I was certainly surprised one winter’s day when my little girl came trailing down the stairs from her nap to find me cozily reading in the kitchen.
My friend had called the week before to say she couldn’t come over, because her own little girl had developed a case of head lice.
“Head lice?!” I wanted to shriek, only didn’t, since my friend was already weeping softly over the horror of it all, she who keeps a house so clean you could toss a salad in the toilet bowl.
My little one crept up in my lap then, clutching her blanky and – scratching her head.
“YOU DON’T SUPPOSE…?!” I thought suddenly. I lifted a length of hair – and saw a row of teensy eggs stitched like seed-pearls along each wispy strand.
It was all I could do not to 911.
I tried holding her at arm’s length while urging her bendy limbs into a snowsuit so we could go to the doctor’s, and there’s a task roughly equivalent to drinking a glass of water with both arms in wrist-to-shoulder casts.
“Hmmm, fascinating!,” the doctor murmured, browsing through her scalp. “I’ve seen a thousand cases of nits – the lice’s eggs, you know – but never an actual louse!” he added, beaming.
Per his orders, I bought the nuclear shampoo and that medieval torture device the fine-tooth metal comb. Once home, I washed her hair with it, only to see the bathwater turn into a small Yangtze River, bustling with the commerce – dead now – of a hundred actual and ‘fascinating’ lice.
It was some little surprise, all right. But such surprises happen to us all.
My friend’s cat Squeak got gum trouble and went in to have her teeth out.
While under the knife, she was found to have a tumor too, which the vet removed. But at home, toothless and convalescing, she kept opening her wound. Finally, the vet put her on Valium. She jumped up on things and missed; forgot how to blink; smiled a lot; and developed a weird appetite – for elastics and earrings and cigarette butts. “Never mind Squeak, give ME the Valium!” my friend said to the vet next time she saw him.
Many surprises seem to involve the animal kingdom.
I think of the time my sister’s cat Shadow bit her on the toe. “At 2:00 A.M. the lymph nodes in my groin had swollen,” Nan wrote me afterward. “At 6am when I got to the Emergency Room, the doctors took eleven syringes of pus out of my foot and sent me home to bed with an Rx for Darvocet. Looks like yet another allergy to painkillers for me: everything I saw was framed like a stained-glass window, and the Space Shuttle kept landing in my kitchen.”
One animal surprise in her life didn’t even come from her own animal. She came out to the garage one morning to find that a wild beast had entered her car, spent several hours whooping it up to such an extent the sight of her car brought sobs of disgust even to the pros at the car-cleaning place.
You TRY to be ready for anything but hey, you can’t be. As a teen, I used to carry safety pins,TicTacs and pencils against life’s many surprises. As the years passed and I began catching on more, I added a pen-knife, Band-Aids, and disposable wipes. Now I’m considering a tourniquet, a pair of Depends and some feel-good pills myself.
The pills I may not need right now, but who knows? Anyway, according to Squeak, they go for ten bucks a pop on the street.