The Upside of Lice ~ Guest Post by Leigh Calvez

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The Upside of Lice ~ Guest Post by Leigh Calvez

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Author Leigh Calvez and her daughter Ellie in 2004.

I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting for hours combing through my daughter Ellie’s thick, curly, blonde hair, picking each and every tiny nit I could find.  The wails and screams I imagined were more than I could take. I had heard about Lice Girls, a new lice removal service on the Island. So, in we went for a head check after yet another lice scare.

I was pleasantly surprised by the welcoming space that looked more like a beauty parlor than anything else. A corner waiting area with a table and chairs, books and magazines created a comfortable space for children while the fresh green walls offered the entire space a spring-like feel, even on this winter day.

“Welcome,” said Sophia Gomma, co-owner of Lice Girls, as she ushered us to the waiting barber chairs.  Ellie hopped into the chair like she was going for a haircut.  Then Sophia donned her magnifying head gear, picked up a rat-tail comb and began piecing through Ellie’s hair one section at a time.

“Take a look at these bugs,” said Sophia, as she opened the tiny Petri dishes stacked one on top of the other to show me what she was looking for.

“No, don’t open it,” I heard my panicked voice say, while subconsciously leaning back and scratching my head.

“It’s okay, they’re dead,” reassured Sarah Frost, the other half of this dynamic duo. “They’re actually kind of cute,” she chimed.  I peered down at the mostly invisible bodies of various life stages of lice.  They weren’t so bad dead, though they did look a little tick-like.  I would never have been able to see them in Ellie’s thick hair.  So, I was grateful for this invaluable, service.

Lice have become a common occurrence here on Bainbridge but not for the reasons one would think.  It’s not because of the stereotypical ideas that “dirty” or “poor” kids carry them.  Lice are in fact blind to socio-economic status and cleanliness.  And it’s not because there are mothers among us that don’t care properly for their children, a worthless idea that causes more shame and guilt among mothers than is necessary. It’s actually because we have clean-haired children (it may actually be easier for lice to live in clean hair)that are happily, actively involved in various pursuits around the island like school, sports, dance and theatre­­—activities that may involve the sharing of coats, hats, brushes, helmets, towels or hair ties.

For thousands of years lice have been among us and may have provided us an extra protein source during lean times.  Today, in some countries they provide a means of bonding among women, as they sit in the afternoon shade, working, talking and taking turns “nit-picking”, no judgment, just care. The idea that lice are a plague to be eradicated is a first world idea.  And it may be this belief coupled with the overuse of chemicals to kill the lice that is causing most of the problem by creating pesticide resistant bugs that have little to no shortage in their food supply.

Lice aren’t actually dangerous, they don’t carry diseases and contrary to most common knowledge, about half of the people with lice do not itch at all.  “It’s an emotional reaction to start itching when we think or talk about lice,” said Sophia, as she continued to gently check Ellie’s head.

Frost and Gomma started Lice Girls last year as a mobile service then decided to open a center in the Tormey Lane development behind the Safeway complex.  As an alternative treatment to the potentially harmful, chemical shampoo offered, this newly developed heat treatment is more than 99% effective at killing nits and lice after one treatment.  The de-lousing device itself looks much like a small canister vacuum cleaner but acts more like a diffusing hairdryer, blowing air the temperature of the warm setting for thirty minutes. Then with a comb, they remove all the lice and dead nits. In a final step they apply a non-toxic, silicone serum to suffocate any lice that may have escaped their careful inspection—all in a little over an hour, while the client relaxes and watches a movie.

Lice can only survive off a human host for about 48 hours, so the house cleaning part of a lice event may not be as bad as one would expect.  Some things that heads have touched can easily be washed and dried like bedding, blankets and clothes, while other things can be vacuumed, placed in plastic bags, or thrown in the drier or freezer.

My daughter did not have lice, this time.  Yet, I learned much about these tiny creatures and I left the center not so daunted should she get them in the future.  Through Sarah and Sophia’s accepting, non-judgmental manner, I dropped my fear of getting lice.

At their worst, lice are a first-world, social disease, causing shame among those who have lice and judgment from some who don’t.  “We’ve had mothers tear up when we tell them we’ve found lice on their children,” said Sarah.  This is one disease that we can easily cure with simple compassion, especially for ourselves.

Leigh Calvez is a nature writer and writing coach. Her work has appeared in Bainbridge Island Magazine, Inside Bainbridge, anthologies “American Nature Writing 2003” by Fulcrum Books and “Between Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond” by Sierra Club Books. She recently published her first book, “Whale Watching on the West Coast”.


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