It’s A Tragedy All The Way Around

August 12, 2013

The headline screamed out to me:  Child Burned when Mother uses Gasoline to Treat Head Lice.  I read the article and my heart just broke, for the child, for the mother, for the family.  The mother now sits in jail charged with child abuse.  If convicted, the state of Oklahoma is actually considering sentencing this woman to life imprisonment.  Let me say that again.  They are considering sending this woman to prison for LIFE.

I do not know this mother, I do not know her history with her children. What I do know is that a family dealing with a head lice problem will sometimes go to extremes to get rid of head lice. These are not bad parents, these are desperate parents. They are frustrated, they are tired, and they all too often – due to society’s misconceptions about head lice – feel a deep sense of shame and inadequacy as a parent.  They have typically tried every OTC product (which research shows lice have developed an increasing resistance), every home remedy they have ever read about (which usually just makes a mess and is not effective), even tried prescription treatments (again, lice are becoming resistant to these as well). They have cleaned and bagged everything in their home because most well-meaning people and almost all information found on the Internet will advise them to do so even though the research and evidence shows that lice cannot survive more than 24 hours off their human host. And despite all their efforts, their child still has lice. Somewhere, this woman heard or read about the use of gasoline as a solution to head lice.  Some may say “how can anyone be that stupid or have such poor judgment?”  Before you judge this mom’s education level or judgment, I’d like to share with you that  I had a college-educated mom who lived in a very affluent part of town actually try this remedy as well. Fortunately, her child was not harmed; yet the child still had lice even after the gasoline treatment. Hence, she ends up in my office to be treated. I had a very long discussion with this mother about the hazards of gasoline as a lice treatment.  In 1997, an Iowa mother tried gasoline and yes, her daughter was hospitalized for severe burns.  In 2009, an Indiana 19 year old college student suffered burns after her gasoline soaked hair ignited; she too was trying to get rid of head lice.  The stories are endless.

Gasoline is not the only harmful substance that parents use.  There is actually a prescription treatment that is highly flammable as well. Yes, a prescription treatment that is received from a physician.  There was a recent incident where a mother had put this product in her child’s hair (it must be left in for 8 to 12 hours) and it was the child’s birthday. She leaned over to blow out her birthday candles and her hair caught on fire and she suffered 3rd-degree burns on her face. Not a happy birthday.

What’s the answer?  Education, education, education.  What needs to be understood is that lice have no serious ill health effects – it’s “gross” for some, it can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, etc., but you will not die or require hospitalization.  This mother who may go to prison for LIFE is not being rehabilitated in any way.  What she needs is better parent education.  Her child will hopefully have somewhat of a recovery from her burns, but will she ever recover from her mother being taken away from her?  Will this mother ever recover from the guilt she must be feeling or the fact that she may never hold her child in her arms again? This mother also suffered severe burns to over 70% of her body. This has turned into a two-fold tragedy.  Who benefits with this mom’s LIFE sentence?  This mother just simply did not know what to do.