignorance is such bliss.

    I’ve been using this stuff lately: http://www.fairytaleshaircare.com. In fact, when my boys had haircuts on Friday, I was talking to the stylist about it. She swears by the leave in spray. Said two months ago a dad came in, his kids had the little buggers, he asked for the spray, and asked her to watch her spray them once to make sure he was doing it right. She stood at the door of the salon and the dad sprayed the kids while they stood in the parking lot a few steps away- and she could see the insects crawling out of the kids’ hair to get away from the stuff.

    I bought even more spray on my way out.

  2. Ms. Jen

    Get some Rid or other type of de-louser from the pharmacy. Use it. Find someone with better eyes than Bryan to use the nit comb on your head. Wash every thing. And if you are still creeped out… Take a deep breath. Don’t be tempted to cut your hair off, lice go away.

    A friend was a pre-school teacher and found herself itching all through her wedding & honeymoon. Turned out that several of the kids shared…

  3. Laura B.

    Oh! So sorry! My pre-teen daughter has had it twice (once just last week) and I live in fear of the bugs. I live in fear that I will get it. We both have lots of hair, much like you, so picking nits is a nightmare. Got to get the nits out, though. Best of luck!

  4. jae

    Avoid the pesticides if you can. Most lice are immune to them. My lovely daughter spent 3 years as a lice magnet. Licemeister brand combs ($11 at a pharmacy) are the only ones that caught them all. Tea tree oil has been the ONLY treatment that worked for us. Use a little bit as a shampoo, rinse it, and then comb through. It also helps prevent them. As for carpets and furniture, mattresses — a vacuum cleaner is your best friend. Bag stuffed animals and throw pillows in a hot dryer for 15 minutes.

    It’s a pain up front, but it works. I am the only person in our household who can seem to find them so I’m always on my own when it comes to treating so I always use the tea tree oil on myself as well.

  5. Lauren

    You have my sympathies — I had lice when I was 13 and it was horrible. Especially because it was my nemesis Iris who discovered it when she saw a bug crawling near my eye in history class. If anyone knows anything more devastating to one’s ascension on middle school social ladder, I’d like to know.

    I have very thick, curly hair and we tried everything – every product, every home remedy, tea tree oil, mayonnaise, Rid, scrubbing my skin and scalp raw, etc. We couldn’t get rid of the nits; I almost had to cut all of my hair off. Eventually my mom and I sat on our front porch and she spent seven hours picking each and every nit out of my hair. Now THAT is love.

    Good luck in your own delousing adventures!

  6. Lynda

    Oh, how awful! As a teacher and a mother, I go through the torture of hearing the word and going into FULL ITCH MODE at least once a month.

    …Lice was certainly NOT bulleted on your “Things To Do” list. …Shame.

  7. Cathy

    Yeah thanks. Now my head itches. And I’m way over here in Illinois – but am certain they travel via internet magic.

  8. Megan

    Moreover, I don’t remember seeing “be attacked by lice the size of hyenas” listed anywhere on the Mighty Life list. Maybe it came in at #101?

  9. Min

    Oh Maggie,

    You have just touched upon one of my most secret fears–BUGS IN MY HAIR. You have my deepest sympathies.

    I am now itchy all over!


  10. cartoongoddess

    Ugh, hives! This time of year, (every year) I get them too. The martinis will help. (Vodka martinis, I don’t know why, but it has to be vodka.) No, really.

  11. DimKnit

    Can’t. Stop. Itching!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!

    That blows, MG. I had it as a 6th grader. It was awful. My mom cried from all the work – there were 4 of us + dad – but we got to go to the laundromat! (I thought it was cool. I was a weird kid).

    Good luck!

  12. la_florecita

    Lice! Fun! Or not. I used to be a camp counselor at a Girl Scout camp. If you want to know how many days it takes lice to spread from one 13-year-old girl to her entire unit, I can tell you- 72 hours. I could spot the nits easily, but I only saw an actual bug once.

    Keep stuffed things in a plastic bag for 2 weeks, use the shampoo, and then while your hair’s still wet, have someone with a good eye and lots of love (and a beer or 5) sit and comb through every section of your hair getting the nits out.

    You’ll be good as new. Annoyed, but bug-free.

  13. Tina

    Oh,NO! We went through a family infestation we still refer to as “Head Lice for the Holidays” when our youngest brought the obnoxious buggers home about 12 years ago. I’m still trying to repress the memories. Going through such hell during the Advent season seemed so wrong. Good luck – my heart goes out to you.

  14. Crazy Lady

    Ok … My coworker sent me this post because he didn’t want me to feel so alone in my quest to heat, wash and nit-pick everything in the house!!!! My nine year old was sent home from school recently with nits. The largest outbreak ever in the 4th grade!! It was so bad in her class that the kids who didn’t have lice felt left out of all the fun. I have been so grossed out ever since! I can’t stop itching and picturing bugs crawling around in my hair! We bought RID X and washed everyone’s hair, picked nits out of her head and pray no more nits will be spotted every time we look at her head. It’s a horrible thing to contend with… not deadly but definitely tiresome.

  15. michelle @ TNS

    is it wrong that i laughed at the brand name “licemeister,” mentioned by someone above? i mean, i don’t care if it is, cuz i’m laughing anyway. i just thought i’d ask.

    i’ve never had the lice issue – no kids – but i do have dogs, which brings the flea issue. i feel for you.

  16. Tara

    Get QUIT NITS by Wild Child at CVS. It is all natural, totally works, and does not have any scary toxic chemicals. http://www.quitnits.com

    The woman who created it was a single mother on public assistance in Australia and now its one of the best-selling products there. It is safe and it works. They also have a preventative spray to prevent re-infestation.

    I totally sound like an ad. Anyway, hope that helps.

  17. Nancy

    For lice: before bed,slather hair generously with mayonaise and put on a shower cap.

    For the allergies: Massive amounts of vitamin C. It’s a natural antihistimine.

  18. Candace

    My daughter got lice in Pre-School and upon the school investigating the source they found one child who was severely infected, and obviously had the lice for months. Social Services was called in and upon inspecting the home found the worst case of lice infestation they had ever seen. It was so bad the house was quarantined. The mother and grandmother had worse cases than the child. The little girl had long hair though and they shaved her head. It still makes me itch all over just to think about their house….uggggg!

  19. Another Maggie

    We’ve had lice. We used commercial products (I had better luck with Nix than Rid), including the licemeister (best. lice. comb. ever.) and folk remedies, but the best and most effective thing to do is pick nits and pick nits and pick nits and pick more nits. The website http://www.headlice.org gave us a lot of helpful information. I have become a little nutty about checking my kids for lice, because the earlier you catch it, the smaller the infestation. Dealing with lice can be overwhelming and exhausting! Good luck!

  20. floreksa

    Oh NO!

    We just went through a round of lice at home with my 3.5 yr old who has a full head of spiral curls. Not fun at all. I believe I was in full on paranoia for at least 3 weeks, but they did go away.

    Lots of wash, lots of vacuuming and lots of nit-picking.

    We use the FairyTale line also now, so far so good.

  21. MontanaJen

    My 35-year-old best friend went through the exact same thing a few years ago. She works with kids, has long, thick, brown hair, and therefore checks herself monthly.

    Only one month, she must have missed something, and she…HATCHED. I was with her at a family weekend in her childhood home when it happened, and let me tell you, I consider her a strong woman when she had to buy her local small town pharmacy out of Rid, and explain why.

    You poor thing. Rest assured that you will freak out and scratch and check for probably a full year now. At least that’s what she did.


  22. Jennifer

    We’ve dealt with lice twice. The only advice that I can offer that earlier commenters have not is to buy a pair of those drugstore reading glasses that are 3X magnifiers and a good lice comb. The comb won’t remove the nits, but will help your nitpicker to feel the nits on the hair. He can then either pull out the hair or carefully scrape the nit off the hair. A good bright light is also a necessity. My kit includes the combs, the glasses and a headlamp with fresh batteries. Good luck!

  23. Alison

    I am so itchy! Coconut scented lotions, shampoos, and conditioners are natural louse repellents. They won’t get rid of the bugs, but once you do, you can walk around smelling like a pina colada and knowing you are making lice everywhere run in fear! Also, a couple of dabs of coconut oil on the base of your neck/hairline work just as well as a repellent (less coconutty).

  24. ruby

    As far as your other allergies go, I’m going to make an obvious suggestion which you’ve probably already taken: get a skin test from an allergist. I had weird problems a few years ago like yours (seemingly hives over everything) and then they just vanished. It’s worth seeing an allergist to know if you should definitively nix such good things in life like caffeine (tea, coffee, chocolate) and booze (lord, booze). The other thing to consider is that– and sorry to bring up other species given the recent state of your scalp– is that you’ve got some allergies to certain mites in your home. And another yicky possibility: bed bugs. I don’t know if they’re a problem in San Francisco like they are here in Boston, but ew. I have been lucky enough to avoid them, to date, but I’ve had some very clean friends pick them up in public spaces like laundromats.

    Anyway, good luck with all the itchyness. I hope you find yourself soothed very soon.

  25. Heidi

    Oh the lice! My 5 yr old brought them home earlier this year, and passed them on to me. His head we could- and did- shave. But I was unwilling to be shorn, so my husband and I did daily nitpicking sessions until they were gone. Afterwhich I thought- hey, what about using a flat iron? I was disappointed I hadnt thought of it while I still had the nits. I would have loved to watch them sizzle!

  26. Wendy

    My daughter brought home lice at Christmas break. The pesticides you can buy at the store do NOT work, don’t use them, they’ll just make your head really tender. Best thing I did was coat her hair in Vaseline (Eucerin also works) and tied a plastic bag on her head for 12 hours. No more lice, and her hair was exquisitely moisturized.

  27. chris

    So…do I do it? OK…so, this one time…a few springs ago…I borrowed a wetsuit to avoid missing a spontaneous surf session with a large group of friends. Um…so…

    There is nothing like finding that first one, hoping its just a little scab or something…then it starts moving its evil little legs!!! (3 exclamations to counter the ellipses)

    Thankfully it was already trendy to go the trimmed route for us fellows. But the RID mousse was rather effective.

    This too shall pass.

  28. Fatemeh

    OK, you clever little lady bloggers… You, Alice and Melissa have something going on. All the faux-mocking of Melissa and her sickies and her lices… I know you’re up to something!

  29. Melissa

    Why, oh why is this so funny? It’s terrible. I shouldn’t laugh. You have such lovely hair, Maggie. So sad to think of it as a breeding ground.

  30. Jan

    :shuddershuddershudder: I’ve never had head lice which is a miracle after all those years first as a street cop and later as a child abuse investigator where you sometimes deal with people for whom physical hygiene is low on the list. When you combine that with how easy lice are to transmit even in the clean world… eeeesh.

    It does sound like those with the experience to back up their claims have posted some excellent suggestions. I never realized there were so many alternatives. All I ever heard of were Rid and somethingNit or Nitsomething.

    Hang in there. Yeeeucchhhh, but hang in there.

  31. Jacque

    This post reminds me of the hours upon hours I spent picking bugs and eggs out of the long brown hair of our Brazilian exchange student. That girl is lucky I love her…

  32. jd

    We’re on our third bout. Lessons learned:

    1. Nix is better than Rid, but neither is great. If I had a big ole raging case, I’d use them at the beginning to get a head start. However, I’ve found plenty of live ones happily squirming through my kids head the day after using them.

    2. The only thing that works is systematic combing with a lice brush with round wire tines. Like this, which has a built in magnifying glass. First night, plan on a good 1-2 hour of combing, best performed in front of a video with a glass of wine. After every swipe, hold up the comb to something backlit, and look for stuff caught in the tines. Pull those out with a toothpick onto a white piece of paper. If it’s alive or an egg, crush it with the edge of the comb to make sure it’s dead or unviable. Work your way up from the bottom of your hairline to the top of your head, and then across the top from front to back. Then go through again. Put the white paper and toothpick in the garbage, preferrably in a sealed ziploc bag. Vacuum the surrounding area and throw your close in a hot dryer.

    3. Repeat the above every single night for a week. It will take less time every day, as you’ll find fewer and fewer eggs and lice. If you see weenie tiny live lice, they’re probably very recently hatched, indicating that you’re not getting all the eggs.

    4. Heat kills the live ones, so a good habit is blow drying your hair to the point where your scalp can hardly stand it. Heat will not kill the eggs however.

    5. After you’ve had several days with nothing, you can skip a few days, but still go back every other day, then every third day, then every week, to make sure you’re not getting reinfested. If just one gets up to egg-laying size, you’ll be back in the thick of it.

  33. Aisha

    The summer of ’06, I went camping, kissed a boy during said camping trip, and picked up lice. Know the best way to find out you have lice? At three in the morning. In the shower. When you, your sister, and your mother are drunk.

    I didn’t really handle it well. After the fun ten day period between the chemicals they give you in the big rid kit, I decided to take my friend up on his joking offer of shaving my head. I shaved my head for nearly a year. I haven’t shaved it in nearly a year now, and I still get paranoid occasionally about bugs.

    Don’t worry about it too much, though. The baby is little and won’t remember infestation ’08, and this is why there is lots and lots of booze.

  34. Ms. Karen

    Heat will kill the monsters (use your hairdryer and get every part of your head for a good 15-30 minutes (um, a hood-type hairdryer is perfect for this), tea tree and/or lavender are excellent preventatives, combing (the licemeister IS good).

    I worked in a healthroom of a public school for a few years and had to deal with this on a pretty regular basis. I used LOTS of tea tree oil during that time. A few drops in some warm water and dump it over your head after your final rinse. Leave it on (Yeah, you’ll smell… interesting) but it will chase away any adult bugs left in your hair.

    Um, I think that’s it. Good luck.

  35. Kim

    Oh my god, that made me laugh! My children have had lice nine times between them. Luckily, I have never gotten the infestation, at least as an adult. My girls go to a school that has high tuition, we live in a good neighborhood and we pay taxes and still get lice. Here are my best recommendations for taking care of the bug infestation….

    1) Invest in a LiceMeister comb
    2) Dip the LiceMesiter in vinegar after every comb.
    2) Put all pillows, stuffies and blankets in a plastic bag for three weeks
    3) If it doesn’t go away take a dose of Septra antibiotic
    4) Apparently, bathing your hair in Cetaphil works wonder, google it

    Unfortunately, I consider myself a lice expert. I’d like to be known for other things. Hopefully, you will not have the reoccurrence that I experienced. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. You’ll do great!

  36. Karen (miscmum)

    I’ve been living with it for the past few months. My daughter with hair thicker than a State Forest just keeps getting re-infested. What’s worse, with all the treatments, she’s now got dandruff from all the chemicals. I’ve moaned about it extensively on my blog. I even read Melissa’s adventures from a few years ago to help me feel better that it’s not *only* happening to us.

    I hate the buggers :(

  37. Imanitsud

    Regarding allergies: consider acupuncture. My husband (a mild wholistic-health skeptic) has had excellent results with an acupuncuturist. I would give you his name, but he’s in Noblesville IN so it won’t help you. He was an MD (anesthesiology) for years, his wife still does it occasionally, but together they’re an awesome team. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’ll help you at all with the other problem.

  38. carmen

    Sucko. If you end up getting your allergies investigated can i suggest the UCSF allergy department? I went and it was one of the best medical experiences I’ve ever had. I was also breaking out in hives all the time, turns out it was a dust mite allergy. Gross, I know. Ask for Dr.Fast, she is Janeane Garofalo and she is awesome.

  39. Stephanie

    Mayo worked well for us when our daughter had it. Get some generic miracle whip.

    I think the mayo suffocates the lice. And it’s so thick and cold that it feels soothing to your itchy scalp. Here’s a link for head lice home remedies: http://www.susangaer.com/studentprojects/lice.htm

    Just a note: I had a friend who’s daughter had it and she just kept obsessing and treating her again and again. Week four, her head kept itching and she took the poor girl back to the doctor thinking that she still had lice. Her skin was just irritated due to the over-treatment!

  40. The Scarlet Pervygirl

    You know, I didn’t think about it at the time, and this is probably something you don’t want to hear, but are you sure your allergy outbreaks aren’t bed bugs? Bed bug bites can often look like mosquito bites, and they occur all over the body. I mean, since you’re bagging and vacuuming everything anyway . . .

  41. Melissa

    Silver lining from the Harvard site listed above:

    “A few lice on the head should not cause alarm; rather, they present an opportunity for parents to spend the needed time with their children in order to find and remove the offending insects. Grooming can be an effective method to remove lice, and engenders several associated physiological and behavioral benefits as well.”

  42. ~*angelle*~

    I’ve had lice twice. The first time was my first year of high school. The second was my first year of college. That’s a story worthy of a blog post. Maybe I’ll write one one of these days. Anyway, I found out I had them during a Biology Lab class. I was idly scratching my head with one nail and looked down to see a wiggling bug on my finger. I had had them before so I knew what it was. That day in lab we were looking at pond water under microscopes. So, of course, I stuck the little sucker on a slide and checked it out. Hands down the coolest thing I have ever looked at under a microscope.

Comments are closed.