There is nothing that freaks me out quite like bedbugs. And I have a good reason for that.
Bedbugs have been in the news lately. I’ve read about outbreaks in large U.S. cities which infect entire apartment buildings and temporarily shut down retail stores. I’ve read about the one group who isn’t complaining about the surge (exterminators). I think I pay attention to these stories with more interest than the average reader because I’ve had to deal with bedbugs myself.
My incident happened over three years ago, in the summer of 2007. I never wrote a single sentence about it on this blog while it was actually happening, which was purposeful on my part. I didn’t want anyone to know.
It was because of the stigma. Even if the bedbugs aren’t your fault, even if you aren’t a dirty person, even if you innocently happen to pick them up from a hotel and they multiply on their own…there’s still a stigma. I didn’t want anyone to think negatively of me or wonder if the infestation was somehow my fault. So I told very few people.
I don’t know how I got bedbugs. The worst part is, they had to have been there for weeks before I put all the pieces together and realized what was going on.
Some background: I had a boyfriend at the time, and he was staying over at my place quite a bit. The bedbugs must have liked his skin more than mine because we started noticing what we thought was a rash on his back…however, I never noticed the same rash on myself. (The same thing happens with mosquitoes. I never use bug spray, and I very-very rarely get a mosquito bite, even when others around me are getting eaten-up.) So maybe if I had been the one covered with unknown bites, I would have been more concerned about the source? Hmm…
I discovered the infestation at a good time, relatively speaking. My boyfriend had just moved into a new apartment, and because he and I were spending so much time together, I was invited to move in some of my stuff as well. (In other words, he and I were basically living together, but I still had a few months remaining on my apartment lease so I wasn’t moving all of my stuff out at once.)
So…I was moving some of my stuff out, which involved packing boxes and clothes and such. And taking all the bedding off my bed.
I was horrified by what I found. Completely horrified. There’s no other way to describe it.
They had been hiding under the bedskirt, between the bedskirt and the boxspring. The bedskirt completely hid the Bedbug Party that was happening underneath.
I have said on multiple occasions that I don’t have the best memory, but that particular moment is burned into my mind. When I removed the mattress, I saw just a few bedbugs crawling on top of the bedskirt. When I removed the bedskirt itself, they were everywhere. I was in the apartment by myself at the time and I was completely freaked out.
The first thing I did was grab the vacuum cleaner. I sucked up a few of them before I saw the futility of what I was doing and reached for my phone instead. I called my boyfriend and he arrived not long afterward with a friend in tow. They put on plastic gloves, then threw both the mattress and boxspring off the balcony that was attached to my bedroom (so they wouldn’t have to track it through the rest of the apartment, across the public hallway, and around the building).
I spent many hours dealing with the bedbug problem even after the bedding had been disposed of. I read recommendations online that said I should treat all of my clothes, linens, and towels in high heat, which involved me taking a huge pile of stuff to the local laundromat (they had multiple dryers, so it was easier and quicker that way). Once there, I shoved many, many bags of dry, clean clothes into the dryers and put them on full blast for the full cycle. And then I had to re-fold and re-hang everything.
When I moved out of the apartment to stay with my boyfriend, I left behind most of my furniture. There was a couch, chair, coffee table, and sofa table (all of which had been purchased less than a year before), and a few smaller tables and a dresser I’d had for a few years longer.
I contacted the rental office to let them know of the issue, and they sent an exterminator. I went back a few weeks later to check on things in my apartment, and I could still find random bedbugs crawling on the carpet. I reported the issue once again, and the exterminator was sent out a second time.
Less than a week before I was due to move everything out of the apartment for good (my lease was almost up), I went there again to check out the situation and found a live bedbug on the sofa. That’s what I made the decision to leave ALL of the furniture behind. I estimated I was leaving behind several thousand dollars worth of furniture, and while I realize not everyone would take such an extreme measure, to me it was worth the peace of mind. I’d been at the other apartment for several months with no bedbug incidents, and I didn’t want to risk a new infestation.
The rental office ended up settling my issue with their insurance company (and also dealt with the removal of the furniture), and I received a check for $500. It wasn’t close to the amount that the furniture was worth, but I wasn’t interested in prolonging the fight.
I saw a report not long ago that said DC is on the Top 10 list of most-infested cities for bedbugs. Honestly, if I ever had to deal with this again, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d figure it out somehow, I suppose, but really…it’s a nightmare.
Speaking of nightmares: I had them. For months and even years afterward, I would dream about discovering them in my bed. (I haven’t had a bedbug-dream in about six months, and I’m hoping it stays that way.) They weren’t nightmares in the sense that I was being attacked by a giant bedbug or that I woke up and they were crawling all over me — but they were horrible all the same. Usually they just involved the discovery of bedbugs, and in my dream I knew what they were and knew I’d had the problem in the past. The feeling of dread, and all the work I knew I’d have to do — that was nightmarish enough for me.
Even to this day, three years later, I check under the mattress and bedskirt every single time I take off the sheets to be washed. There’s still a sense of foreboding as my eyes make the scan, and a feeling of relief when there’s nothing there.