Friday, August 21, 2009

My name is Beth Malena, and I have bed bugs.

At least my house does. Or did, hopefully.

It does feel like an admission, or a confession. I half expect people to take a step back when I say it. When Cara (an unlucky friend who is subletting at our place) was at a coffee shop, chatting on the phone with her mom about the bed bugs, two nearby strangers picked up their drinks and moved to a farther table.

And though I think they are overreacting, I don't really blame them. Having been through this awful experience, I would not wish it on anyone. I am trying to remind myself that it could have been much worse. For instance, I haven't had to get rid of furniture, like some of my friends who have been through this. Also, I haven't been bitten. Danice, Cara and I have not had bites - either we don't react to bed bug bites, or we have been avoiding them by sleeping on the porch futon. It was Lindsey who got attacked by the bugs, and possibly Lynn. Both of them are out of town now - how convenient! :)

After finding Lindsey's bites, we looked up bed bug pictures on the internet and performed our own search. We found nothing. Last Monday, we got a pest control guy to do an inspection. All he found was one bed bug shell, on Lindsey's bed. Because she had been traveling, he thought she had brought one or two in with her, but it was nothing serious - he recommended we just vacuum the room really well and wash her clothes. The next morning, I was laying my mattress back down on the bed post-inspection, and I found three live bed bugs crawling on it. I'm not going to lie: I cried. Danice calmed me down a bit, but we both knew this meant a lot of work and worry in the weeks to come.

If you've had bed bugs, you know the pre-extermination drill. Every scrap of fabric in the house (clothes, curtains, bedding, bags) must be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer for about an hour, then sealed in garbage bags. Everything else in the house, with the exception of things in the kitchen and bathroom, must be shaken over a bucket (to eliminate any hiding bugs or eggs), then sealed in garbage bags. All furniture is moved 6 inches from the wall, and the whole room must be vacuumed extremely well, including the mattresses.

Danice, Cara and I braced ourselves to tackle the belongings of five women. We decided not to wash Lynn and Lindsey's things, but we still had to bag everything up and get it out of their rooms. We started Thursday after work, at 5:00 pm. Almost 80 extra-large garbage bags (piled on two porches) and ten hours later (!), at 3:00 am, we finally had the house ready for the exterminator.

The most unexpected and difficult aspect of those ten hours was the constant mental battle. We had only seen a couple live bugs, but we knew bed bugs could hide almost anywhere, so we knew we had to follow the exterminator's instructions. But it's hard to keep shaking item after item into that bucket, and not see any bugs or eggs fall out. You wonder about the chances of them being in the item you're holding. You wonder about the chances of them hiding in things you've already bagged, things you perhaps didn't shake well enough. You recall stories of people who never succeeded in getting rid of them, after multiple extermination attempts, and you wonder if any of this will be worth it. You wonder if it would be simpler for humans and bed bugs to just learn to coexist. You wonder if that little brown thing over there is a bed bug - no, it's just a piece of lint. You wonder if they were just a figment of your imagination the whole time. And then you see a huge live bed bug saunter across your bed, flaunting its existence in your house, and your skin crawls and you feel like they're all over you. You don't want to be in your house one more second. Then, at 3:00, you go to bed exhausted and all you can dream about is... searching for bed bugs and putting things in garbage bags. Or, if you're Danice, you dream about a human-sized bed bug ringing the doorbell and moving into our house.

The pest control guy sprayed yesterday. I arrived home after the appropriate amount of time, smelled the spray, and wondered how those chemicals could be less harmful to my health than a few bed bugs. Our landlords (who are so understanding and wonderful!) let us hang out in their suite while our floor aired out. We're still running loads through the laundry. We're still sleeping on the porch. We're still living out of garbage bags, and will be doing so until the re-inspection in two weeks.

One of my coping mechanisms during the ten hours of cleaning was to force myself to find the positive. I thought of four benefits of this whole ordeal.

1. Our house is likely cleaner than it was when we moved in. I don't think we would have ever done such a thorough cleaning otherwise.

2. I've always thought I lived fairly simply, without too many possessions or clothes, but as we cleaned, I purged a lot of stuff, and plan to get rid of more when we un-bag. I hope my roommates also discover this urge to purge. :) Hooray for bed bugs for providing impetus toward simple living.

3. I can now sympathize with my friends who have felt stigmatized, contaminated, or unclean because of bed bugs. I felt dirty and ashamed even though I read that they have nothing to do with cleanliness - they are a big problem in the Downtown Eastside, but also in the high-end apartments in Yaletown, and many fancy hotels. I was amazed how much sympathy, advice and prayer I received from friends at church and at Jacob's Well.

4. I developed a new appreciation for my roommates, who kept me sane (Cara and Danice, I'm glad we all "hit walls" at different times, and I'm grateful for our fits of laughter!), and my landlords, for caring and footing the bill!

Well, my confession is over, and so is this experience, I hope.

Gotta go change the laundry!


Unknown said...

ewwwwwwwww. 80 bags.
im already picturing what i will purge. thank you guys so much for doing all that work. i LOVE you!

emily said...

i am so so so so sorry. yuck. and i hope it's all over.

as for the purging - i know what you mean. Wendell Berry said something like, don't have so much stuff that you would be relieved if your house burned down. Clever Wendell.

emily said...

dude. there was a new 30 rock episode on thursday and Jack, an executive of NBC, gets bedbugs and is ostracized from everyone. He ends up having to take the subway instead of the company car and everyone slides away from him and then he says - and I just died - "Hello. My name is Jack Donaghy... and I have bed bugs." Maybe they read your blog?

Anonymous said...

Its July 2011, almost two full years after you wrote this blog and I am sitting in my current apartment in Saskatoon where my two roomates and I have been living out of our bathroom and three garbage bags for the past two weeks. It was a Wednesday night when I found that my mattress was infested, literally, with our little friends. I don't know what Bed bugs live off of because they've been in a jar now for the whole time and are still alive! We're living out of the bathroom simply because there is no carpet and so less threat of the critters crawling in!
I share in the annoyance and the lessons that this ordeal has brought. I now relate to our many neighbors who have struggled with this issues, some for years and simply can't get rid of them. Its been an emotionally draining two weeks, much time has been spent worrying if i would bring them to anyone's house, and its been expensive-i need a new bed.
Thank you for posting this Beth!