Where do we begin to answer that frequently asked question?
A friend from the blog whose bed bugs are hopefully gone for good called me today. She just bought a bunch of new lingerie. Woo hoo! For the gents who are blissfully unaware (if I have not already sent them running with my choice of topic), lingerie is generally a strictly “wash on cold and hang to dry” sort of thing. Remember Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl?
“No! More! Panties! Drying! On! The Rod!”
The ladies here know– having bed bugs means you wash everything on hot and dry it on hot. Unless you send your “unmentionables” to the dry cleaners (do people do that?), they’re going to be subjected to treatment forbidden on every garment care label.
Most female Bedbuggers quickly start finding out what happens when you flout those directions, and toss the delicates in with the whole kit and kaboodle. The results include shrinkage, discoloration, and expensive nice things wearing out very quickly. And don’t get started on nylon hose and tights, which don’t go in the dryer, and so are pretty much disposable, if you’re a Bedbugger.
And then there’s the inconvenience and the cost and the work. Most Bedbuggers–male or female– start washing everything after one wearing. This means much more laundry than ever before. And your clothes wear out faster–being washed so harshly on hot and dried on hot, and then washed this way much more often, in many cases. Some try to cut down on laundry by changing into “indoor clothes” and sealing up their “outdoor clothes” for another use. But this can lead to wrinkles and mustiness (sealing worn clothing in a bag leads to very different effects from airing it on a hanger.)
Those hit during the summer have the advantage of not having to wash winter coats and bag them between wearings. They do, however, have to deal with bed bugs that breed more quickly, and the effects on bites of heat and humidity, which can increase the itching considerably.
People stop sitting in soft furniture, walking barefoot at home, and resort to checking sheets and other bedclothes obsessively before getting in, and worrying about taking anything from home to car, work, or anywhere else. They shower, dress in fresh clothing, and rush out to work and appointments, because lingering at home means things might crawl into their clothing and be moved elsewhere.
I hear some entomologists and PCOs say that this sort of “hitchhiking” is a rarity and not something to worry about. But we all know people whose workplaces, cars, friends, relatives were infested under similar circumstances. And how else could the NYC public schools have bed bugs in them, if people were not bringing them in and out? (Last thing I checked, they weren’t brought in on used mattresses: politicians take note.) So even if it’s a slim threat, anyone with an awareness of the danger and any kind of conscience becomes concerned about it.
If you think about the people in your life who are elderly or suffering an illness, who are disabled, who have infants, who just plain don’t need to deal with all this (I think I covered everyone there), you consider what might happen if they were the ones exposed.
These behaviors we go through to try and avoid spreading bed bugs may look like an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but they’re surely not a disorder. Nevertheless, like OCD, they take up a lot of energy, and a lot of time, and they make people look at us strangely (if they see what we go through).
Most frequently asked questions here are about how to avoid or get rid of bed bugs, but since we’ve had more visitors lately, I want to do something to convey for those who don’t know, what this can be like, for months. At least. But this one is also for the Bedbuggers who are somewhere on the “road to recovery” from bed bugs. Even when the bed bug crisis is over, it takes a while for people to stop doing things this way, because the new habits become ingrained. At some point you need to realize the crisis is over and take some ceremonial steps towards the “normal” way of doing most things. Most of them, I stress: do continue to leave the cover on the mattress, and do not sit on the wooden benches on the NYC subway platforms!
There’s a scene from the movie Road Warrior, the dystopian film about a future where the hardy and haggard survivors of some apocalypse battle for survival in armored vehicles. Another unwashed fellow in rags and with rotten teeth exclaims to Mel Gibson’s character,
“Lingerie! Remember lingerie?”
Now this guy not only missed lingerie, he missed all the comforts of their pre-apocalyptic state (and, I assume, the inhabitants of said lingerie). That question rings in my mind, as I remember musing to a friend about how many months I went without sitting in my sofa.
“Comfort, remember comfort?”
The point is, you take a lot of things for granted in a modern, “technologically-advanced” country, and a lot of these are things you have to do without when you’re trying to rid your home of these vermin: pretty and comfortable clothing and furniture, free time, relaxing at home, a good night’s sleep.
To add insult to injury, the stigma is such that it’s hard to tell others, and if you do, they often still won’t understand. And often, some of those who don’t get it may be right there in your home, not being bitten, denying there’s a problem or unwilling to understand it, rolling their eyes, refusing to participate–after all, they too may think you suddenly developed OCD. I feel for them also, but that’s for another day. (Remember, they miss you, the way you were before: in nice clothes, not worried about little things, smiling.)
I was thrilled my friend bought new lingerie. It might sound silly, but it’s symbolic. Good for her. And I hope she does not ever have to go through all that again.
Bedbuggers: what’s the worst “new habit” you’ve had to develop in your fight against bed bugs?
And what’s the one thing you most look forward to doing again, when your home’s bed bug crisis is over?