Apr. 7th, 2013

knights_say_nih: (Default)
 I still have a hard time writing about my bed bug experience.  I feel grimy when I do, and ashamed, like I can't scour them off my skin, like I have to make a list of justifications, give evidence of my personal hygiene, prove that I was an undeserving victim, that I'm not some vermin-infested grungy freak.

But this is worthwhile.  Because internet reading actually plays a huge role in the 'having bedbug' process, for most people.  We're a googling, wiki-ing culture; the moment we have a question we search it up online, relying on the testimony and claims of randoms and non-experts to decide what to do next.  Bedbugging in particular is a condition that fills you with a lot of free floating anxiety and insomnia.  The sheets begin to crawl, the enemy is nameless, you're restless and awake and the internet is right there!  It's full of horror stories of years of bites, full of hundreds of DIY solutions that we want to try right away.  And this can lead to a number of things; to despair and to trouble.

SO.  My encounter with bedbugs.  I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning.

THE ARRIVAL.

I'm not sure how I got them, not one hundred percent.  My brother had come to live with me for a few weeks, it's possible he brought them along, but simultaneously a neighbour had died in a next-door suite and all of his stuff had been brought out of the apartment in a 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck.  When a bug has no more food source, it runs for the next warm body, and I was the nearest thing.  I believe his suite was treated when mine was, but it could also have been wee-brother.  Because, of course, seeing your first bedbug doesn't always mean it is the first bedbug to be in your bed.

I'd been having what might be bites for a couple of weeks.  They show up differently for everyone, but I was dismissing them at the time as puncture marks from my new kitten, who was prone to kneading.  They'd show up on my skin in twos and threes, as spaced apart as a cat's claws.  I'd probably have ignored them forever, blaming him, except for one morning, by fluke chance, a bug skittered across the sheets right in front of my eyes.  I was blindingly hungover, due to unrelated, staff party related reasons, but this goes to show; bed bugs will not be convenient, you will not find them when you are ready for them or when you are expecting them.

I grabbed the little fucker and tossed it in my empty coffee cup on the bedside table, then into a tupperware container when I was done hyperventilating.  I looked it up on the internet, decided that's what it was, then carefully cut off its' head with a kitchen knife and taped it to a piece of cardstock (I didn't like the idea of it pinned forever behind the tape, or suffocating or anything.  Never mind that I was about to poison all of its' family with impunity.)

I called, in this order; my mother, my father, and my landlady.

My landlady was showing another apartment at the time she got the call, and had a hasty conversation with me in code.  She called me back- and another suite caught fire while she was on the phone.  She called me back half an hour after that and did three wonderful things;

1) She told me it was not my fault, that you could pick up bedbugs sitting on bus seats, and that she wasn't angry.

2) she told me how to safely prep for an exterminator- NOT TO VACUUM, and to run every scrap of fabric in the place through a hot dryer cycle, to be mindful of dropping things in the hallway or on the laundry room floor, to get plastic bags with no stupid features like string tops or odor bullshit and that were rated leak-proof.  Every scrap of fabric in the place needed to be heated, from bedding to clothes to curtains to upholstery covers, then bagged and stored.  The bags had to be tied and sealed in such a way that they were UTTERLY airtight, paying particular attention to knotting the handles-- here's a good picture.  Imagine an air-proof knot where the red ribbon is; http://www.bedbugsupply.com/assets/images/bugbag_large.jpg

3) She hired a professional exterminator.

Do not fuck around on number three.  Ask your landlord how well they know the place.  The landlord needs to cover this expense, but it will be worse for you if they cheap out on it.  Do not do raid or bug bombs or anything by yourself, do not do anything like the earths or the vaseline tricks or any other internet remedies.  Just wait for your exterminator.

What I did to prep for mine-

-freaked out and searched my entire apartment- there was no sign of them!  I found one skeletal hull, a shed adult skin, but other than that and the one bug and my little scratchy bites, I would have never been able to recognize the signs of the infestation, not in a million years.
-I moved kitten to the boyfriend's place (after getting him a new bag of food and litter, and treating his carrying case with bleach in the bathtab to be sure it had no stowaways.)
-I treated my fabric and sealed them out of harms way.
-I threw out my crinkly foam mattress pad, after marking it 'bed bugs.'  It may have been treatable, but I didn't want to add to the pain of treating the mattress itself.

When you fuck around with the home treatments and barriers, you risk diffusing the bugs.  Nine times out of ten, it won't kill them, they'll just run for other meat in the building.  Moving to an air mattress surrounded with duct tape for the night will keep you bug free FOR THE NIGHT but they'll be back the next night, or the next.  They live up to a year without food.  They'll hunt for blood in neighbouring suites and the building will get fucked up.

SO.  Once you've treated your fabric, wait.  Clean up as much clutter and bullshit as possible, move the furniture four inches away from the walls in prep for the exterminator.

Mine arrived and was lovely.  He bid me goodbye for eight hours, sprayed my place top to bottom (I should also note I had to turn off my fish tank filter and cover the top with a towel to keep them getting poisoned!) and when I came back, I put my apartment a tiny bit back together, just enough to live in.  Leave the fabric away, and still, forgo the home treatments and barriers!  Above all, do not give in to the temptation to go elsewhere!

Here's the gross but crucial thing about treating bedbugs.  You have to stick around.  You have to get bit.  The bedbug guy left poison strewn all around my floor and bed, and gave me strict instructions not to vacuum it. I slept in my bed the next week and a half knowing that the little fuckers were crawling through it to get to me, and dying, hatching and crawling through it and dying.  If you leave to go somewhere bite free, they don't walk through the poison, the infestation remains.

The first spray kills all the adults in the apartment, either at the time of or crawling through the detritus to feed.  Then, there's a very specific window- imagine that ten seconds before the exterminator walked through the door, a bed bug laid an egg.  In egg form, they pretty much aren't going to be poisoned.  You need to spray again AFTER that very last egg has hatched, and BEFORE it has had time to lay more (poison impervious) eggs.  That's where the two week spraying thing comes from.  A day early or a day late, and you're fucked.

But what makes bedbugs such irritating little shits?  Is that it only takes one.  If a pregnant female survives either of these sprays (in a book, behind an electric socket, in a light fixture) and doesn't manage to die in the poison around the place?  The bugs remain.  If two side by side units are being treated off kilter with one another, and the bugs are in the wall between?  The remain.  If you treat bugs but your side by side neighbour doesn't consent to let the exterminator in or doesn't check and says they have no bugs?  You've got them for good, basically.  If you spray your apartment but vaseline your bed posts and layer stuff with the earth, they remain. 

If you go through all this, but didn't happen to kill one of the bugs in your laundry bags?  Bang, they're reintroduced!  This is why after my treatments were done and I had been bite free for a month, when I began bringing my stuff back into the apartment I rewashed it all.  I threw the plastic bags directly out into the dumpster.  I also pitched my vacuum through all of this- because you guessed it, the reason my landlady had me not vacuum is that it could suck the bugs up into it, sparing them the extermination, and they'd crawl out and be back!  I could't be sure I hadn't vacuumed recently enough for it to be infested, so it had to go.

Mattress bags are risky.  THey'll trap bugs IN an infested mattress, but if it tears accidentally the bugs will be rereleased into an otherwise clean apartment.  I didn't use one, I just had my mattress (and couch) sprayed very extensively.  They both turned out fine.

I'll conclude this with these facts.  I had only the two treatments for the bedbugs, and though I saw bites between the two, I never saw another bite after the second treatment.  I think this is a combination of a) luck and b) the fact that my landlady MEANT BUSINESS and made sure I knew how to handle myself.  This impacted my life very immediately for the two weeks during the spraying, and then pretty intensely for the month after I lived with no spare clothing and pretty flimsy bedding.  For another two months after that I was checking really compulsively for bed bugs.  Now, I just check whenever I change my sheets, using the quick hiding spots the exterminator taught me (they like pressure, wedging themselves in seams, in zippers, in corners, etc.)

I am now at exactly six months sign-free.  I promise to update this post if this changes, but I feel good.  I haven't thought about the bugs in a few months, not really.  Two treatments and bingo isn't exactly common- if you do everything right, it can still sometimes take three or four to get that very last bug, and if the infestation has spread and your neighbours aren't cooperative you may need to move out (do rigorous research on how to heat treat EVERYTHING before you consider this.)

But yeah.  I guess I just wanted to fill the vacuum on the internet that I saw, on that first panicked night of post hunting.  Not every single bed bug occurrence is a protracted fiasco of anguish and tears.  It's stressful,  and it will take a lot of work, and you will lose some gross sleep lying in your bed as bug bait, and you will do hours of laundry and you will be tired and itchy and not like having to deep clean every inch of your apartment, but by doing so you will save yourself being one of these cautionary tales by the wayside.

Sometimes an bedbug problem goes down easy!  But do it right.  Don't do home remedies, you aren't good enough at it.  Don't let your landlord screw around with it and don't waste any time.  If finances are an issue, landlords technically are obliged (in Canada, at least) to comp your laundry costs and your bag expenses.  I never billed mine, since I brought them in and I love her, she makes me tea sometimes, but rather than spread the problem worse due to lack of funds, know you can be reimbursed.  

Best of luck to you, and ask me anything you need :)


If you are throwing stuff out- MARK IT AS INFESTED
If you are bringing stuff in- HEAT TREAT or BLEACH TREAT it.  If you're bleach treating, doing it in the bathtub is good.  If you can't do either to an item, heat in a dryer or bleach into every nook and cranny, it isn't worth salvaging.  Never bring any upholstered item into a home whose history you don't know- I personally include thrift shopping in this if you are in a bug-heavy city like NYC, Vancouver, San Fran, etc.

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