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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

At work she's a nitpicker -- literally

07we1nits 3.jpg

Helen Hadley demonstrates her nitpicking technique at her Needham home
(Globe Staff Photo by Bill Polo)

NEEDHAM

Helen Hadley bends close over the target area, magnifying glass in hand. Repositioning her lamp, she peers carefully at a single hair.

‘‘There it is,’’ she murmurs as she deftly removes her specimen and transfers it for safekeeping. She turns back to her work, steely-eyed and determined.

A detective? A forensic scientist? No, the Needham woman is one of a rarer breed. She’s a professional nitpicker — yes, that’s nits, as in the eggs of head lice, and today’s crime scene is the head of a 9-year-old girl.

While over-the-counter products like Nix can kill the adult louse, the only way to eliminate the eggs is by manually removing them.

Even with a fine-toothed lice comb, it’s not an easy task. Often families think they have rid themselves of the tiny parasites, only to find a new generation thriving a few days later. For those people, Hadley is a godsend.

Hadley, who is in her mid-50s, may be the only professional nitpicker in New England, although in the absence of accrediting schools and associations, it’s hard to be sure.

She does know of several nitpickers in California, Florida, and New York, but she hasn’t encountered competition in this area. She’s been called to homes as far away as Rhode Island and New Hampshire, but works mostly in suburban Boston.

Although she does advertise through mass mailings to elementary school nurses, word of mouth is her biggest source of business. Even at $100 an hour, her unusual calling can keep her booked up to two weeks in advance. ...

Read more of the story about Helen Hadley's unusual job in tomorrow's Globe West.

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