Hospitalised by head lice

Nits have become an unfortunate fact of life for many families. But for poor Hayley, the situation turned shocking.
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Hayley Mayo, 21, Chester Hill, NSW

Feeling the familiar crawling sensation across my scalp, I groaned. Not again! I thought, starting to scratch furiously at my head. I knew immediately what it was.

Head lice. It was the second time I’d picked them up in the past six months. That’s just what happens when you’ve got a job as a childcare worker!

When I’d first been struck down, I’ve got to be honest, I was absolutely revolted. Pulling back my long mane of hair, I could see the tiny lice moving through the strands. Ewww!

I tried for weeks to get rid of all the lice and their eggs with over-the-counter medicated shampoos, but nothing seemed to help. Frustrated, I resorted to a professional salon treatment.

It was a long, expensive process with a lot of different chemical washes, but it seemed to do the trick. I was so relieved – finally, I thought I could put my lice problems behind me.

But now, six months on, it looked like the awful bugs had returned – with a vengeance!

With no cash for another professional treatment right away, I tried my best to battle the nits myself. I spent hours washing all my clothes and sheets. Then I shampooed my hair with medicated treatment every day, combing out the dead insects and their eggs after each session. But try as I might, the lice just wouldn’t leave.

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Before long, my poor scalp was all scabbed and bloodied from the constant scratching.

A month later, I was running my fingers over the back of my head when I realised there was a particularly painful area at the base of my skull. Over the next few days the wound seemed to get bigger and more irritated, so I went to my local doctor.

What he said next shocked me to the core. ‘The lice have eaten a hole into your scalp,’ he explained. What?!

I reeled in disgust. How was this even possible? It was like something out of a gory horror movie! Those lousy lice were eating my head for dinner.

As the infestation was still really bad, I was referred to a dermatologist. But the day before my appointment, I noticed some swelling around my forehead. It’s probably just a reaction to all the medicated shampoo, I thought. But when my eyes started to swell as well, I knew something was very wrong.

By the time my appointment came around, my face was as big as a balloon and the pain in my head was unbearable.

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‘The wound has become infected,’ the dermatologist told me as she gently examined the area.

I was prescribed antibiotic cream and my doctor assured me that it would work to bring the swelling down within 24 hours. I used the treatment as instructed – but my face continued to get bigger.

I could hardly sleep because of the pain and felt so bad that I was forced to stay off work. To make matters worse, I’d been told not to wash my hair while my head healed.

A week later my face had ballooned so badly that I could hardly even recognise myself in the mirror. ‘I’m taking you to hospital,’ my mum Michele, 45, told me.

I was admitted while doctors conducted more tests.

‘You’re suffering from a staph infection,’ one told me. He went on to explain that staph bacteria can live harmlessly on the skin, but when they enter open wounds they can cause severe problems.

In this case the bacteria had spread through my blood from the lacerations in my scalp caused by the hungry nits.

The medical staff were shocked. They’d never seen anything this bad caused by head lice before. I was placed on an antibiotic drip and given more cortisone injections.

After 24 hours of this treatment, I finally started to see some improvements as the swelling in my head began to go down a little. Unfortunately however, staph infections are notoriously hard to get rid of, so the next few weeks were a constant battle.

I broke out in a rash all over my body, I felt really tired and run-down and my glands were swollen as my immune system struggled to cope with the ongoing assault.

But finally, after two long months of regular treatment, the staph infection was under control and the lice infestation began to lessen.

Eventually, I was even well enough to go and have my poor head treated at the specialist hair salon again. It took four sessions of treatment, but I was eventually declared completely lice-free!

The day I walked out the door with the breeze blowing through my nit-free hair, I felt so relieved. I’ve since quit my job in childcare, and these days I run a mile if I see someone scratch at their head!

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