Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Good Night, Sleep Tight...

IKEA furniture is designed to be easily assembled.

And remain assembled.

When you move, you don’t take apart all your IKEA furniture and put it back into its boxes. If you did that, people would rightly question your sanity.

Had someone seen me, in my son’s room, wielding tiny Allen wrenches and muttering under my breath about vermin from the depths of hell, that person could also rightly question my sanity.

But I was not compulsively cleaning or in the throes of a righteous rage that was compelling me to dismantle my surroundings.

It was because my son’s bed had become possessed by demons of the underworld: bed bugs.

A few months ago, I wrote about babywhumpus’ mystery hives. They were chronic, and I put him through numerous blood and poop tests, for everything from tuberculosis to giardia, and all the results were normal.

Then, the Sunday night before a very busy weekend, I heard Pete call to me from FJ’s room “Karen, could you come here a minute?” It was a serious and stern voice, plus he used my first name and not a moniker like “Honey.” I thought I was in trouble. And as it was bedtime preparations for Finn, which are not always awesome, I knew it wasn’t trouble of the good kind. I glanced at the front door, but escape was not an option. I entered, and Pete showed me a small, flat, brown insect. It was flea-sized, but definitely not a flea, as it had no wings and was distinctly not black. It looked more like a small tick, but not quite.

My stomach sank, and I went through a number of emotions in rapid succession. Denial (Fleas, right? Not what I think it is), then despair (Because I’m pretty sure it is what I think it is), and then a mix of anger and relief (crap, this is going to be a pain in the ass to get rid of, and thank goodness my son doesn’t have some sort of auto-immune disease worthy of a differential diagnosis on House, M.D., though Hugh Laurie is hot and... Wait, what was I thinking about? Oh... bed bugs). This took a few seconds (see musings re: Hugh Laurie), and then I marched back to the living room to consult the Oracle.

It didn’t take much time on the Intertubes to confirm my suspicions: it was a bed bug. We put FJ to sleep in our room, and I started slowly taking the bed clothes off his bed; comforter, sheets, pillows, stuffed animals. Then I took the cover off of the ladder on the side of the bed, the thing we never have to wash...

It was a grotesquerie.
If you need any convincing that you should be watching out for this, let me describe what you are seeing. The little white bits are eggs. The bigger white bits are larvae. There are translucent nymphs in there plus immature, brown bugs. Then there are the full-grown bugs, which are about the size of an apple seed. They are in no way microscopic. They are full-on bugs of the order Hemiptera, which are considered the “true bugs.” It includes aphids and cicadas. They are not related to ticks.
They are truly awful and disgusting, and I hate them. Yeah, I know, I know: they are just doing what they evolved to do, blah blah BLAH. They were sucking the blood out of my child for three months, and they deserved to die.

P.S. Are you itching yet?

I did some research on Angie's List, and I made a call. A technician came and did a visual inspection, confirming the bugs in FJ's room. Then they brought in a bug-sniffing dog (no lie), a beagle mix named Ricky. He came in with his handlers and cased the joint. He went nuts in FJ’s room and had a minor alert in our room, which may have been nothing. Nowhere else. It was the same price to treat both bedrooms and the living room, so that’s what we opted for.

But we couldn’t do it until after our vacation, which meant we had to continue to live with the little bastards for almost a month. It was gross. It was stressful. But FJ's hives ceased, in the meantime, so we knew for certain this was the source.

Even now, six months after we have (hopefully) eradicated them from our living space, I can’t think about it without experiencing the same anger and disgust I felt when we first discovered that they were feasting on our son. It’s the reason this essay has remained unfinished; a disjointed smattering of paragraphs spreading over page after page, without coherence, beauty, or humor.

Because bed bugs suck.

And once you have gone through it, you see the world differently.

It changes the way you travel, the way you look at a movie theatre seat, how you think about second-hand stuff. You certainly stop saying "Good night, sleep tight..."

Bed bugs are equal opportunity feasters. They don’t care if you are rich or poor. They don’t care who you are or where you live. They don’t care how clean your house is. You will always hear stories about the seedy hotel, the questionable hostel, or the hoarder house, but all bed bugs need is blood, which you have in abundance, carry around with you, and keep making more.

They are absolutely everywhere, so train your mind away from the stereotypes and onto how to keep them out of your life.

If you live. If you walk the earth. If you travel. If people travel to you, you could get them. You could pick them up at a public place, but the most likely way is through travel, be it in transit, like on an airplane or train, visiting people, or staying in hotels. We don’t know how we got them, but it doesn’t particularly matter.

It's expensive to get rid of them, and the likelihood that you can do it yourself is slim to none. You know what? Just don’t even try. Chemicals won’t work. Natural treatments won’t work. Once you have them, you need to call someone. Someone who knows what they are doing. Someone who will bring in the dogs. And I’m not kidding.

You can do your own visual inspections if you know what you are looking for--get on your knees or on a ladder and get close up, with a flash light, during the day. Inspect cracks and crevices in wood, along baseboards, in the corners, behind pictures, on the wall behind furniture, in furniture. You might not see them, but that does not mean they are invisible to the naked eye or are not there. You may not react to the bites. You may have a delayed reaction to the bites. The bites may look like hives. Or mosquito bites. Or nothing at all.

You need to call someone, and not just anyone. You need to call someone who knows about bed bugs; who has dealt with them; who may even specialize. Not your regular pest dude with a black light who will look at your bed frames to make you feel better. These little true-bug bastards can live for a year without feeding, so if they are in your luggage in the basement or attic, they can wait patiently until the next time you leave for an exotic destination like Indianapolis or Trenton.

You don't want to live with them, and you don't want to spread them.

The best detection is with bug-sniffing dogs. These dogs are trained the same way that drug-sniffing dogs are, and they can detect the presence of bed bugs down to a single egg casing.

Then, the treatment will happen. And treatment means baking the house. Heat. It’s the only thing that works, so just get used to it. Your furniture, walls, clothing, anything that won’t melt or come apart will need to be heated to 120 degrees for a sustained period of time. It takes five hours.

You will have to move without leaving the house. You may need to relocate your animals; you may need to find another place to sleep and hang out during treatment day. After you have moved all your crap to the center of the rooms, they will bring in heaters and fans, hand inspect anything that can’t be treated, put down a chemical barrier, and heat the ever-living crap out of your house. One guy or gal will stay behind to turn your stuff, making sure the heat gets to everything, so remove and inspect anything you don’t want them handling. (Our goodie box went to the basement.)

When you come home, it will look like someone ransacked your moving day, which is basically what has happened. They will go through all your drawers and the boxes you packed. Everything will be moved and tossed around. And you will have to put it all back together.

I used it as an opportunity to really clean and repaint two of the three rooms we heated. It made me feel better to get something out of it aside from the absence of blood-sucking parasites.

Now, when we travel to hotels, we take off the headboard and inspect it with a flashlight. These usually slide up and can be lifted off their brackets. We inspect the baseboards, corners, behind pictures, mattress seams, and frames. We check bureau drawers. It's a pain in the ass, but not as much of a pain in the ass as packing up all your stuff and spending 1500 dollars to get rid of bugs later.

Which reminds me... Fair warning to all travelers coming to our house: when we retrieve you at the airport or other terminal, your luggage--ALL your luggage--is going into garbage bags. When we arrive at our house, you will be putting all your clothing, etc. into another garbage bag, and it will be going into the dryer. Anything that cannot go into the dryer will remain on our porch in garbage bags or will be hand inspected for the presence of bugs. Don’t take offense. We will happily undergo the same treatment when we visit you.

Because we are NOT going through this again.

And we don’t want you to go through it a first time.

Here is a flickr album of our fun experience.

What you need to know, in general

Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. In all their stages, from egg to nymph to full-grown bug. The most common thing people ask is, "How big are they?" And they are genuinely shocked that the little assholes are not microscopic. Far from it. The eggs are about a millimeter in diameter and the full-grown bugs are about the size of an apple seed (1/4" to 3/8" long or 5-9 mm). They look a lot like a tick, but they are not related. These are TRUE BUGS, bitches. If you come over to my house, I'll show you. I have some of them preserved in alcohol. I'll offer you a drink first. Cocktails and bed bugs!

Any place can have them. It does not matter how high-end the hotel or how clean the house.

Look for them in mattress seams or backpack seams or suitcase seams or toiletry bag seams, but they also love wood (who doesn't?). They will make a nest in the corners of your wooden bed frame, in the screw wells, or on the wall by your bed. They like baseboards, too.

Cold only works to kill bed bugs after 7-10 days in the freezer. Heat works more quickly, but heat treatments are still sustained for five hours.

They don't fly.

They mainly feed at night, but you can still find them during the day. In fact, that's when you need to look for them. During the day, with a flashlight (not a black light). They do not fluoresce. Using a black light to detect them is useless.

They can live for a year without feeding. So they could be sitting in your suitcase, just waiting for you to take them on a trip. A vacation with a dozen or so of your most blood-sucking friends.

You need to hire a professional who knows all of the above. That professional needs to check your entire house, not just your beds, and preferably with a bed bug sniffing dog. Basement, living spaces, storage, luggage: all of it needs to be checked.

Here is a list of informational links on bed begs.


Christine said...

I'm nauseated and itchy after reading this. Sorry you had to go through it. I will happily let you toss my stuff in the dryer and inspect it before letting me in your house.

Mattress Fever said...

must learn to not eat while reread'n this again! ps...since yer throw'n any visitors stuff in the dryer...how bout i just save me the trouble and bring over a couple loads of laundry...and a bottle of misery :)