Head Lice and Shame

I grew up in Alberta. There, the winters are cold enough that the only animal that had fleas would be mangy and often diseased. And head lice were unheard of. Perhaps the cold worked at keeping the numbers down there too.

Then I moved to BC, where there was a plethora of insects and other buggy vermin: spiders that flew in the wind on their spinnerets, spiders the size of your palms, slugs as long as a foot-long sub, moths, aphids, fleas on every animal if the summer was humid, mosquitoes year-round even if they didn’t bite, horseflies, black widows, bugs, everywhere!

The fleas were a horrid revelation and took some getting used to. I was particularly sensitive to the bites and after spending a summer of scratching my legs to bloody, I saw my doctor for something to stop the itching. That, and I moved out from my messy roommates and into a place on my own. Oh yes, keeping things clean can make a difference in the virulence of an infestation. Vacuuming regularly kept the eggs at bay and then it was a matter of making sure the cat was flea-combed or giving it some anti-flea liquid. Fleas are one of a host of vampiric bugs, commonly known as parasites, which include bedbugs, mosquitoes and lice.

Lice have been close buddies of humans for three million years. Which means we may never be able to eradicate them without eradicating humans. Why am I talking about lice? Because I had the utmost misfortune of encountering them. I was once visiting friends who had kids. I slept on the floor, on a mat, in a sleeping bag and played with the kids while there.

A week later, I had a bit of a rash on my neck but I have sometimes got the same thing from mild allergies so it didn’t seem unusual. But one day I was reading a paper, scratching at my head when this bug fell on to the paper. Frantically I began shaking my hair and ruffling it, watching in horror as more vermin fell to the page. Little beige, eye shaped vermin. There is nothing more disgusting than finding live critters crawling on your body.

I don’t remember what I did next but I found out pretty damn quickly that they were lice. Next was going to the pharmacy and wincing as I said I had lice and what should I do. They sold me some tarry shampoo, which I ran home and used. I’ve read you can coat your hair in olive oil, which is supposed to work. Any other oil in a person’s hair and it takes forever to remove. Supposedly olive oil is the only oil that can be shampooed out. Reading the little pamphlet, it said to use the comb afterwards, the special louse comb to remove the nits, which are the eggs of the little vampires. I did but having fairly long hair, there was no way I could be sure that I got them all.

I didn’t relish shaving my head, which is often what happens when kids get lice. So I shamefully called up one of my best friends and asked her if she would be so good as to comb through my hair. I sat outside, luckily in summer and she took a couple of hours to comb through all my hair. I used the shampoo several more times. But I also had to wash any bedclothes or clothes lying about. I had to bag every cushion or anything else of fabric for weeks. I had to vacuum feverishly.

Luckily I got rid of them. But I also did the responsible thing, although I felt ashamed for getting lice and felt dirty. I contacted everyone I had been around and told them what they had to do. I was also extremely pissed off at the friends whose place I was at because they never bothered to warn me, knowing their kids’ school had lice and that their kids had had them several times. That they could be so disrespecting of their friends and so uncaring of their children truly stunned me.

Then about a month later I picked up the lice again because I was around the same people and I had to inform everyone a second time. These people said nothing. Were they too ashamed to admit it? I don’t know but I had to say where I had got them so friends could check themselves. But I can say that I never ever visited or stayed at those people’s houses ever again. 

As far as I’m concerned they should have felt shame for not informing their friends. It’s the same as picking up any contagious disease or illness (like STDs) and not letting the people you came into contact with that they could be infected. That being said, we all manage to pass colds on from one person to the next but by the time you realize you have a cold, you’ve already infected others and with colds all you can do is bide your time. Infestations of vermin are another story and they can get out of hand if not controlled.

Having been fed on by mosquitoes, fleas and lice, I can say I would miss these bugs if they disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ve paid my dues and given enough blood.

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