How Bed Bugs Ruined My Life
6 Real Lessons Learned From A Very Ugly Experience With Bed Bugs
IвЂ™ve always heard horror stories from other people about their homes being invaded by bed bugs. It frightened me to hear about those little insects that kick you out of your home and rack up your bills.
For some reason, whenever I hear of someoneвЂ™s bed bug anecdotes, I express my condolences, andВ then I carry on with my bed bug-free life, sparing the unsettling details.
Some higher power must have observed my negligence because soon after, my suitemates and I awoke with tiny red bites on our hands.
I could almost see fate laughing in my face.
These are the six lessons I learned from getting bed bugs:
1. Denial gets you nowhere.
When my suitemates and I analyzed these bite-size marks, I refused to believe the first thing we all thought. Denouncing anyoneвЂ™s accusations of bed bugs, I ended the conversation by declaring they were mosquito bites and carried on with life.
How could I have bed bugs?
My one, much wiser, suitemate suggested that regardless, we should get our room sniffed out by that adorable pudgy beagle in the commercials.
As he waddled around our rooms sniffing, he and his trainer brought us the news none of us were prepared for.
More often than not, denial makes any situation worse. If my suitemate didnвЂ™t file to have a dog come sniff our beds, we wouldвЂ™ve been waking up to new skin patterns on our hands and feet.
2. YourВ life can change in an instant.
I went from sitting at my table eating a grilled cheese, laughing at how a beagle was making more money than me, to feeling utterly disgusted as the man proceeded to tell us weВ had bed bugs.
In an instant, bed bugs utterly f*cked up my schedule. Between my class assignments and work, I needed to drop everything and tend to the begrudging activity of washingevery single article of clothing I owned.
I shed a tear when I glanced at my giant stuffed orangutan, Tangy, perched on my desk, which the man said was a hotspot.
We often forget our lives arenвЂ™t designed to stay on the same track forever. Some happening will eventually derail our schedules and plans, and weвЂ™ll be forced to just roll with the punches.
3. Sometimes,В you just have to do it.
My anxiety kicked in when our maintenance man gaveВ us the steps of how to debug our living situation. We had to move out within a couple of hours, bag all our clothes, wash every piece of cloth in our space, re-bag our clothes and store away all our belongings so the exterminator can come that same day.
Essentially, we were kicked out of our home for some unknown amount of time.
I didnвЂ™t even know where to begin, but I knew it had to be done ASAP. With a variety of detergents, garbage bags and mental breakdowns, I spent six hours and $40 dollars deep in clothes IвЂ™m sure shrunk and tore with my haste. But through all that, I didnвЂ™t hesitate to get the job done.
Some things are just unavoidable.
My dad always told me if you look at everything you have to do as a collective, youвЂ™ll psych yourself out and become overwhelmed.
When I was texting my parents during this whole ordeal, my dad replied with a simple, вЂњtake it one step at a time.вЂќ ItвЂ™s the secret to defeating any mammoth of a task you have waiting for you.
4. ThoroughnessВ goes a long way.
The exterminator couldnвЂ™t emphasize enough how thorough we had to be when washing our clothes. If we missed one sock or a pillowcase, the whole process would be compromised.
IвЂ™m nowhere close to Martha Stewart. IвЂ™m that college student who overloads the washer with mixed colors of clothes, dumps unnecessary amounts of detergent and then blindly chooses a setting.
With that in mind, Tangy still sat, sulking and infested in the corner of my room. How the f*ck am I going to wash everything?
I read tag after tag. Some shirts needed dry-cleaned, my bras needed to be hand-washed and Tangy needed a bath. It was an endless list of demands.
I wouldnвЂ™t allow myself to cheat and mindlessly throw everything in, for fear of having to do this all over again and ruining half of my belongings.
Care for detail definitely goes a long way.
5. Stop being inconsiderate.
When strangers saw me walking into the elevator with six trash bags, their curiosity grew and they proceeded to question me.
"Bed bug. Oh," they said, as they sidled a little closer to the other corner of the elevator. I felt like a leper, or the kid in class everyone knew had lice.
People start to treat you differently. It made me realize the reaction I gave people in my situation is the reaction I received, and it sucked.
If someone is going through something tough, showing signs of disgust or disinterest never helps his or her situation. ItвЂ™s actually just very rude.
Next time, if I see someone struggling with anything, IвЂ™ll ask if the person needs help,В instead of selfishly asking him or her if IвЂ™ll be affected in the process.
You never know what kind of day the person’s been through.
6. In the end, reward yourself.
After I cried in front of the exterminator and suffered a multitude of panic attacks from suffocating under pounds of my own laundry, I went to get pizza because I damn well deserved it.
This goes for bed bugs, a stressful week, final exams, etc. Giving yourself little gifts because of your hard work shows youвЂ™re appreciative of yourself. You deserve a little congratulations after a hard day’s work.
WeвЂ™re human; weвЂ™re not wired to take on tasks until we sleep at night. Set aside time to enjoy yourself
In the end, bed bugs felt like they nearly ruined my life, but I canвЂ™t deny that in a few months, I may laugh at all of it.
Well, I will unless I get bed bugs again. In that case, IвЂ™ll just set my wardrobe and furniture ablaze.
How bedbugs ruined my life
People are afraid to touch me, exterminators are bleeding me dry: Will I ever be free of these pests?
September 18, 2010 10:01PM (UTC)
The bug man is only an hour late this time. He’s wearing a white shirt uniform with fancy red epaulets. A professional killer, ready for the slaughter, dressed up like a Maytag repairman.
He’s cordial at the door. He shakes my hand. He doesn’t seem to think twice about the potential exposure. He’s curt, but has kind eyes. Other days, other circumstances, I’m sure he smiles widely, his eyes disappearing into wedges. I have that same facial structure. It puts some people off.
"Honestly, now, where exactly have you seen them?" he asks.
"Honestly?" That seems unnecessary. As if I would invent this kind of trouble. Ever since the critters showed up, I’ve been screwed in five dimensions. Not sure who I can tell, freaked out about the fallout. I feel like I have the mark of a leper, a carrier of contagions. And nothing seems to help: This is the third time my apartment has been sprayed, and all I have to show for it is the bug man’s accusation. What kind of person would make this up? And who walks around with thoughts like that? Only the stone-faced, working the front lines.
I show him a tiny one trapped on the floor on double-stick tape, a trick I learned off the Internet. I was proud of that. He nodded. "OK."
I’ve followed the rules and washed every piece of clothing. People eye me in laundromats. They wonder why anyone would have 12 loads. And I think the same way, full of sidelong suspicions: Who was in here before me? How safe are these washers? Was the last guy as careful as I’m trying to be now? But in the end, the accusation turns on itself: I am infested. That’s not an easy thing to hear yourself say.
In the middle of his spraying, the bug man puts on safety glasses, and I wonder just how convinced he really is. Everyone’s read it — these chemicals don’t really work — and yet he leans into it, with his fancy red epaulets. He patiently sprays everywhere that I point.
After, he shakes my hand again, and I sign his papers. Now all that’s left to do is wait. Keep an eye out for the scurrying, wait for the itch. I know they’re still out there. The other day, I found one in my Neti pot. So I stretch out on my white bug-proof cover, on top of my new white mattress. It’s white as milk, a pure milk mattress, except for one burnt-red spot, reminding me that somehow the bloodsuckers still get through.
I review my safety measures, derived from Internet reading: every time I go out, I first disrobe at the door and change into clean clothes. Those clean clothes are kept in a twist-tied plastic bag. I stick with one pair of shoes and spray them, inside and out, with whatever harsh-smelling chemicals the hardware store is hawking.
I’ve had to clear out almost everything, paring down to monkish essentials. Last weekend, I dismantled my hallway bookcases, a last-ditch effort that netted 21 boxes of books. I am a reader, I’ve lived here a dozen years, and what we’re talking about now is a fundamental shift. Lying on my milky mattress, they’re what I miss most. Some of it a little dated, the German language tapes, the novels from Prague, that difficult book on the body as text. Or the text embodied. Or the body as metaphor for words on the page. I never really got that, and it’s all a buggy blur now. It’s not like lit theory is going to get me out of this.
After three visits from the bug man, I wonder who I can trust. The two big questions that still go unanswered: Where did they come from? And what did I do to deserve this mess?
The New York Times has been weirdly on top of this. For the past three weeks, bugs have been front-page news. Same goes for Time, Yahoo, the wire services. "Bedbugs are epidemic . from four-star hotels to SROs."
I learned they don’t care about thread counts. And they don’t care how filthy my apartment might be. I haven’t always lived a white-glove life, so it’s good to know I’m in league with hospitals, doctors’ offices and Ritz-Carlton suites. Bedbugs only ever want one thing — just me and the blood locked in my veins.
When the word "epidemic" started getting tossed around, it was picked up from a NIH/CDC report. From a public health standpoint, what I heard the experts saying, none of this could be pegged as my fault. They’re being found in record numbers, in a record number of places, and they’re being carried around in the most casual way.
And as for where they come from, there’s really no good answer. I live in San Francisco, one of the "infested" cities. But I was in Amsterdam and Paris earlier in the year. And in Portland and Denver before that. If it’s really a travel bug, as some people insist, I still can’t say what I did wrong, except open my luggage in a way that’s somehow irresponsible.
From on top of my milk mattress, I’ve watched the panic take shape. After the quotes from public health folks, things always get a little bent. Often an infested individual asks to be anonymous, as if this were an enormous criminal conspiracy. Then again, a commenter at the New York Times claimed to have lost his job because of an infestation at home. On Yelp, a plea for advice gave way to a stream of prickly gross-outs.
The truth is, no one has found a way to avoid this — a notion that’s reported with a jaunty dread. From Banana Republic to Bergdorf Goodman dressing rooms, no place is immune. But still, in every story, it’s crafted the same. It’s always the victims who carry the weight.
It was you who chose to walk into that store. You picked that hotel. You booked your own flight. You’ve made the choices that led to where you’re at.
My landlord twisted the knife a little deeper: You have some iffy visitors, he said. You invite the wrong company. Whoever it is you have in your bed, they are clearly to be blamed.
Blame is what these bugs are all about. It’s central to how the problem is dealt with. And as my landlord explained, the exterminator’s bill would be coming my way.
"It’s our policy that you’re liable for bringing them in here." As long as they’re only found in my apartment, I am responsible for associated costs. No neighbors have complained, and the bug man has confirmed it. With his stone face and epaulets, he invaded their apartments and pulled back their blankets while they were off at work. He didn’t find any other blotches or smears, none of them hiding in my neighbors’ mattress folds.
"The problem is confined to your unit," my building manager told me. And already I was thinking: Tell that to the furrier at Bergdorf Goodman.
When I called the city’s Department of Environmental Health, I got some encouragement: "It’s like if you left the garage door open and rats ran in. The landlord is still responsible for getting rid of the rats."
She sounded like a nice lady. She had an interesting accent. But she said she couldn’t get involved in landlord-tenant disputes.
On the radio last week, an expert explained how DDT used to do the trick. He sounded sad it is no longer available and, after a big sigh, explained that nothing like it is in the pipeline either. I’d heard elsewhere that Zyklon B, the gas used at Auschwitz, used to get good results. But I can’t fathom the black market bug man who’d come along with that.
No one can tell me how long this will go on. It’s like my home is chronically sick. My life, too, is taking a beating. And with the news stories, pumping up fear and tripping over facts, there’s the general sense of a vague lurking threat. Name your favorite scourge. Bedbugs pretty much fit.
Jon Roemer is a writer in San Francisco. His current project is Outpost19, a book/news app.
Jon Roemer is a writer living in San Francisco.
Bed-Bug Madness: The Psychological Toll of the Blood Suckers
Researchers are starting to explain the anxiety many victims feel.
Right now, everything I own is in garbage bags piled up in the middle of my kitchen and bathroom and filling my shower. It’s been that way for a week and a half and will continue to be so for at least another week on top of that. If you live in a major city, you might know what’s coming. If not, welcome to the hell that is bed bugs.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had bed bugs. Nor the second. It’s the third, and this time it’s taken two visits from the exterminators to (hopefully) rid our apartment of the tiny beasts. Luckily we were able to catch the bugs early before they got a real hold on the apartment. Unluckily, that’s mostly because rather than mosquito-esque little bumps, my bites turn into hardened ping-pong ball sized welts that itch for over a week. So when we have bed bugs, I know pretty quickly. And each time everything goes into bags. I stop sleeping. I avoid furniture on the street. I refuse to enter libraries.
I used to joke that I had bed bug PTSD. There’s a certain kind of anxiety that the seemingly invisible biters incite. But in fact, it might not be a joke. Research is starting to show that bed bug infections can leave people with anxiety, depression, and paranoia. And that’s normal. In fact, it would be weird for you not to be freaked out, says Stéphane Perron, a doctor and researcher at the University of Montreal. “ If you have bed bugs, and if you don’t care, that’s not a normal reaction. You should be worried. I would consider it a normal reaction to a stressor.”
Perron has published a number of papers on the psychological ramifications of bed bugs. In one study, he and his team looked at apartments that had been reported to the Montreal Public Health Department for unsafe conditions. Some of those units were infested with bedbugs, but not all of them. Perron and his team gave the tenants of these buildings a series of questionnaires that assessed all sorts of health impacts, including psychological ones. All told, 39 of the units had bed bugs, and 52 of them didn’t. When they compared the psychological results between those two samples—a method that helps to control for factors that impact mental health like socioeconomic status—they found that tenants with bed bugs were far more likely to report anxiety and sleep disturbances than those without.
Another study by medical entomologist Jerome Goddard at Mississippi State University examined posts on bed bug related websites like Bedbugger.com. When they compared those posts against a checklist of PTSD symptoms they found that 81 percent of people writing these forum posts were describing psychological and emotional effects often associated with the disorder, things like hyper-vigilance, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, and depression. “ One person scored high enough to actually be considered a PTSD patient,” Goddard says. ( The comparison they did here isn’t diagnostic. In other words, Goddard can’t actually diagnose anybody with PTSD from the results.)
In another study, researchers sent out questionnaires to seven different cities. They got 474 back. In the survey, they asked people to describe their reaction to the bites. Beyond the physical reactions, 29 percent of people said they suffered from insomnia, 22 percent reported emotional distress, and 20 percent said they had anxiety due to the bugs.
There are a number of reasons to take these preliminary studies with a grain of salt. For one, researchers don’t know anything about the mental state of the participants before they got bed bugs. And that’s important. In one case study that Perron published, a woman with a prior history of mental health issues got bed bugs and eventually committed suicide. “ The bed bug is a stressor like many other stressors,” Perron says. “For people who are vulnerable, it may result in having a pathological fear of bedbugs or even delusions of parasitosis,” when a person falsely believes they are infested with bugs. So knowing the mental state of people before they were infected is key, and missing in these early reports.
It’s early days for studies like these, and Goddard is the first to admit that they aren’t perfect. But they’re a start. “I think all these things sort of added together, suggest that at least bed bugs are associated with anxiety and sleep disturbance,” he says. “Now whether or not a person can truly have PTSD I don’t know.” And they do suggest that there’s something particular about bed bugs that sets them apart from other biting insects like tics, fleas, mosquitos, and chiggers.
When I tell people I have bed bugs, they say things like, “So, you’re setting fire to everything you own, right?” The EPA acknowledges the urge. “ There is no need to throw out all of your things,” they assure visitors to their bed bug information page. But after weeks of garbage-bag living, the prospect of just lighting it all on fire and leaving doesn’t seem so unreasonable. And several bed bug studies note the extreme lengths to which people go to get rid of the bugs—everything from actually setting things on fire, to attempting to self-treat with loads of toxic chemicals. Even my exterminators are aware of the trauma the bugs incite. At the bottom of the two-page preparation guide for treatment, they write:
NOTE: Bed bug infestations are very traumatizing and it may take time to get over what you have experienced. There have been many cases where people feel they are still being bitten, even though the bed bugs have been eradicated from the home. Before you contact our office due to bites, please ensure that you are actually being bitten and that you do not have a rash or scratches from something else.
(When I read that passage to Perron he explained that it’s actually highly unlikely to continue to feel like you’re getting bitten once the bugs are gone. “ I’m surprised they put that in their pamphlet, because no, it’s quite rare,” he says. More likely, the company simply doesn’t want its customers to bug them.)
There are a lot of reasons the tiny insects incite such insanity. Bed bugs strike you where you’re most vulnerable. Sleeping becomes impossible. Every tiny movement, every air molecule that touches your skin in just the wrong way, becomes a bug. I pecked out most of this post on my iPhone during a sleepless night. Thankfully my boyfriend is a heavy sleeper, and doesn’t notice when every half-hour throughout the night I leap out of bed, grab my headlamp, and root around under the covers searching for the insect I was so sure I felt.
Then there are the garbage bags. If I have one tip for you from all this, it’s to use clear garbage bags. This isn’t just about being able to see which bag holds what as you unpack. It’s about looking around your apartment every day for several weeks at a vast sea of black garbage bags—pushing past them as you try to weave through the living room into the kitchen.
I’m not alone in my fight against bed bugs. A 2013 survey called Bugs Without Borders estimates that 99.6 percent of exterminators got calls about bed bugs last year. In New York City alone there were 9,233 complaints about bed bugs in 2013. And according to the pest control company Orkin, New York City isn’t the worst city for the suckers. In fact, the Big Apple is number 17 on their list, behind Chicago, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, and 13 unlucky others. There aren’t good numbers on exactly how many bed-bugged units there are in the United States, but the public has been whipped into a frenzy about the insects for years. This year, they were spotted on the subway system in New York City and I considered giving up transportation all together.
But, of course, despite how common they are, you can’t tell anybody you have bed bugs. Admit you have them, and forget having anybody over again.
I am lucky, though. My landlords responded quickly to each call about the bugs, and after a few weeks of garbage-bag living we are always back to normal. That’s not the case for many people, who might live in buildings with landlords who aren’t as responsive, or in places where the landlord has no responsibility to deal with the problem. Exterminators are expensive, and the whole process is time consuming and costly. None of this was a barrier for me, but it is for a huge number of people. “ The very poor can’t do anything about it, and the rich, it’s a pain and it costs a lot of money but sooner or later they’ll get rid of them,” Goddard says. And it’s true. I can see the light at the end of the bedbug tunnel. And once it’s over, my madness will likely subside.
Both Goddard and Perron say that more work needs to be done to truly understand the ways in which bed bugs mess with our minds. But in the meantime, doctors should be aware of the potential risks. Goddard says he’s not sure whether doctors know to watch for psychological impacts when patients come in with bites. “ I suspect those doctors just say call an exterminator. I don’t think they would think ‘Oh my gosh this person has some severe emotional distress.’” Perron agrees. “ I would say that the goal of this research is to say we should deal with it because it has more than skin deep consequences. It has consequences especially for a vulnerable individual. ”
As for me, I’m starting to sleep again. And tomorrow I’ll begin the long process of unpacking the seemingly endless piles of garbage bags. It will all be over soon, and I didn’t even have to set anything on fire.
A Bed Bug’s Life: The Creepy Crawlies That Ruined My Night
Note to self: be careful who you let in your home. Some guests overstay their welcome.
When my mom used to tuck me in to bed and say, “don’t let the bed bugs bite,” I never paid that close attention to it. In fact, I never thought her words were any more than a saying – something like a farewell, sending me into a land of sweet dreams.
Even when I no longer needed to be put to bed and my mom abandoned the saying as a goodnight tactic, the idea of bed bugs still lingered. My mom would scold me about eating in my bed or leaving food around because bed bugs would find the leftover dirt and infest my bed and furniture. I understood that bed bugs were real, but I didn’t understand their strength as little creatures of the night. It wasn’t until I moved into my new apartment that I fully comprehended the severity.
It had just passed the two-month mark of me living in my new, New York City apartment when a friend of mine from school asked if he could stay with me and my roommate for the weekend. He was going to the Afropunk music festival and needed a place to crash. He wasn’t a best friend of ours, but we knew him well enough to agree to his visiting.
During his three-day stay he set up shop on the couch and was actually one of the most low maintenance guests I had ever had in my experience as a host. He woke up, left for the festival, came back, showered, and slept. It was pretty simple, and after Lenny Kravitz concluded the festival with a roaring crowd, he left the next morning. But like people always say – or at least I think they do – it’s the day after that you have to worry about.
At first, things seemed to return to normal, but I soon realized that they were far from normal. after my guest’s departure, I woke up in the middle of the night, surprised to find a series of bites sprawled along my arm, legs, and hip. They itched so I thought they were mosquito bites. My window was closed, but I assumed that they had just started to irritate me. The following morning, I woke up to a couple more bites resting on my other arm. Judging by the new arrival of these bites, I knew it was something in my bed, but what, I wasn’t sure.
Backtracking to my friend’s stay, I remembered that he had borrowed my pillow. And after he had borrowed my pillow, he put it on my bed the day he left. At that same moment, my mind jumped to ‘bed bugs’. And with these words, came back memories of my mom warning me about the horrors of bed bugs. Turns out theydidbite after all and they bit pretty damn hard.
Was my friend a carrier of bed bugs? I didn’t want to point fingers without having proof, but it was awfully mysterious that I got a number of bites following him using my pillow. I retraced my footsteps and there was nothing in my routine that I did differently. I always took a shower before getting into bed and I washed my sheets every week. The only thing that hadn’t been used by me was the pillow I had let him borrow.
It’s a funny thing when you suspect some one of doing something gross; you can’t ask them if they brought bed bugs to your house or were perhaps dirty when they slept over because its both rude and awkward. I needed answers, but I knew there was no way I could get it from him. My doctor, whom I visited about the bites on my body, gave me an answer, but I wasn’t too thrilled with her response. At first she told me she wasn’t sure what it was; she had never seen it before. But that quickly went to her thinking it was bed bugs, and if that was the case, I most likely got it from my weekend guest.
Any other day, I would be thrilled with the fact that I was right, but now I wished I wasn’t. So many people had told me horror stories about how their home was infested with bed bugs and they had to throw out furniture. I just moved into that apartment, all my furniture was new and I couldn’t afford to lose it.
These stories drove me into immediate precautionary actions. Since no one could be completely sure about the origins of my bites, I called in a bed bug- specialist to check out my apartment. The inspector lifted and checked every inch of my room for any signs of bed bugs, and in thirty minutes was able to clear me for any infestations. He explained that maybe my biting friend was a spider or an insect who needed a nibble along its journey, but it definitely wasn’t a bed bug. To say the least, I was relieved.
Of course I regretted jumping to such strong conclusions about my guest and his cleanliness. I never thought he was a dirty person, but he seemed like the only variable I was not in control of and so he must be the source. What if he had been the carrier of bed bugs though? When you allow some one to stay at your house, you run the risk of a number of things like hair left on the bathroom floor, dirty clothes laid out on your living room floor, and bed bugs. There are so many people I had heard this happening to, and while it thankfully didn’t happen to me, I knew I could’ve been next. While the little creatures missed me this time, I keep in mind the old saying my mom used to say to me as a little girl, along with a new one: be careful who you invite in your home.
6 Horrific Realities of Living With a Bedbug Infestation
- J.F. Sargent ·
- Lillian Marx ·
- February 23, 2014
As far as personal catastrophes go, a bedbug infestation sounds fairly minor. You might even wonder why it pops up in the headlines so often, alongside all of therealproblems people have. Until, that is, it happens to you.
Then you find out it’s a fucking nightmare.
I did, when bedbugs infested my apartment. If your experience with bedbugs (which I sincerely hope you never have) is anything like mine and my wife’s, here’s what you have to look forward to .
Bedbugs are drawn inexorably toward any warm bodies, but since they can’t jump or fly, their mobility is actually pretty low. Vaseline may as well be quicksand for them, so a common survival tactic for the afflicted is to create isolated beds, using Vaseline the way you’d use garlic as a vampire repellent. You smear the stuff on the bed frame and the legs of the bed to create an impassible barrier (you can also try nesting the legs of your bed in bowls of baby powder — the little bastards get stuck in it). But what if the bedbugs are already in your bed, or places that can’t be roped off with rings of Vaseline?
What if they attack fromabove?
You smear it on yourself, that’s what. And if you think you have too much dignity and self-respect to turn your body into a greasy insect trap, well, try living with bedbugs for a few months.
That’s because getting bedbugs is like being a fan of the Chicago Cubs: Even though you know the days ahead are going to be filled with suffering and misery, you still have to get up every day and live your life. For instance, I had an active nightlife (that is, I did frequent late-nightWorld of Warcraftraids), and bedbugs love their midnight munchies. So any time I looked down, I’d see a platoon of bloodsuckers sprinting across my desk. And I don’t much like being bitten — the distraction was seriously hurting my damage per second.
That’s why the rival guild released the bugs in the first place.
So, I slathered my ankles, wrists, and arms with coating after coating of Vaseline until I resembled a glazed doughnut. And yes, it worked — the bugs would crawl up to me, try to feast on my delicious blood, and immediately get stuck. At the end of the night, I’d retire to the bathroom to scrape off the glaze — which was by now covered in bedbug sprinkles. I was the doughnut Satan would give as ironic punishment to a glutton.
And if you’re sitting out there judging my disgusting, insect-encrusted lifestyle, that’s also part of the delightful bedbug experience. Because .
Before we go any further, let’s debunk some rumors:
First of all, bedbug infestations have nothing to do with how clean you are. Everything from my yuppie apartment building to the flagship Nike Store to the NYC Department of Health has had an outbreak — even multimillionaires like Howard Stern aren’t immune. Despite the best attempts to blame the bedbug problem on hippies, science has shown us that bedbugs are actually immune to DDT, so getting rid of it in the ’50s had nothing to do with their current resurgence. Hell, they don’t even really live in beds: They can infest everything from train seats to wallpaper to baseboards to your fucking alarm clock.
Michael F. Potter
They can alsoactas an alarm clock.
And no, getting rid of an infestation isn’t just a matter of calling your landlord to have somebody come over and spray — living with the little monsters doesn’t mean the person is lazy or OK with it (who the hell would be?). These things haven’t survived natural selection by being stupid — after we sprayed, the bedbugs just followed us to other rooms, indulging in the sweet smorgasbord of our shed flesh that littered the floors of our living room and kitchen. All the bugs had to do was cross a few trivial feet of hardwood, a simple task for a creature that can scale electrical wire like a crazy parasitic Spider-Man.
Oh, and despite the fact that in Massachusetts my landlord was legally responsible for exterminating my bedbugs, he still tried to con me into paying for them, dodged summons to court, and in general acted like an all-around douche — if there was a housing law for him to violate, he did it with panache. We escaped (sans our security deposit), and as far as we know he never got any comeuppance.
Bugs just make landlords stronger.
For support, I found myself reaching out to the only group who could truly sympathize: other people living with infestations. They are clustered on a little island of sanity in the middle of the Internet called BedBugger.com. As a source of news, information, commiseration, and (somehow) rationality, I can confidently say that they are totally responsible for what tattered shreds remain of my sanity (shortly after I joined, one long-term member actuallylet me call them in the middle of the night and panic). Just knowing other folks are going through the same thing makes you feel less alone. Not that I ever really felt "alone" with the 7 million other inhabitants in my apartment.
So you’ve sprayed your place and slathered yourself in petroleum jelly. Now you have to clear out your clothes. Short of spraying your stuff with horrifying pesticides, the easiest way to kill off bedbugs is to help them reach their "thermal death point," which is exactly what it sounds like: We crammed every piece of clothing we owned into the dryer for two hours, letting those bastards burn in there for $2.50 a load. By the end, it probably would’ve been cheaper to bribe the bugs out of our home with a whirlwind Vegas weekend of hookers and blow, but sadly, they’re only insects with tiny brains and lack the physiology to properly enjoy cocaine or human genitals.
Who needs vaginas when you can just stab your mate’s tummy?
You’re supposed to put everything thatisn’tlaundry into an oven, and since I was working as a teacher, it was very important that anything I gave to my students (like their homework) be bug-free, lest I become the Typhoid Mary of bedbugs. But I ran into a problem: Stuff like paper, shoes, and sex toys can’t go in an oven. Conventional wisdom says to heat them up with a sealable container and PackTite (a specialized heating system for situations just like this), but I’m not a big fan of conventional wisdom (that is, I was too broke to afford PackTite), so I put a bunch of non-clothing stuff in the dryer in the basement, wedged it closed with bricks so the heavier items wouldn’t knock the door open, and left the machine running to scorch away my sorrows.
There was logic to my actions, of course — the type of logic that rises like a misty aroma from a brain soaking in a cocktail of fear and madness. "I have too many things to put in the oven," I sang to myself, sweetly, "so I will put them in the dryer. The bugs will burn and I will be free." One of my neighbors failed to appreciate the beauty of my logic. His naive, bugless eyes saw not the key to sweet relief through death, but a gas dryer (which used an open flame) packed with flammable shit and wedged shut. He responded by dragging my ass into the basement and calling the cops.
He was inleaguewith the bugs. He too needed the cleansing fire.
I was let off with a warning and learned exactly nothing from this, because the fiery death of me and my neighbors was a trifle compared to the threat of bedbugs. I continued to cleanse my students’ homework in the oven, which amounted to stuffing large amounts of paper near an open goddamn flame, right up until the end of the ordeal. At this point, I’ve used up so much residual good luck that I’m liable to die from someoneelse’sgame of Russian roulette.
But this, amazingly, was still just the beginning .
With our clothes scourged like LV-426 at the end ofAliens, we realized it was time to nuke our furniture from orbit as well — which meant throwing out everything we owned.
Because no hope remained. Also, the stuff was infested.
But throwing out your belongings is harder than you think — particularly if your goal is not to infect a bunch of strangers’ houses with biting insects. Although we took precautions (wrapping our rugs and sheets in garbage bags, sealing them with duct tape, and labeling them with the word "bedbugs" and a cartoon picture of a mean-looking insect with frowny eyes), the dumpster scavengers were undeterred. In fact, while depositing our second load of plagued goods, we found some unwitting schlub collectingour very firstload. He ignored our protests, threw the bag of bug-infested goods over his shoulder, and sauntered off, whistling a little tune like some kind of Johnny Fucking Appleseed of bedbugs.
From then on, we knew the only way to avoid spreading our curse to others was to destroy everything we owned. We disassembled our futon and then smashed it with a hammer. I threw our TV into the dumpster hard enough to shatter its screen. My desk was cathartically splintered by my renfair ax.
Then my ax was cathartically cleaved by my bare hands.
And no, we weren’t just being paranoid — the infection of others’ homes through casually repossessed furniture is a bigger problem than you might hope. Boston, for example, is home to something called Allston Christmas, in which students from its roughly 7 billion colleges move out and leave most of their furniture on the curb. Guess what happens when you take that furniture home. Bedbugs. Bedbugs happen.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
After two months of sealing our clothes in plastic bags the size of Godzilla condoms, scrubbing our bodies with buckets of isopropyl alcohol, and three failed pesticide treatments, we finally found the solution to our problems: retreat. That’s right. We moved out of our apartment. The bedbugs won.
And a hundred generations will feast on the skin flakes we left behind.
But our ordeal wasn’t over: To make sure we didn’t bring any of the vermin with us, we had to conduct a "truck-based treatment," which means we rented a U-Haul and turned it into an insect abattoir — and, somehow, "loading everything you own into a truck and then baking it" is even more complicated than it seems.
First, we needed a propane permit, which meant we had to explain to a bunch of skeptical firefighters that this process wouldn’t combust our crap. Second, we couldn’t just throw our stuff in the U-Haul and be on our way — we had to pack the truck carefully, making sure the air would be circulating and there would be no cool pockets for the flesh-eating bastards to hide in. And finally, we had to park a truck on a busy Boston street and hope no curious Sox fan wandered in and died of stupidity next to our mattress.
The truck sucked in and killed a couple of LaRouche supporters, but what can you do.
It looks crazy, and it worked. The guys hooked up the machine, we all took turns watching it heat, and then we got a pizza and just hung around for eight hours. Once we finished, we let our newest best friends drive off in their pickup and moved into our new apartment.
The infestation had cost us something close to $5,000 once all was said and done. Take a moment to imagine all of those people who A) don’t have the money to do this and B) don’t have the option to move. Oh, and it also cost my sanity.
Pablo Demetrio Scapinachis Armstrong/Photos.com