Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
After Bobby flung flour-like Drione powder around my bedroom until it looked like a bakery had exploded, I took photos and high-tailed it to my sister’s place. She had agreed to take me in, for the umpteenth time, to give the pesticides time to settle. I was planning to stay just the night so that I could return home and be bait.
Knowing the extreme precautions I routinely went to so as to avoid spreading bed bugs, she had no problem hosting me. In fact, I was probably more neurotic about it than she was, because when you have these things you feel as though they are everywhere.
I arrived with my laptop and basically the clothes on my back, plus a few in my knapsack. I showed her the photos I’d taken.
“I don’t know that I want you going back there,” she said.
I decided to seek expert advice and wrote to Tim Wong of M&M Pest Control, attaching the photos of my besprinkled sleeping space and asking him what level of Drione was too toxic.
His reply was sobering: “I'm so sorry about the new findings,” he wrote. “The pictures of the furniture look bad. Drione is ... very effective but the application is limited to cracks and crevices and mattress & bed seams. Based on the pictures, he is applying too much and they're too exposed.
“You definitely need to wear a dust mask to vacuum up that dust,” he continued. “You need to clean it up before you move back into the apartment.”
So it was official: My apartment had been rendered too toxic to live in, at least until I donned one of those white dust masks used for cleaning—it’s what Wong recommended, saying that a respirator mask would be overkill and that most people use them incorrectly anyway—and vacuumed up the dust with a hepa-filter vacuum. Luckily, I own one.
That settled the matter for my sister and me. I did not have time to deal with it, so I stayed with her for several days, then spent a night or two with my parents.
After a week I returned to my apartment and vacuumed up the dust, leaving a thin sheen, the amount that should have been applied in the first place. I pulled down the bed from where it leaned against the wall. Then I checked my possessions piled high in the bathtub in plastic bags.
While I was away, the shower had leaked, so there was water all over my stuff. And of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, there were holes in some of the giant ziplocks holding my dry cleaning, so things like my wool poncho were sodden. I took them out and hung them to dry in the living room, the smell of wet wool being no worse than the sickly sweet liquid-pesticide odor that still hung in the air.
I checked the ziplock bag in which I had stashed the bed bugs. They were all still alive, and they had company: about 25 eggs. I found this all very instructive, not having seen this array of bed buggery in my near-year of dealing with them. As a bonus, some address labels had been inside the bag when I grabbed it in my haste, giving me good examples of fecal traces.
I slipped the double-ziplocked bug bag into a third ziplock, shut it and taped around the edges. I feared that a ziplock seal alone would not prevent hatchlings from crawling out and starting the infestation all over again. Not that it had stopped completely.
I made the bed, resigning myself to being breakfast, lunch and dinner (or BLD, what the experts have nicknamed the classic three-bite pattern that bed bugs often create, though that’s not a given). I had to, so that any remaining bugs would crawl across the poison to bite me and die.
Bite they did. I woke up the next morning with several welts, though many fewer than I’d been getting before Bobby came. The massive poison drop hadn’t reached all their hiding places or deterred those that hadn’t died.
Lena and Ron had stayed in their apartment, breathing the dust, and were not too bothered. Lena’s bites had tapered off, too. (Ron had never reacted, though he was most likely getting bitten just as often as Lena.) Plastic-bagged existence notwithstanding, they were doing a much better job than I of maintaining a modicum of normalcy in their lives.
I thought about calling 311, but Lena and Ron urged me not to. Ron feared that the city would send an inspector who would find all the code violations and things we were living with as annoyances, but didn’t care enough about to report, and close the place down.
“They’ll condemn the building,” he said. “We’ll all be homeless.” He was speaking out of fear, not out of experience or fact, but I respected their wishes and held off.
Bobby came back the following weekend and drilled holes in the wall to get Drione behind the plaster. This is common practice for some exterminators, and I in fact insisted on it in this case, since the bugs were probably coming from Arnold’s place on the other side of my bedroom wall.
He looked around and asked if I’d vacuumed up the dust. I said yes, and he nodded. ‘That was probably the right thing to do, hon,” he said. There was that “hon” again.
A few days later I learned from Ron and Lena that Bobby and Rocco had made lots of derisive noises behind my back about my vacuuming up the dust. Oh great, I thought, all I need is to be accused of not cooperating with the extermination effort. I was glad I had my photos.
As the dust settled, literally and figuratively, I had time to think about what came next. It was unclear when Arnold was leaving or what would happen when he did. Would his surviving bugs swarm over to my place?
A thought that had been hovering at the back of my brain for some time started drifting to the fore: The only way out for sure might be to move.
Next week: Should I stay or should I go?
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.