You know all those illnesses your parents and teachers freaked you out about when you were younger? Like if you ever caught tuberculosis or mono you’d probably die, so just shut up, do your homework, and don’t kiss anyone. Look at you now. You’re still alive, right? Yeah you are, because all these things really weren’t that big of a deal. Like lice… who cares? It’s just some bugs hanging out on your head, making it itchy. It’s fun to itch stuff! Picking at shit rules! Did you know people actually get paid to pick lice off kids’ dirty little scalps? Yes, that is a job, and it is not called "school nurse." We talked to a lice picker and now we are scratching our heads, but not out of confusion.
Vice: Hi Lindsey, I heard you have a job. What is it?
Lindsey: I am the assistant manager of a clinical salon that removes head lice. So, basically I comb bugs out of peoples' hair.
Have you always dreamt of growing up and picking bugs off strangers’ heads?
Well, no. It had never really occurred to me that this job might actually exist before I saw the ad for it.
How’d you land the job?
I had just moved to Chicago and I was looking on Craigslist at job postings and I saw an ad for it. I sort of applied to it jokingly and never actually thought that I would hear back from them, which is strange looking back on it. I'm not entirely sure why I thought that there would be a ton of people applying for this job.
That’s the kind of ad most people would just glance right over. I bet it feels very rewarding at the end of the day, knowing you’re helping children.
It really does feel rewarding. Most of the kids that come in are super cute and funny, so it does feel good knowing that we are helping them out.
Tell me about a typical workday.
Well, it usually starts out with checking the phone messages and having at least seven calls from moms who are freaking out because everyone in their family has lice. Then calling them all back to schedule appointments and trying to calm them down and keep them from either A) throwing away all of their furniture or B) cutting all of their kids' hair off themselves. They come in for their treatments and we have to dispel every myth and inaccurate home remedy and answer about a thousand questions. Once all of that is over with the job is actually quite fun. We pretty much just get to talk to the kids and their parents while we are treating them, much like a regular salon environment I guess.
Yeah, I guess it is kind of similar. A little. Do you have to wear a uniform?
We actually wear pretty cute outfits. We try to look as non-frumpy as possible and the least like what you would imagine someone who combs lice out of your head to look like. I wear those solid colored v-neck dresses from American Apparel that are made out of material similar to scrubs. They also just got these great aprons in that I have been wearing over the dresses lately. And scarves covering our hair of course.
Cute! What kind of tools do you use to get rid of the lice? Or is it pretty much diving in there with your hands?
Mostly I use my cunning. And a metal nit comb and a variety of other non-toxic products that help to remove the nits (those are the lice eggs).
Do you ever worry about catching those cooties yourself?
After about the fourth time of getting it I kind of just stopped even caring anymore. The first time I got it I thought it was hilarious. My boss was actually the one who found it. We had had some particularly severe cases that day so we decided to check each other. We had been joking about how my hair would be like a Sandals Resort for lice and if a louse were to ever get into my hair they would never want to leave (it's really long and really thick) and then sure enough, there it was. She started crying. I burst out laughing and called everyone I knew to tell them I had lice.
Whoa, I guess it comes with the trade though. At least it’s better than being a sex worker and catching something there. There are different kinds of lice, right?
There are indeed different types of lice. We only deal in the ones that live on your head though. We did have one mom who thought that they could live in other bodily regions and she made her 14-year-old son put the toxic over-the-counter lice shampoo on his junk. That stuff is basically a pesticide. Not sure that it is too good for the balls. I felt really bad for that kid. He didn't even end up having lice either.
I feel like this job could be kind of relaxing and provide immediate satisfaction since picking at stuff is pretty fun. What do you think?
Oh definitely. I am a total picker—scabs, dandruff, dead skin, hangnails, you name it. When I get a kid in who has like hundreds of nits and bugs in their hair I get kind of excited. It's so satisfying pulling out 50 eggs in one swipe of the comb.
Blergh! What do you do with the bugs afterwards?
We wipe the combs out on a towel during the treatments so they stay confined, then we throw the towels into a vinyl hamper (the bugs can't crawl on anything that doesn't have a fiber so things like vinyl, wood, metal, etc., cannot have lice on them), and then we have a towel service that comes every few days to clean them.
What does lice look like anyway? Is it scary and gross looking or just your normal, everyday kinda bug?
They are not as gross as I thought they were going to look. I would say that they are grosser looking than ants but not as gross looking as those silverfish bugs that are really fast and creepy. What is more gross than the actual bugs is when kids have cradle cap, which is basically really severe dry skin to the point where it flakes off in huge clumps and is usually kind of a yellowish-orange color. And also, sometimes kids' heads smell funny.
Yeah, I bet. Kids are kind of gross. If you weren't busy having this fun job what else would you be doing?
Probably just hanging out with my boy and our dog.
So, unemployed, and doing what all those people do.