Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
I succeeded in extracting myself from the formerly bed-bugged apartment on a sunny Sunday in June 2010. Having baked or sealed with insecticide strips every single possession (and given or thrown away bags upon bags of treated stuff), I had fled to my parents’ place, loath to bring anything, including myself, directly to my new apartment despite all precautions.
A nice dinner, a little wine and a good night’s sleep later I was free to grab my things, load up the car and start taking stuff over to Brooklyn.
Except that I couldn’t. I woke up the next morning, surveyed the bedroom piled with bags and boxes, and panicked. Although I had been completely certain of my efforts and the condition of my belongings in each box or bag as I went along, the sight of it all in a jumble on the floor was another story. All I saw was margin for error.
I itched all over. My arm broke out in little red bumps. They looked nothing like any bed-bug bite I’d had, and I’d been sleeping in my parents’ guest room off and on for the better part of a week while moving (during which I’d had a nightmare that I had brought bed bugs to my parents’ home) and not had a single bite.
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But forget all that. I became a combination of Lady Macbeth (scratching nonexistent welts instead of scrubbing invisible spots), and Schindler of “Schindler’s List” (“I should have done more!”)—pacing the house, wringing my hands and wailing, convinced that I’d somehow, after all that work, transported a live, breeding bed bug with me.
“Does this look like a bite from a baby bed bug?” I asked my parents tearfully, displaying an arm with a tiny red bump on it. Of course they would have no reason to know, and besides, bed bugs tend to leave the same sized welts no matter what life stage they’re in. So if it didn’t look like a bite, chances were it wasn’t one.
What could my poor parents say? They knew that my place had been exterminated before I even started my own eradication routine. They knew how thorough that routine was. They did wish I had spent the $2,000 to fumigate—the ultimate guarantee of being bed-bug free. So did I.
It was obvious to everyone but me that I had not transported bed bugs anywhere. But I was lacking the self-assurance that the professional treatment would have provided. Not surprisingly, given my state of emotional and physical exhaustion, I went off the deep end.
One day a family member called to say he’d seen what he was sure was a bed bug crawling up the wall of his office cubicle. He was ostensibly asking my advice, but there was the unavoidable fact that I had visited the family several weeks earlier. At the back of our minds was the worry that somehow a bed bug had been on my things (I had forgotten to bake my stuff before that visit, although as usual it had been sealed in ziplocks before leaving my apartment), made it over to his place and then hitched a ride to his work.
Of course, that was pretty far-fetched. Far more likely was that the file boxes he’d brought back from a recent conference in a hotel had had some visitors, or that someone in his office had bed bugs.
That didn’t stop me from tearing up my parents’ bedroom. Luckily they weren’t home as I suddenly gained super-human strength, running upstairs, ripping the bedding off and heaving the mattress and boxspring around, scrutinizing every inch. Amazingly, I did see something small and brown crawling on a white sheet. Even though it was the wrong shape for a bed bug, my chest almost exploded. A closer look revealed a divide down the middle of the bug, which meant wings, which meant decidedly not a bed bug.
Calming down, I took a more rational approach and ordered my parents a couple of Bedbug Beacon CO2 Active Monitors, carbon dioxide–based devices that can draw bed bugs out of walls or furniture and trap them, helping detect an infestation. I decided to chill out at my folks’ for a few days before starting a new life in my apartment share. I was in no shape to interact with people anyway, and I wanted to sleep with my stuff a bit longer, with the slightly irrational idea that if my meticulous measures had not worked for some reason, I could be the monitor, since any remaining bugs would bite me and I would react.
None did, of course. But that did not stop me from developing a phobia about moving into my new apartment. Every day for a week I’d text or e-mail my roommates that my arrival was imminent. I did not go into detail, told them only that I was visiting my parents. At one point I managed to go there with a duffel bag of clothes, some doubly-Packtited shoes and a blanket. No one was home, and I didn’t stay, though I assured the two women later that, having left a blanket and my favorite shoes, I was not far behind.
Finally, a full week later, my parents and I loaded the car and drove to the new digs. We unloaded and went to dinner. They chatted with one of my roommates and left. I was on my own.
Next week: Starting over.
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.