The bugs stop here
Do you thirty-somethings out there remember, way back in our primary school days, that if a kid got headlice (nits) then their social life was officially over?
Having NITS at my school was an absolute no-no; only the 'stinkies' of the class got it and were mercilessly teased for this misfortune. It is of course all too easy to look back at those unfair judgements on kids who had no choice about being poor/ill-treated/smelly/abused/nit-infested, but it did seem that only those kind of kids attracted the lice.
These days it's a vastly different story. Sapphire's school is constantly under seige from the little buggers (pun intended) and I've had to hose down her mortified Grandmother a few times and reassure her that the nits of the new millennium are like Paris Hilton - completely unfussy about where - and with whom - they sleep.
At least, I hope so, because my little girl was colonised by the creepies five times last year and three times this year (so far). During each outbreak the same, much-photocopied newsletter gets sent home in the childrens' schoolbags - lines so toner-smudged the hand-drawn diagram of a lice resembles an elephant, but the message is still easily read: Lice are not fussy about clean or dirty hair, nor do they differentiate between hair colours, styles, lengths, thicknesses or parental income categories.
Keeping hair up is recommended, as is spraying in mousse or hairspray as this tends to put off the beasties. (Perhaps they're repelled by their version of acid rain in the forests). All well and good, but Sapphire keeps her hair clean, puts it up into piggy tails and I regularly spray it with 'Hair Lice Prevention Serum'. Perhaps they got the labels wrong, because her little 'ol head seems to draw the nits in like stoners to Woodstock: "Heeey man, we've finally found it - the golden forest maaaan!"
It is with great sadness that I admit to being somewhat of an expert on head lice now. Manys the time Love Chunks' and my hopes have been dashed when Sapphire's unwanted head-guests reappear after being slathered in green, stinking head gunk: this stuff may get rid of the actual lice, but the eggs are welded on to those hairs. No amount of sudsy pino-clean is going to get rid of them, oh no, it's not that easy. Instead, you have to put your child's head under a lamp, and pick through their hair - quite literally - with a fine toothed comb. The eggs are about as big as an ant's arse and being coloured whitish grey they're bloody hard to find in Sapphire's golden blonde hair.
Each egg has to be individually gripped by two fingernails and meticulously dragged off the hair shaft before being flung with digust into a tissue. Try doing this fifty times (after combing out the bodies of twenty five fully hatched lice) and you'll end up with a crying child suffering from neck-ache and a parent who goes to bed with lice dancing insolently before her eyes.
Last night, Sapphire woke up moaning and scratching at midnight. "Mum! M-u-u-um, I'm itchy! I think they're back again!" Put it this way: leaning up tiredly against the bed picking through Sapph's hair at 1am before changing her sheets and pyjamas is not situated too close to 'I'd like to shag John Cusack' on my life's Wish List.
Today, as I sat here at my desk in the orrible orifice, the hair over my ears started to rustle. Then itch.... It quickly spread to the back of my neck and the top of my head and my hands were flaying about like Peter Garrett's - surely I hadn't got them as well? What was I going to do - Love Chunks was away in Melbourne for the week and I was pretty confident that my boss, Queen B, wouldn't be too keen to sift through my head with her red and blue pens.
Luckily - at least for me, not her - my buddy Jill was having her very first day at work in another research team downstairs. As I nervously opened the door to her office, I could see that she was in that First Day of Work Hell mode - perching next to the job-leaver's desk, face aching from smiling and nodding and trying to look as though she understood everything and that it was all incredibly interesting. In addition, she was taking over Debra's role, whilst Debra was on leave. Debra's idea of helpfulness was to feign a migraine, or to put up her hand and shout "That's not my job - go and see blah blah" yet she was always the first at the coffee and cake mornings gabbing on about how incredibly busy she was. As a result, she was about as popular as halitosis - the entire building couldn't wait to see the back of her.
"Um, excuse me Debra, Jill.... Could I see you, Jill outside for a minute? There's something urgent I need to discuss with you. We'll be right back, Debra."
"Help me!" I hissed between my teeth, over-smiling at a boffin passing by. "My head is itching like crazy - I think I've caught Sapphire's nits!"
Bless her sweet, kind heart, she didn't show one hint of being worried about catching them herself or passing them on to her own three children. Instead she ferried me off to the toilets and had me lean over with my hands on my knees for support. No pens even, just her hands - is that true friendship or what?
"Hmmm, let me see..... Yep, there's Mum and Dad! Well, they're now squashed, dead and in the bin..... They've been busy though, laying quite a few eggs.....," and she picked out every single one.
"Thanks Jill, I owe you one. Er, not lice, I mean, a favour." I washed my hands and noticed that she wasn't. "I think you'd better wash your---"
"Nah," she cut in. "Debra's driving me nuts - maybe I should pat her on the head in a gesture of thanks for her superb handover."
There was a tiny bit of karma for Jill unfortunately - one of her kids got worms that night - but thank god they don't have to be individually sought and picked out of their bottoms!