Confessions of a Nitpicker

Lee Lowery, Executive Director

Lee Lowery, ASHA Executive Director

Lice! It crashed into my life and turned my world upside down for a few weeks. It started with an email from from my 1st grader’s teacher that two of his classmates had lice; followed by a second note that two more classmates had it. When I went to pick up my sweet boy from school that day, I checked his head and my heart sank. Could this dandruff in his hair actually be nits? And then I began scratching my head. Literally.

And that’s how my unpleasant and frankly, emotional, War on Lice began. I’m not alone. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, “an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age”. By my non-scientific calculation, that’s a lot of miserable parents! I’ve confessed below many of my thoughts during my battle with lice. As you will see, they are grouped into 9 distinct stages to which I suspect many parents can relate:

  1. Denial – “Oh, that’s just dandruff. The difference between dandruff and nits is that dandruff just brushes right off. Wait, why isn’t this brushing off?”
  2. Fear
    • “There must be lice and nits in every nook and cranny of our house!”
    • “If my kid has it, the whole family probably has it!”
    • “What if it is just dandruff, and I treat him anyway? Will he be resistant to the medicine when he needs it one day?”
  3. Outreach – To Facebook friends and family: “Our worst nightmare has come true, we have lice!” (At this point, parents receive advice about every form of treatment from tea tree oil, to Cetaphil and a shower cap, to “lice ladies”, to new and improved prescription medicine that kills lice and nits. War stories are told. Expressions of sympathy are shared.)
  4. Relief, albeit short-lived – “I found a bug!” This confirms that your decision to use treatment was justified; at least you’ve done one thing right so far.
  5. Immediate new wave of fear 
    • “If there’s one bug, there’s likely more. Probably many more!”
    • “How in the world will I get rid of every single louse and nit?”
  6. Regret – “Why did I snuggle with my kid last night at bedtime? I definitely must have lice too.”
  7. Confidence
    • “I’ve combed his hair 1,000 times. There are no more lice and nits. I’ve got this!”
    • “Whether by vacuuming, laundering or spraying, my entire home has been sanitized. I’m going to win the War on Lice!”
    • “Now that I know what lice and nits look like, I’ll be more prepared next time.”
  8. Overconfidence
    • “I’m a Veteran of the War on Lice – a member of an exclusive group of parents who’ve been through hell and survived to share our wisdom.”
    • “I’ve got serious nitpicking skills.”
    • “How do I convert this new talent into a business venture?”
  9. Despair and hopelessness – A week later, literally scratching your head: “I see nits in his hair. Are they alive or dead? Will this ever end?”

There are other stages such as desperation, embarrassment, prayer, etc. I’m sure my fellow lice veterans could add many more. But the point is, facing a head lice infestation is downright traumatizing, especially for parents. There is a lot of information out there about how to deal with it effectively: some of it is good, but much of it is noise that drowns out the best advice.

I’m the Executive Director of the American School Health Association (ASHA), so I’m aware that there are many myths involved in the treatment of head lice. I even facilitated an ASHA webinar on the topic last August. However, on that first day of my personal War on Lice, I fell victim to much of the same noise that every parent hears when dealing with lice. If I could go back and do it all over, I would take a few deep breaths, watch our webinar, and feel confident in taking the right steps to win the War on Lice.

By the way, our webinar was so popular that together with ASHA’s corporate partner, Arbor Pharmaceuticals, we have asked our speaker, Wendy L. Wright, MS, RN, APRN, FNP, FAANP, FAAN, to present a second session on August 2, 2016 at 7pm ET. Click here to register for this free webinar. And please use the comment field below to let us know what you’d most like to learn about treating head lice.

As of this writing, I’m about a month and a half out from my discovery of lice. As I knock on wood, I’m pleased to share that our family has made it to the other side. If I can make it, you and the families that you work with, can make it here too. Join our webinar and let ASHA help make that journey easier.