A Global Pandemic Outside and a Different Outbreak Inside
By Chantal Saville
Photo © natabene/Twenty20
Sep 21, 2020
In the days just after March Break 2020, when school was cancelled but I hadn’t quite absorbed the reality of the danger we were facing from COVID-19, I focused instead on finding things to do with my daughter.
The fact that we were going to be living in lockdown for who knew how long was one motivation, but it was also a great way to distract myself from the constant, crippling worry about floating virus particles surrounding us and every package that came through the front door.
In no time, Nikki and I were baking banana bread and then eating all of it, making elaborate lunches and one afternoon tea, challenging each other at Mario Kart, playing with our dog Poppy and, in general, just being.
This family became a full house with a gastro bug on the loose. Read how this family took care of the stomach flu here.
I was able to relax a little because of one tiny silver lining: no yelling at her to “hurry up or we’ll be late” and no homework hassles. Just being.
About fifteen days into this idyll, we were sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying an easy lunch of nachos made from leftover chilli — that we had made together the previous day — and chatting about Nikki’s latest creations on her island in Animal Crossing, when she reached forward to grab her iced tea. And that’s when it happened: a dark spot mysteriously appeared on the edge of her plate.
"Maybe it was just a stray bit of kidney bean," I thought to myself. Except for one problem. It moved!
I almost poked my eye out, getting my glasses off the top of my head in my rush to see what it was. My second thought was that it could be a tick, a plague that Kingston is well known for but that we had yet to come face to face with in our first two years of living here.
No. It wasn’t a tick. It was too small. But it was moving, albeit slowly. Maybe it was dying. Maybe it was…
“Uh Mom? Is that lice?”
Bet you didn’t have that square on your 2020 pandemic bingo card, did you? How, in the name of all the freaking pandemic possibilities, could my daughter have a case of head lice during a lockdown? We hadn’t been leaving the house except for dog walks! Not even for groceries, which we were having delivered.
"An adult louse was sitting on the edge of Nikki’s plate, as if we’d invited it over for a family lunch of nachos and iced tea."
HOW could this have happened?
It’s simple, really. Picture it: school playground March 13, 2020 at 3 p.m.: the last day of school before the break and a group of coltish, long-haired tween girls who were flitting from one to the other, practically falling over themselves to get in one last dramatic goodbye hug.
Fifteen days later? An adult louse was sitting on the edge of Nikki’s plate, as if we’d invited it over for a family lunch of nachos and iced tea.
Getting Rid of Our New Neighbours
I sat in the kitchen when that dreaded feeling of itchiness began creeping up my arms and onto my own scalp; itch by association. We’d only ever dealt with lice once before and that was an easy case to manage: I called the people who came to your house to delouse your child, handed the lady my credit card and asked her to do whatever it took. I knew if I had tried to deal with it, there would have been a lot of screaming and crying and Nikki would have been upset too.
With a stranger handling the comb, Nikki behaved like an angel and let the lady do her job with nary a whimper. In hindsight, I realized that I should have been paying closer attention to how the lice expert was getting the job done because this time, during lockdown, I was on my own. I had a metal lice comb from that earlier episode but otherwise, I had no idea what to do. So I went to the only place open to me during quarantine: the drug store.
"Which is precisely the instant a full-grown louse decided to drop from my head and onto the pharmacy counter."
The pharmacist gave me a knowing nod while she handed me a box of a product, which she said worked wonders with her child, though it took her a couple of treatments to get it fully licked. There was no one else waiting, so I got a quick lesson from her on the lifecycle of lice and how the treatments work.
Feeling slightly queasy and overwhelmed with everything going on in the world — a global pandemic, murder hornets and a certain political leader to the south! — I put my head in my hands for a moment to take it all in. Which is precisely the instant a full-grown louse decided to drop from my head and onto the pharmacy counter.
Both myself and the pharmacist jumped back.
“Well, that gives new meaning to ‘sharing is caring’!” she said, as she reached down, grabbed another box of the delousing product and pushed it across the counter towards me, crushing my unwelcome guest enroute. I once again pulled out my credit card, without even asking the price, unable to look the woman in the eye.
I took my boxes home and pulled out my phone to look up how to comb out a kid’s hair with the least amount of tears on YouTube. Guess what? YouTube, not for the first time, was utterly, utterly wrong! While I diligently directed swipe after swipe through Nikki’s hair and pulled out bug after bug, wiping them off on paper towels, she screamed bloody murder. I was amazed that cops didn’t show up at our door, telling us a neighbour, or two, had complained.
Then came time to figure out how I was going to comb out my own hair. By myself. Because letting the 11-year-old have a go at me, a child who was mad at me for yanking on her hair for an hour, wasn’t an option.
“Uh mom? I think you’d better come see this!”
The contortions I had to do to get to the back of my head put me within spitting distance of going full on G.I. Jane and shaving it all off, but finally, after much juggling of the comb, paper towels, and my phone with the video telling me in an excessively cheery tone that I COULD do it, it was done.
A further treatment a few days later netted no new lice on Nikki or me and, feeling good about my efforts, I thought that this pox on our house was over and done with.
You know that saying from the Bible "pride goeth before the fall"? Yep. That was me. Exactly eleven days after the second treatment, I heard Nikki say from the den, where she had been lying, watching TV: “Uh mom? I think you’d better come see this!” And for a split second, I hoped against all hope that she had spilt her lunch all over our relatively new light coloured sofa. Or barfed on it. Or started her period. Anything except what I knew she was going to show me.
Remember the “Luke, I am your father” scene from Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back? A very similar "NOOOOOO" came out of me, which scared the dog so badly she peed on the floor. Nikki took it in stride, though. She led me, snivelling and whimpering, to the bathroom and got out the remaining product and the comb. We went through the whole process again, cleaned up the Poppy pee and crossed our fingers.
After a couple of weeks of checking both our heads, I felt sure we were in the clear and was sitting chatting to my Mom — who lives with us but has her own space and was completely unaffected by the vermin situation — when she started scratching her head.
I just shuddered and sipped my Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe lice don’t like alcohol, I thought hopefully. “Mom? Do you want another glass?”
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