Nightmare on Mic-Street IV  (Page 3)                   [ Go to start of article? ]

 I combed her hair gently, hoping we wouldn't actually find anything. Nothing seemed to fall on to the white paper we had put on the table she was leaning over, until she impatiently took the comb from my hand and fervently, almost angrily, threw it into her hair  and repeatedly thrashed away with it for about thirty seconds...

Hey, maybe you've been there too? Your kid home from school... an innocent and beautiful loved one wondering why you were so het up about combing and picking your way through their hair when you would normally be chatting to them over dinner. You have..? Then you know sure as hell how I felt when my princess glanced down at that paper and saw the bugs, falling like rain, onto its snow-white surface and moving around! When you love someone strong, you can't help but feeling very protective towards them. I felt her horror like a hot knife too.

She turned  and looked at me, real slow, kinda guilty... a look in her eye as if she had brought home a deadly disease about to wipe us out!

Now, us microscopy guys don't get so all fired up over a few little creatures (although, I must confess - there was one hell of a population getting cold and hungry on that sheet of white) so I leant over and kissed her gently: "Honey...", I said, softly: "Don't you go worrying now, we'll soon fix it".

She wasn't convinced. I said, jokingly, "Well, think of it another way, Van - we get a chance to study these critters while we get rid of them... but I sure ain't paying you by the dozen!"

It made her laugh, and when she relaxed, her brain went into gear. "Get the camera - take some shots of the ones on the paper while I go to the chemists (drug-store) and get something to kill them", she said. So I did... with a very special camera that films at a 100x magnification! Here's our first shot which I have since marked up to give you an idea about these tenacious little beasts:- Now, despite the pain and nuisance these things cause, I personally think they are one hell of a neatly designed set of critters. Oh.. yeh... beware of my marking up here, especially where I have named those dark blobs either side of the head as eyes. Sure, they look like eyes, but this is only speculation at the moment:  you can't assume they are a particular thing just because they are positioned where we would expect eyes to be.

Its one thing to see lice picked off from their natural environment and studied on a sheet of paper but how much better we get to  understand things when they can be observed naturally. I discussed this with Vanessa, explaining that if she could just tolerate being 'infested' a while longer, we could use the opportunity to learn some more. I guess if you don't practise amateur microscopy for a hobby like me and Van, you'd think me crazy for even suggesting this to her. Van on the other hand thought about it for a few moments before replying: "Sure.. why not?! I've been carrying them around for a while now, so what's the difference in waiting a few hours before I get rid of them."

I especially wanted to film one feeding. I told her, excitedly: "Sweep back your hair away from your neck, honey, and I'll see if I can find one taking a meal."

She did like I asked and stood very still while I set up my camera and tripod. I slipped on the 100x lens - flicked on a very bright spotlight (cold-beam) and got in close to her neck. I found one right away. It was a new-born... an instar, I think they're called! It was just starting to fill up with blood... its piercing mouth had already sunk through Van's thin skin into a small blood vessel. I mentioned this to Van. She shuddered slightly but otherwise seemed okay about it... that's my girl: she's got a cool mind and ain't so easy to scare.  I thought to myself - maybe asking her to mess around like this was a bit unkind but I know her well and Van doesn't do anything unless she wants to. She was probably thinking it worth the effort so she could study the film I was taking later.

What amazed me, when I focussed up, was that the louse didn't seem to want to drop down fully on her skin to feed. It just sat there with two of its claws wrapped tightly around one of her fine hairs while it lowered the front of its body slowly forwards to get into a 'feeding' position.

To cut a long story short: we took some film for about an hour, then Van got fed of being the guinea pig, and went off to get some stuff from the chemist. As soon as she left, I browsed through some of my books to learn a bit more about head lice.

I guess we all think we know a lot just because we hear a few things here or there and take it for granted. Most of my books didn't tell me much more than I thought I already knew... except one of them. What it said made me realize we might have a problem I hadn't even thought about...

.. for a starter - 'head lice' was a very bad description of these microscopic creatures: 'Hair Lice' is what they really are! Now this might be a small point but it was sure hard to get the essence of its implications over to Van when she got back from her shopping trip. Suffice it to say that as soon as she got back, and I mentioned it to her, we took a look... and sure enough - the book was right! I ain't gonna spell it out for you, but Van was so disgusted that -  she agreed I could show you this bit of film I took so you know what to check out for yourself...

I know Van is very cool in most situations so I have to say I've never seen her quite so all-fired up to get her clothes off. As soon as we found out the book was spot on target, she was in the shower and steaming herself like she wanted to burn-off her entire top layer of skin.

When I went into the bathroom afterwards to do the same, the insecticide shampoo, a special lotion, and a flea comb were sitting on a shelf - so I used them too on every part of my body with hair! We both felt a lot better and I made us some tea to try and get the situation back to normality. Van seemed quieter than usual. I should have guessed her mind was racing ahead of mine: "We have to wash all the sheets and the duvet... our clothes too..." she said, almost talking to herself, "... they will have laid their eggs everywhere!"

I hadn't thought about this aspect but, of course, she was right. We spent the whole weekend scrubbing and cleaning. She repeated the exercise back at her flat during the week. The following weekend, Van came over as usual on the Friday night and we went out to catch a movie. We spoke a bit about the lice thing but not much, we were just happy to have a normal night out. We were pretty tired so when we got back to my place we just flopped out and went to sleep.

At around 4.00 in the morning, I got woken up by Van jumping around in the bed. She was still asleep but something was disturbing her. As soon as I switched on the bedside light, I knew what it was...
... the lice were back: we hadn't got rid of them at all!

    SEE CREDITS FOR THIS ARTICLE (c) Microscopy UK & Micscape magazine Contributors 1998 All rights reserved in the interest of the contributors,   Visit Larry and Vanessa's Web-site to exlore their microcosmic world  
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