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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
I had never seen a bed bug when I started breaking out in ‘hives’ in March 2009.
I had recently moved back from seven years reporting and writing in Mexico, and although I was not normally plagued with allergies, it wasn't far-fetched to write the welts off as a reaction to something in my new-old environment. And that's what the doctors did, diagnosing allergies for two months. Nevertheless, I was skeptical: I had heard about the bed bug epidemic, and I seemed to wake up with more ‘hives’ every day. Within weeks they covered most of my body.
But I had no idea what I was looking for. I googled bedbugs and grabbed a few pictures off the Harvard University website and a few other university websites. But I had not yet stumbled upon bedbugger.com, the gold standard clearinghouse of information and advice on how to deal with this problem, or Bedbug Central, Bed Bug Beware or The Bedbug Resource.
So when two doctors, one of them an allergist, gave me the hive diagnosis, I pretty much went with it, searching only sporadically (and fruitlessly) for a legendary and mythical creature out of a nursery rhyme.
In the end, the bed bugs came to me. While I was awake.
I arrived home around 1 a.m. after an evening out, flush with wine and excited to settle back into my bed after sleeping in the living room during a week of renovations. The contractors’ last act had been to place my futon back onto the built-in, slapped-together-plywood bed frame that I’d taken over from my brother, along with the apartment, a few months earlier.
At the bedroom doorway I stopped dead. There, inching toward me in a phalanx, were four apple-seed–sized-and-colored insects, blazing brown against the white mattress cover. “I knew it!” I yelped. I scooped the bugs up in tissue paper without regard to whether they got squished and splatted blood (two or three of them did) and sealed them into a Tupperware.
Thus began a year of (more) itching hell and a curious career as a collector of bugs and other apartment riffraff, before I was finally able to declare myself bed bug free…and start this column. (A note: This saga did not take place in my current apartment.)
The goal of “Bedbugged” is not to throw a pity party, but to offer knowledge and information to quell the hysteria, and to give advice and assistance to those in the throes of infestation, suspicion and aftermath.
As a journalist, I will do my best to vet everything that comes over the transom. Bed bug coverage is improving, but much of it is about the big picture or the latest sighting. Given an insect that hitchhikes and crawls and has done so unimpeded by any widespread effort at containment, the fact that they keep showing up in new places is old news. I’m going to hunker down in the trenches and focus on the nitty-gritty details of what it takes to get ourselves out of this mess.
Because the bottom line is that bed bugs, like many crappy experiences, are temporary.
Moreover, bed bugs can be fixed.
And there are, actually, lots of silver linings.
Week by week, I plan to go into all of that—lifting entries from my very own journal (which would have been a blog if I hadn’t been trying to get a job and an apartment while doing battle with the bugs), culling my rich if-I-had-to-do-it-all-over-again imagination for things I would do differently the next time around (knock wood, no), and researching and reporting on the latest developments in the bed bug arena.
A few of my nearest and dearest have asked why I want to write about this at all: "Don't you want to put it all behind you?" they say, while their eyes plead, Please don't make me listen to any more bug talk!
The answer is yes (for obvious reasons) and no, because ignoring these most nightmarish of houseguests will only help them spread. Also, the phenomenon itself is fascinating: These insects march into more and more boudoirs to feast, yet we, supposedly one of the most advanced nations on earth, can do little more than wring our hands.
Brought to our knees by a bunch of bugs? How is this possible?
More to the point: How will it play out?
Next week: My so-called exterminator, and what happens when you move out of the bedroom.
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the bed bug trenches and how to climb out with your sanity intact.