01 July 2013

Bug Hell

I'm pretty sure bed bugs are spawns of the devil. I bet before the fall of mankind, bed bugs were butterflies, like angels who then durned to demons. Bed bugs are the worst outbreak one can have, I think. Worse than roaches and fleas, for certain. Not sure about termites. One of the worst things about bed bugs is that you can have three of them and you still have to react as if your entire living space is one giant cesspool of bed bug demon hell.

There were about three half days worth of prep work for the 21-point check list. Matt and I realized as we worked late into the evenings that we were doing "last resort" work for a very minor outbreak. The bug guy is just trying to cover his ass - his company has all kinds of guarantees and they don't want to have to come back for free. So they require me to do as much work as possible. But we can use logic. Demon bugs first entered our apartment somewhere between 2-4 weeks ago, very recent in demon bed bug world. So they probably hadn't left the soft, fabricy mattress for the cool, dark closets to scale the walls, scout boxes, tunnel inside, and make a home in Abigail's 12-18 month clothing. So we didn't wash the clothes in those boxes. We also didn't empty our bookshelves or the desk. We were judicious about what we broke our backs cleaning.

It's pretty much like moving. Packing things, moving furniture, un-hanging pictures. Then unpacking, moving furniture back, rehanging pictures. It's moving but instead of carrying furniture down flights of stairs, you do 16 loads of laundry (not counting the dry cleaning). I flip flopped back and forth between anger and bitterness at this heavy extra burden on top of our move and thankfulness that this wasn't scarlet fever and we didn't have to destroy all of Abigail's favorite stuffed animals without exception. All demon bug removal eve, I told myself: Don't stress now, tomorrow will be the worst day. Tomorrow will be hell.

It pretty much was. But maybe like just the first few circles. The technician was scheduled to arrive on Friday afternoon, so on Friday morning, I made the final preparations, including stripping the bed and standing mattresses up against walls.

There was so much chaos everywhere that I had to keep Abigail contained to either her crib (which I didn't strip until last minute) or her high chair. Most of her toys were packed in boxes or in plastic bags in the car, which was parked in the sun (on the bug guy's advice, we "cooked" all the non-washable toys to kill all bed bugs). I'm embarrassed to admit how much tv we let her watch on Friday.

That's a Baby Signing Time DVD she's watching above.

The bug guy arrived at 2pm - smack in the middle of Abigail's 1-3pm nap (demon bug's last revenge, I'm sure). He briefly viewed our apartment and confirmed that the dining room was probably safe (as in, no need to empty everything and spray!) and that our outbreak was very "low." As I stripped Abigail's crib, I asked how long the spraying would take.

"About an hour. But she can't be here for it. Or for two hours while it dries," he replied a bit surprised.

I didn't know it was possible for my ridiculously pale skin to get any paler. My stomach dropped. The cats. My cats in the car is a terrible experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. Except a demon bed bug. I really didn't want to do it on a moment's notice. For three hours. In Chicago.

"The cats too?" I barely eked out.

"No, we can lock them in the bathroom."

That line saved that man's life that day.

It was still inconvenient, though, and leaving in a hurry meant that I forgot a few key things. Like shoes for Abigail and a post-nap snack for us both. But we're girls - killing a few hours at Target and grabbing an ice cream on the way home isn't exactly a burden, although it was weird to be milling around wasting time when I knew we had so much work to do at home.

And boy did we ever. The technician literally turned my apartment upside-down. Couches, beds, cribs. Thankfully not the dressers, though. It was like we'd been robbed by tidy robbers.

Matt was home from work at this point (the good man brought pizza), so we strapped Abigail back into the high chair, turned on more Blues Clues and went to town. It took us about 5 hours of non-stop work to get everything back to normal. My feet are a bit swollen, my back is killing me, but other than a faintly sweet smell of pesticide, you'd never know this place looked like the above photos this afternoon. I even managed to do the dishes.

Now for my favorite part. The absolutely best thing about this entire experience. We get to do it all again in two weeks! You heard me - the washing, the furniture moving, the 3 days worth of work. Cause nothing makes me want to pull a Tom Cruise couching-jumping stunt like packing and unpacking 1000 square feet of space three times in four weeks!

You see, bed bug eggs are impervious to pesticides and can take up to two weeks to hatch. So he has to come back to spray any new hatchlings. Heat kills eggs, so the clothes are safe but we have to re-wash everything too - I'm guessing in case the bugs migrate to the dresser after hatching?

No fucking way. Let's be judicious again: it's all cleaned and fresh and washed and dried. I'm not doing this again right before I move. So why can't I just pack all non-essential fabric-based items and put them in the bed bug free dining room? When I ran this by the exterminator, he gave me a sigh, studied the ground for a moment, and then told me to keep as much clean stuff in garbage bags as possible and spritz everything with rubbing alcohol before we pack it. I don't know about the garbage bag thing (could you imagine how awkward that would make packing a box?) but we can all agree on the spritzing.

I also did some online research (okay, my mom did) and found something called diatomaceous earth. It's a soft rock that crumbles easily. It's very abrasive to anything with an exoskeleton and causes it to dehydrate to death. Anyway, they make a food grade version. Yes, food grade bed bug killer. It's commonly fed to live stock to kill off pest problems, but safe enough for human ingestion. I bought a bag off Amazon and will sprinkle it in all our boxes as I pack as a backup. The last thing I want to do is bring this infestation to Michigan. You see, right now our apartment complex is footing the bill, but I don't know if our new apartment will if we bring them with us. Bed bug extermination runs in the thousands. That's not a bill with which I want to deal. Plus, I don't want to visit this version of hell again.

My friends, there is one thing you could do for me. GO BUY YOURSELF BED BUG INDICATOR STRIPS. Seriously, they sell them cheap at hardware stores. Buy some. Follow the directions. I can't imagine how much worse off we'd be if this infestation had time to spread. If we really did have to sanitize our books and double our laundry burden or had enough stuff to fill a house. Only 30% of people react to bed bug bites, so lots of stories circulate of people who had bed bugs for years but didn't realize it because they were never looking under their mattresses at 4am. If you have to go head-to-head with demon bed bugs, make sure you aren't outnumbered.

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