You know, I always used to laugh when my mom would pull back the fitted sheets of hotel beds, lift the picture frames off hotel walls as far as they could be pried up, shining her phone’s flashlight, on the hunt for bed bugs. She had read so many articles about people picking up bed bugs from hotels that she had become a self-proclaimed expert in searching for them. When I was contemplating moving to New York, she warned me “That’s where the bed bugs are!” Having never encountered bedbugs, I laughed it off. Little did I know what havoc the little buggers could cause.
It all started out innocently enough. I thought I had a few mosquito bites on my arm from the start of summer. It did seem strange how they were all perfectly in a line, but hey, maybe it had been a buffet line up for the family. Upon closer examination, didn’t those bug bites seem too small? And weren’t they sticking around longer than mosquito bites would? I grew up in New Orleans and loved going outside to climb trees no matter the weather, so I have a long history of bug bites. These bites seemed different to me. I worried, but in the beginning, I was so hesitant to admit it could be bedbugs.
Finally, as new bites began to appear, I did some research on the internet, where my suspicions were confirmed. I read horror stories of people having to throw out all their furniture, of bed bug damage ranging up to $10,000. I had nightmare filled with blood-sucking creatures and new mattresses covering the streets.
At first, I thought that maybe the infestation wasn’t so bad. I moved onto an air mattress in another room and began a war on the bed bugs using diatomaceous earth, bed bug spray, crawl-up interceptors, and poisons in sealed bags with clothes and other items from the room. I wanted to actually capture a bug before emailing the landlord to ask for a professional exterminator. I also hoped, as I always do, that I would be able to fix the situation myself. It really is mostly always a bad idea. Let it be fair warning, get professional help right away if you suspect bed bugs.
I tried moving back into the bedroom at some point, thinking that my solutions had worked. Unfortunately, by the end of the next day, I was itching away. There’s something psychologically disturbing when you feel you can’t get a good rest because little bugs are feeding away on you and sleeping in your bed as they do it. The fact that they can live for more than a year without feeding is ridiculous! The more you read about them and see pictures of them, the grosser you feel that they are living right beside you. Even when you’re outside and away from the bedroom, you feel phantom bugs crawling across your skin.
When my partner and I finally got in touch with our landlord and got a call from an exterminator, they asked us to put all of our clothes and fabric items in a dryer on the highest temperature setting for 30 minutes and to vacuum everything else. My partner and I had to take a day off of work and haul our clothes to a laundromat and back. It took five trips! (I kept thinking, “In less than a year, how have I accumulated this many clothes?!”) Then when we brought the bags back to our apartment, we had to seal them in large vacuum seal bags to keep any bedbugs from re-entering the fabric. Everything had to be moved away from the walls. It was a huge undertaking that left us completely exhausted. First, it was mid-July, and hotter than hot. And then, there was the feeling that we had done it all before! As a part of our home remedy, we had put all the clothes and fabrics in our bedroom through the scalding dryer just one week previous to the exterminator’s instructions. He instructed us that we’d have to do it all again.
For the month and half we were dealing with the problem, my partner was very embarrassed to talk about it. I think he felt that by talking about bedbugs, other people wouldn’t want to be around us. It’s true that bedbugs can hide in clothes and backpacks, but they’re not likely to be in clothes you are wearing. The clothes you wear move too much to be a good resting place for them during the day.Bedbugs are most likely to transfer from luggage, backpacks, mattresses, and used furniture where they’ve established a hideout. We kept our backpacks in the kitchen, a place that the exterminator later confirmed, was an area he wouldn’t even treat because bedbugs just don’t hang out in kitchens (unless mattresses and sleeping humans can also be found there)! So while our backpacks were never a threat to others, my partner feared that people would perceive a risk of ‘infection’. I think he worried that those eavesdropping on the subway and even our co-workers might perceive us as bedbug spreaders.
There is also the feeling that bugs flourish in places that aren’t clean or well kept up, but with bedbugs it doesn’t really matter how clean your apartment or mattress is. Bedbugs take up residence anywhere feasting is to be had! In close living quarters like apartment buildings, it’s easy for them to transfer from one unit to another, (under the walls, from one bedroom to another) no matter cleaning products you use. Even if you’re current with exterminator visits, they are still a threat!
When I brought up the topic with close friends, a few of them had their own bed bug horror stories to share and they sympathized with how stressful it can be. Both of my friends that had experienced bedbugs had had professional exterminators take care of the problem, and they urged me to go to my landlord even if I didn’t have proof. I know it’s not exactly polite dinner conversation, but in hindsight, it’s funny to think how easily the problem could have been solved the sooner I talked to people about it and the sooner I admitted it to myself.
Luckily, the exterminator took care of the bedbugs and we haven’t seen or felt any of them since. But their presence is well remembered…I admit that when I went on vacation with my mom this summer, I joined her in her vigilant check of our hotel rooms for the bugs, and I will never again laugh at her actions or warnings (at least when it comes to bedbugs)! I’ve learned the hard way that they are no laughing matter.