Hell's Bitchen

My worst nightmare becomes reality: The arrival of (real) bed bugs

By Kelly Kreth  |
February 28, 2013 - 10:18AM

If my life was a movie, the foreshadowing would seem too contrived. 

About a year ago I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and have been struggling with it. I often try to explain it to people by saying it is like having internal bed bugs. 

Right around the same time, after I moved here to Hell’s Kitchen, I got paranoid that the bites I was mysteriously getting were from bed bugs and called a bed bug dog service.

I recall vividly staying up all night to read BrickUnderground’s own Theresa Braine’s chronicles of her bed bug disaster.  Turns out I did not have bed bugs but did have a major case of paranoia combined with mosquito bites. 

A few months later a close friend was plagued with the bloodsucking beasts. I would not see her for the eight months she dealt with them for fear I’d get them myself. She handled her situation far more calmly than I did and my nightly neurotic mantra became, “They are not my bed bugs.” 

Oddly, on my one-year anniversary in this apartment, I was in the throes of dealing with my Lyme disease, Googling the latest research studies, and out of the corner of my eye saw something crawl across my white comforter.

I quickly prayed it was a roach (in no other circumstances would anyone ever pray they had a roach on their bed) only to see quite clearly it was an adult bed bug. I quickly scooped it up in my hand—they are fast and wily—and threw it into a Ziploc and watched in horror and shock. I hadn’t thought about bed bugs in a long time and had not had any bites. I prayed it was a rogue bug but knew better than to believe it. 

I texted my landlord that I had just found a bed bug and she texted back asking that I mail it to her so she could have it analyzed. I responded that I would be calling the bed bug dog service and have them come in the morning and then I’d mail it to her but would certainly not be wasting any time. I wanted this treated immediately! 

I examined my mattress and saw no evidence of a problem. It was pristine as always. I then examined the underside of my box spring, trying the squelch my urge to panic, and found nothing except a skin shedding. Evidence! 

I called Bobby from K9 Bed Bug Detectors, the bed bug guy I called last spring, and assured him this time I was not being paranoid. 

The next morning prior to having his dog, Bruno, do his thing, Bobby inspected the apartment. He immediately confirmed that the bug in the bag was indeed a bed bug. 

He said he found another skin shedding but that there didn’t appear to be a major problem. He also said he saw bed bug “dust” (fecal matter…eww!) in the corner of my bedroom by a utility closet.

Then he let the dog examine.

The dog systematically checked the bed area (nothing), the window side of the room and in all the drawers of furniture that resided there (nothing), the desk (nothing) and then started making signals that there were bugs in that corner by the utility closet and baseboard. 

The dog proceeded to check the rest of the apartment and found nothing else. Bobby said he believes I caught the problem within weeks of its onset because there were no bugs in the bed, and if it had been a major infestation we'd be seeing far more signs, like blood dots on the mattress and the dog would be going crazy sniffing the bed.

While obviously they were making their way from the corner utility closet to the bed (hence the one I found crawling there) they had not actually taken up residence YET. 

He told me to immediately get mattress and boxspring encasments at Bed Bath and Beyond and not take them off for two years. Because my mattress was pristine there was no reason to toss it, so he said the encasement would prevent them from taking residence in it/boxspring and if there were any eggs in there they'd be trapped and die after a maximum of two years.

He was nice enough to call my landlord and implore her to treat immediately—and of course pay for it—and she agreed. I was so relieved there was no wait while she had her own PCO check out the place. 

He immediately sprayed around the perimeter of the bed and the other furniture, particularly the offensive utility closet. He gave me strict instructions to take out everything from all closets and drawers and heat them in a dryer on high for 45 minutes. This would also include any throw rugs, curtains, bedding, etc. 

Then he told me I’d have to Packtite all my books, files and papers, and seal everything once it had been heated in huge Ziploc bags. 

I was lucky, he said, that even though he’d need to treat the whole apartment, I would not have to heat and pack things in the other rooms, because the bugs were isolated to one small area of the bedroom and the dog could find no evidence of them in any other room.

I was doubly lucky that my primary closet is a bedroom I converted to a walk-in closet and dressing room far from my actual bedroom. Thankfully I would not have to heat and pack every coat, shoe, purse, dress, etc. 

He also shared some bed bug trivia: He has been keeping bugs in a bag for over 18 months without any feeding and they are shockingly still alive; he has kept them in his truck overnight for days in below-freezing temperatures and yet they endure. 

I liked him as much as I did the first time I met him--he was informative and, even more important, at a time like this, compassionate and patient.

Thankfully Theresa (of Bedbugged-fame) came to my rescue and was nice enough to lend me her Packtite. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I could not prep this apartment myself or even with the help of friends in a week while being chronically ill. 

I set about to find a bed bug prep service and interviewed one who said she’d come to evaluate at 5pm. Prior to her scheduled visit she gave me a rough estimate of $1,500 to prepare the room after I described the number of books and items in furniture that would have to be heated and sealed. 

Because I do not have a dryer in my own apartment or building she’d have to send out all the laundry at a rate of nearly $2 per pound. I didn’t initially realize that heating clothing items did not get factored into her estimate. I estimated that I might have several hundred pounds of clothing, bedding, etc. to be heated. 

I asked a few more questions prior to her set-up visit and she said they only vacuumed books, not actually heat-treat them via Packtite. They could then seal them and advised you to leave them all sealed for eight months because she claims bugs can only go without a meal for that long. 

This worried me because my PCO said that: 1) vacuuming books does absolutely nothing to kill eggs/bugs and 2) even simply bagging them for eight months is not safe because bugs can go far longer without a meal.  I Googled on my own and read through Theresa’s column yet again; nothing I read made me feel easier.

I told her what my PCO explained, and she canceled our appointment saying we clearly have differing views about what is safe. 

I then discovered a moving company called Moving Right Along, which works closely with Bed Bug Fumigation Specialists. Here's how it works: Moving Right Along put my stuff in one of their containers that looked like a moving truck and the container was delivered to Bed Bug Fumigation Specialists to be sealed and fumigated with Vikane gas overnight. 

Moving Right Along then moved the container to their facility where it will live for 30 days (after which they'll move and unpack it all).

The pack, move and storage from Moving Right Along for one 200 sq. ft. room of stuff plus a couch was $2,500, which, in light of the fact I was going to write up the whole experience for this column, they agreed to waive. The fumigation of the pod was $700 plus tax via Bed Bug Fumigation Specialists.

I knew I would need a ton of huge Ziploc bags in a rush. I needed them the following day and Soap.com proved to be the fastest and cheapest. I ordered two boxes each size:  XXL bags (the size of a garment bag), XL and L. They arrived the next day.

Also, prior to my PCO coming, I still had to heat about eight loads of things that I would need for the month. The laundromat doesn’t allow users to only dry clothing, but I came equipped with a diversionary tactic. 

My friends and I were able to score dryers for the mandatory 45-minute cycle. They helped me upstairs with the bags and then we organized everything into sealed Ziploc bags and I integrated them out of the bedroom and into my master closet far from it. 

The next day my PCO returned to do his first comprehensive treatment. He let me stay in the apartment but asked me to step out of the rooms he was treating, so I didn’t see exactly what he was spraying but know there was a light coating of a powdery substance around the perimeter of the room, bed, and remaining furniture. 

He said to sit tight and he’d be back in seven days to do it again. 

He also said he is working with my landlord to bring the dog back to check the apartment above me and commercial space below me to see if there are bugs in other areas of the building.

He thinks, however, I caught it very quickly and that because the dog barked in that one corner—where library books, ironically about Lyme disease, were placed from the library about three weeks before—it is fairly isolated. 

I am thankful I have never had any bites (this must be, he explains, that I am not allergic to them so my body does not react with the telltale itchy ugly welts) and that I have not seen another bug after the first or any sign of them. It helps me to delude myself that everything, at least externally, is just fine. 

See all Hell's Bitchen.

Related posts:

Bedbugged! How to tell a bed bug from an impostor

About that bed bug insurance bill....

Bedbugged! The perfect exterminator

Finally, a breakthrough in bed bug detection

More posts by Kelly Kreth:

15 things I've learned from 'Million Dollar Listing NY' so far

The 20 deadly sins NYC rental agents should never commit (but do)

Escape from the UES: Goodbye douchebaggery, hello Hell's Kitchen

Dear Neighbor: I am your worst nightmare

Living next to a bridge & tunnel club: KY Jelly wrestling, all-night noise, no regrets


Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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