Bedbugged! is a column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
When you see those damn bugs crawling across your mattress (in my case), or wherever and however you find them, your immediate reaction is to recoil in horror. Barely able to absorb the supreme yuckiness of the situation, your brain kind of shuts down. You just want it all to go away.
Sadly, that is just the opposite of what is going to happen. The discovery of bed bugs is in most cases just the beginning of a long road.
What anyone wants at a time like this is someone who will sweep in and make it all better. Take away the fear and the sheer overwhelming nature of it all. And most importantly, convince you that the bugs themselves will someday be gone.
With this in mind--and having dealt with three PCOs personally and interviewed nearly a half dozen more for this column--I recently sat on my living-room sofa in my blessedly bug-free apartment (where, I sheepishly admit, lint still gets scrutinized, especially in the bedroom) and fantasized about what characteristics, exactly, would be embodied by a PPCO (perfect pest control operator).
I thought about the expertise that was decidedly lacking in two of the three exterminators who came to my apartment way back when, and what I wished they had that they didn't.
I pondered the nuances of inspection, detection and eradication. I marveled at the way the whole thing screws with your mind. And I came up with a list of things that PPCO, my dream exterminator, would bring to the table.
1. Knowledgeable about all things bed bug.
PPCO waltzes into your abode with not only a confident air but also the know-how to back it up. Every answer to every question jibes with what you have by now most likely read on reputable sites online (besides this one, Bedbugger.com, BedBugBeware.com, and The Bed Bug Resource).
He or she knows what to look for to determine whether bed bugs are actually present and is intimately acquainted with every aspect of the bugs’ life cycle. PPCO uses just the right amount of insecticide, or knows when another method (or a mixture) would be better suited.
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PPCO does not spout nonsense such as pronouncements about how bed bugs prefer men over women or think of a bed bug merely as one homogeneously sized, lentil-like insect. And PPCO knows that more is not better when it comes to pesticides.
2. Thinks like a bed bug.
The adage that if you want to know your enemy, you must think like him, is no truer than when dealing with this pest.
PPCO sees inside the bed bug mind, as it were, sussing out the places they may be hiding, CSI-ing your apartment to try and find out where and how they got in.
PPCO understands how to “read” your bedbugged environs like a book that tells the story of your infestation, for therein lies its rehabilitation.
3. Supplies comprehensive paperwork readily.
In the vein of full disclosure and showing he is following the law to the letter, PPCO should be willing and able to display copies of any documentation you ask for. This includes license and detailed lists of chemicals and potions that are being used.
It’s basically about transparency. You need someone knowledgeable and honest for this job. PPCO is up to the task and does not balk when asked to prove it.
4. Gets the whole building involved.
PPCO somehow finds a way to convince the landlord to inspect and if necessary treat all surrounding units, as well as get any recalcitrant neighbors to cooperate.
Granted, this is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but often the landlord will not listen to a lowly tenant. An expert, now that is a different matter. Sometimes.
PPCO is honey-tongued while not lording his/her superior knowledge over the building owner or management. PPCO gets everyone on the same page, so that they all work together, in a blame-free atmosphere, their collective eye on the common goal.
5. Supports you psychologically.
This is what all the above criteria above add up to, in the end.
The most valuable attribute that PPCO brings is a unique mix of strength and sensitivity. Strength that makes you feel as if everything is going to be alright, even if it sucks in the short or even medium term. Sensitivity that simultaneously assuages your deepest darkest bug fears and validates them, without ridicule.
PPCO understands that there is a whole mental component to a bed bug infestation. He or she soothes you and takes away your idea that you somehow brought this pestilence upon yourself.
PPCO is sympathetic if you are crying but ideally can stop you from doing so. He or she helps you keep your cool and guides you through the inspection, preparation and waiting processes. PPCO is the light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, many imperfect PCOs seem to be this in the beginning. The air of confidence can be the most deceiving, because it is often genuine—they think they know what they’re doing, when they really don’t. Only comprehensive research on our part will unmask those who are not what they seem, or what you want them to be.
And cast in that light, we are our own knights in shining armor, fortifying ourselves with vast stores of bedbug knowledge and thumping on the exterminator’s metal plating to make sure it’s real.
Now where the hell’d I park my white horse?
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 trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.