(a personal account of the bed bug infestation that is now corrupting (too many) parts of the country, particularly NYC. )
When I first spotted a small black insect crawling happily along my pillow (I was currently sitting up, thank goodness), I didn’t really think twice about it. My window was slightly cracked open due to a poorly installed air conditioning unit so I just figured it came in from outside. Then about a month later I saw two more in the same area, near the pillows. I started to panic slightly, but brushed it off once again, wishful thinking leading me to dismiss it as a harmless species that just happened to sneak in from the cold every once in a while. But then the guy I was dating discovered an odd constellation of bite marks on his leg. Shortly after, I saw another bug. Then another one. And then finally after the fifth or sixth bug, each of which I might mention were coming in shorter intervals as time progressed, I started getting nervous. Something compelled me to look up bed bugs specifically online. I don’t think it was that I knew they were the culprit; I believe I just needed to compare bug descriptions and this was the only place I could think of to start. But the second that web page came up, conveniently being probably the only page on the internet that shows an animated bedbug feeding on blood live and in action, I almost choked as my throat grew tight. It was almost confirmed. This miniature roach like thing on my screen, this nasty shit brown creature that was slowly turning an amber red as it feasted on its poor host looked identical to these things crawling around my bed. I freaked out before checking elsewhere around my bed. I tend to avoid confrontation at all costs; instead I try to skirt around issues so that once I have to face the cold hard facts I’m extremely prepared. I also jump to conclusions quite rapidly. So without another thought, I immediately called my friend and great figure of support, David. The conversation was disastrous.
He had them too. He didn’t want to tell me but that’s what he was doing last weekend when he couldn’t go out. He was trying to rid his bedroom of the bed bugs that he had found a week before running rampant around the entirety of his ground floor apartment. He hadn’t said anything because he was embarrassed. And naturally. I was embarrassed, not to mention extremely ashamed and repulsed, as well, which is why I told David and David alone (knowing he wouldn’t judge me) and neglected to inform anyone else, including the lover with the constellation bite marks. The conversation that followed was a mixture of defeated laughter and horrifying rhetorical phrases. We debated back and forth about who might have transmitted the bed bugs to who, with him guiltily suggesting his own responsibility with apologies and myself, trying to subtly back out of the blame. It was really quite an atrocious moment. But at the same time, slightly fascinating, for it gave me a clue for the first time ever what it would be like to have to tell a partner about a sexually transmitted disease. Truly, that is what it was like. He was apologizing I was assuring him it might be my fault and even if it was his he had no way of knowing. We discussed how we were going to rid my room of the bed bugs and he gave some anecdotes about what he did with his. It was certainly a bonding experience, if anything, for we shared a filthy secret. We were infested.
So David, who had spent the weekend before trying to rid his apartment of the blood hungry bed bugs brought me back to a rational, goal oriented state of mind and gave me some hot tips on what to do until the next day when he would be able to come over and assist me. Being now the expert in bed bug removal as he was. He told me where to look to confirm the infestation. So I creeped over to my bed, terrified that something was going to jump onto me and proceeded to the corners of the mattress. My mattress lays alone on my hardwood floor, with no box spring, as the latter did not (shockingly) fit up the narrow staircase in this apparently ancient apartment of mine. So I had to ditch it when I moved in. According to various sources, I now am glad that I didn’t have the box spring, for apparently the bed bugs find an easier time surviving in that than in the actual, cushioned mattress and the sheets. I followed David’s suggestion and looked very closely in the seams in the corners of the mattress, particularly the seam along the bottom. Sure enough, just as he described, the mildew resembling cluster of black speckles which are equivalent to their fecal matter were forebodingly there on the upper right corner of my mattress. I was appalled and avoided taking action until my grand support man came over the next day to help. I did not go to sleep that night.
These black dots are a classic sign of the sneaky bed bugs. If you suspect you might have them, look for this indicator. The bed bugs are most often in the warmest, darkest spot possible, so be sure to look very thoroughly at your bedding arrangement. In other words, pick up each mattress and inspect all of the seams carefully, paying extra special attention to the bottom of the box spring, if applicable. When inspecting the top mattress, the place they like to hide most is along the inner part of the risen seam that basically outlines the shape of your bed on the top and on the bottom, if that makes sense. To further explain, I am referring to the part of the mattress that, if you were carrying the item and looking for anything possible to grip, would be what you gripped. It is a very thin strip of risen material. While sitting on top of your bed, (or standing along side of it) grip the thin strip in your fingers and pull it back toward you. The larger of the black dots are probably going to be live bed bugs. They are easy to dismiss as more of the nasty fecal matter clusters but if you take a tissue and carefully dab the blotches you see along this seam, you will discover that the bug will stick to the tissue. Be sure to crush the bed bug immediately in the tissue, so that it doesn’t have a chance to scurry away. Be ready for blood, hopefully (or maybe hopefully not) your own, to spurt out. For some reason while the bed bugs are nestled into the comfy seams of yours and my precious mattresses, they become a bit sedated and so when you go to grab them and for the first few seconds they are in your tissue or paper towel, they will likely lie dormant making their execution fairly, thankfully, an easy task.
Try to kill as many as you can when you see them and you might want to try a heavy duty spray specifically for bed bugs in the mean time, but from my experience and from what I’ve read, an exterminator really is a necessary option. It will probably cost you about $500 for an apartment, more for a house, depending on how many rooms are sprayed, but trust me it’s worth it. I have bites covering the entirety of both of my feet and my legs up to my knees. Additionally my arms near my elbows are bitten up. What is even worse is that these bites have turned into huge ugly, itchy scabs because they itch so bad and I can’t resist scratching them. So call your local exterminator. But with that, you should be prepared to do some heavy duty preparing for the pest control people, if your service is anything like mine. David eventually got an exterminator to come to his house after fogging the place and covering all the cracks and crevices with bed bug killer spray didn’t work and all he had to do was move the furniture a couple inches away from the walls. His preparation was simple compared to what I was required to do. My exterminators had strict guidelines for me to follow preceding their visit, in order to ensure that the bed bugs would effectively be taken care of. My bug guy claimed that if these measures were not taken care of upon his arrival, he would reschedule and come back another day. That’s how important they felt these preparations were.
So if you do indeed have bed bugs and you’ve scheduled for the pest control company to come exterminate, it might be easier to only do what is absolutely required of you to prepare, but I strongly suggest you consider following the list of guidelines I am about to delineate below. Because my exterminators had to come three times to get rid of the bed bugs and apparently my infestation was minor. So just to be safe…
Remove all bedding
Remove wall hangings
Remove all clothing from dresser drawers, closets, everywhere
Empty closet completely (you can leave hangers though)
Take all items off the top of your dresser and desk,
Remove all bedding
Stand mattress and box spring up against the wall, stripped of all bedding linens.
*Once all of this stuff is removed, put it into large plastic trash bags and tie them up. After the extermination treatment you will need to carefully empty each bag one by one into the washing machine and wash the clothes or linens in hot water. It is best to empty the bags directly over the washer so as to avoid having any stray bed bugs escape the throes of the tumbling hot death bath. Or to be less bitter and resentful, to allow the bed bugs to escape the water.
*Move all of your furniture or anything else a few inches away from the walls, as the bug guy will need to spray inside the cracks of the walls and floor surfaces. It is best to try and gather all of your belongings into a big chunk of mass in the center of your bedroom. It is okay to keep the garbage bags of clothes in this group as well, as long as the bags are sealed.
*If your infestation isn’t so bad and your mattress and box spring are salvageable, you may keep them, but it is imperative that you seal, zip and tape each item in some kind of tight mattress bag. These can be bought at any home goods or hardware store for a very cheap price and usually come in a convenient set of two.
*If you do decide to get rid of your mattress, which quite frankly, is advisable as sad as it is, be sure to discard it after the pest control treatment takes place. When carrying mattresses out to the dumpster, be careful where you grip the bed, as you might find the bed bugs creeping out of unexpected places after the treatment.
THE REST OF THE HOUSE/APT
*For the rest of the rooms, the same general rules apply. Remove rugs and wall hangings, take things off of counters, and move appliances and furniture away from walls. Wash all furniture cushions in hot water.
Now you are ready for the bug man to come. Once again, this preparation may not be required by your particular pest control service, but I strongly recommend doing anything and everything you can to prevent these awful things from coming back. This entire event has been one of the more catastrophic experiences of my career thus far as an adult.