Who knew that one of a school nurse’s primary duties is to try to keep her students’ heads free of those dreadful, sneaky, little bugs called Pediculus Humanus Capitis, more commonly known as head lice. Lice start out as teensy, tannish-white grains of sea salt clinging to the shafts of their innocent victim’s hair. But, then, one or two weeks later, those eggs (called nits) grow or hatch into sesame seed-sized creepy-crawlies. They look monstrous when viewed under a microscope or in an online picture or, heaven forbid, up close and personal, on someone’s head!
I’m sure they look so big and ominous when you find them crawling around on scalps because of the stigma attached to lice. Nobody wants to deal with head lice, especially on their own child. At the least, it’s a difficult process to get rid of them. You have to have the money to buy the shampoo that kills the bugs. Then, you have to follow the instructions carefully–soaping up, waiting while the shampoo does its work, rinsing, combing and combing and combing. Then, you have to make sure no one else in the household is affected (infected?). You have to clean the couch and linens and clothes and car seats and yourself (just in case…your head IS itching…) Finally, after missing a couple of days of work and classes, you get to take the student back to school and have the nurse go through the hair, strand by strand (for goodness sake, can’t she hurry up?) and, after all that, have her tell you that you missed a nit, so you have to go back home and try again.
It’s understandable why that tiny bug looks like such a huge disgusting monster. It makes you itch, it multiplies like crazy, costs you a lot of time and money, and makes you feel dirty. Parents don’t always know that anyone can get head lice—lice do not discriminate. They will happily crawl onto any convenient head. Statistically, head lice crawl onto a lot of heads (an estimated twelve million cases annually in the United States, according to ABC News in 2012.) Despite the fact that lice have been around a long time, public awareness and education is not all that great. A parent once worriedly asked me “Isn’t head lice a venereal disease?” Caught unaware, it took me a second to come up with an answer and, without thinking clearly, I chirped, “Oh no, that’s another kind of lice. We don’t check for THAT kind!” Needless to say, I didn’t last long as a school nurse,.