After our initial lice party, we realized how woefully unprepared we were to address our problem. A week later, we checked each other again, only to find a thriving colony in most of our tresses. With the exception of the one who didn’t have lice before, in whose hair we found a single louse.
That’s when we went into purge mode.
Though we lacked a drier, we had the Nicaraguan sun. We sealed most of our clothes, pillows, sleeping bag liners, and towels into black garbage bags and left them in the sun for an entire day. We did not have access to lice shampoo, but we did have mayonnaise. After washing our hair, we slathered it with mayonnaise, thinking the lice and their unborn would suffocate, put grocery bags over our hair and slept on it. The next day we ditched the combs and went straight to using our fingernails. Those sneaky a-holes didn’t know who they were dealing with.
It dawned on us at this point that our teammate who had never gotten lice dried her hair everyday. Connecting that with the heat used to kill the lice in our clothing and pillows, we realized this was likely why she remained free of this scourge.
Our actions thinned out the lice population, but one teammate in particular seemed to have caught a particularly pernicious strain of lice. While most of us had lice off and on for the next couple of months, hers were demonic. They traveled with us to the Philippines the next month, where we couldn’t break the language barrier enough to find shampoo. We found mayonnaise, only to realize upon slathering it onto the positive cases’ heads that it contained relish. Another delousing train later, most of the team was once again lice-free. Except for the one with demon lice. Those jerks defied any collective wisdom we’d heard about the fiends up to that point.
After 3 months of periodic positive lice checks, we elevated our game to Olympic level.
We were in Thailand at this point, in the city of Chiang Mai where we had access to everything we’d missed in the past two months. She washed the medicated shampoo out of her hair, and our teammate (who was a hair stylist in real life) professionally dried and straightened her hair. We then took shifts over the course of the next 14 hours picking each and every louse and egg out of her hair. One teammate was in charge of entertainment and meal breaks.
Slowly, bug by bug, to use a gross adaptation of that Anne Lamott quote, we searched and picked and went back through and picked some more. The heat of the hair dryer and flat iron had, mercifully, killed the eggs. But they still needed to be pulled from their vice-like grip on their respective strands of hair.
After that, we were lice free, but cautious. Our lice checks became routine. We knew the hot spots to check first, and were free to suggest and request an inspection. The rhythm of taking a seat and letting a teammate tilt my head this way, then the other, leaning close and picking a bit of lint and inspecting it under her headlamp to be sure it didn’t have legs. Once a week, then once a month, and then when we separated, not at all.
I told this story to the senior pastor of my church the first and (thus far) only time we had coffee. Why? The world may never know. I regaled him with the make-shift dryer substitute, the moment we realized the mayonnaise we bought had relish and the final marathon. I paused, then said that if I got lice today, I didn’t know who I would call to pick it out of my hair. I have close friends who would almost certainly oblige, but the idea of admitting I was powerless to address the problem on my own?
I sat back and wondered who I would call. At that moment, I didn’t have an answer. But I’d ask around. Just in case.