A reader’s bed bug story

by nobugsonme on September 26, 2008

in bed bugs

stayoffmybaby writes,

Here’s my success story. Unfortunately, it highlights the hopelessness of the situation if you can’t afford to move.

We lived on the Upper West Side of New York on the 5th floor of an overcrowded, 15-unit, prewar, walk-up tenement for 2 years with no problems (other than the $1750 rent for a filthy 1-bedroom full of holes). In the 9th month of my first pregnancy (a very stressful time for anyone), my husband got a terrible rash. We “knew” it couldn’t be bedbugs because I had no bites at all. For 2 weeks we wondered what it was and I thought it was actually stress about becoming a new father. Then we noticed the pattern on his arms and neck – the rash was everywhere that his T-shirt was not. The DAY BEFORE I went into labor, I found it: a dead bug under the pillow. Our “Management” Company’s exterminator came the first time while I was in the hospital delivering. My 65-year-old dad and my husband did the washing and drying of all fabrics, meaning carrying dozens of garbage-bags full of laundry down the block to the laundromat and back up 4 flights of stairs. This ruined my wedding dress, old clothes hand-sown by my grandmother, weavings I had made as a child, and other precious and delicate mementos.

I can’t tell you how scary it was bringing our first newborn home to an apartment filled with insecticide. My first night home after my C-section, at 3 am I was sleeping on the couch with my newborn, when I saw a bed bug crawling up the back of the couch away from us. It was filled with blood – mine or the infants?!? Over the next 4 weeks, we worked night and day eliminating the bugs and trying to feed and care for our newborn. Laundromat everyday, buying giant Ziplocs, vacuuming, caulking, sleeping with the lights on, disassembling and washing the bed, dressers, nightstands, shelves. We sprayed commercial poisons labeled “Kills Bedbugs” inside the hollow bed frame, all over the floor, everywhere. The baby had to sleep in a giant plastic “tupperware” bin (obviously without the lid) on a small table with its legs in cups of oil, but he got bites on his head anyway. We threw out our adorable bassinet and other baby items we had so thoughtfully bought for him in advance.

Our bed was also in cups of oil, not touching the walls, and our bedroom was empty and spotless. Our bed was a polished steel metal frame and a Swedish foam mattress with no crevices. But the bugs were everywhere – crawling up the walls, across the floor, on the bookshelves, kitchen sink, crawling on the baby’s swaddling blanket! The exterminator came 2 more times, and on his third visit casually mentioned that he had treated the apartment below a month ago, and the one next door to ours a couple weeks before we got our first bites.

Obviously his lackadaisical treatment plan had chased the neighbors’ bugs into our rooms. I spent hours walking the neighborhood with the baby in my arms to get away from the sickening smell of poison in the apartment. And we had the windows open all night in February to air out the apartment. Imaging not being able to keep your own baby warm at night. In hindsight, exposing our newborn to potentially toxic chemicals might have been worth it if they had worked, but they didn’t even make a dent in the bugs, so I really regret that he lived in those conditions for the first 4 weeks of his life, when his lungs and brain were still forming.

Our solution? After 4 weeks we gave up. We quit our jobs, continued paying the exorbitant rent as required by our lease, and moved to Virginia, where we also paid for our new home: a SINGLE-FAMILY dwelling with a large detached shed! All our earthly possessions are now in storage in our shed. We spent a fortune on brand new furniture and electronics (no thrift-store items for us after this disaster). We are slowly bringing things into the house from the shed, after they go through the dryer or dishwasher. We plan to bring in the non-washables (books, photos, electronics, old love-letters, furniture) after 18 months, but there are mice in the shed which could feed the bugs, so I’m still not sure if it’s a good idea. A month after we moved out, I developed a phobia of insects, so bad that I needed medication and therapy. And we are completely broke. But at least we don’t seem to have any new bites so far.

Six months out now, I’m feeling better, but of course I still get a little anxious about every mosquito bite I find, or black spot I see in the bed.

Thanks, stayoffmybaby.

I am sorry you went through all this and hope your problem is gone for good.

I don’t agree that the situation is hopeless for those who can’t afford to move. It is important to remember that bed bugs can be treated effectively, but in a multi-unit building with multiple infestations such as this, extensive, coordinated treatments are needed, and it does not sound like that happened.

More and more landlords are catching on about what it takes to get rid of bed bugs in a building. Unfortunately, some tenants have had to educate their building’s management about bed bugs and appropriate treatment protocols. This message does not always get through, but is worth the effort.

People with newborns might like to know that some pest control operators will use steam to treat in such cases. Additionally, thermal treatments may be an option (now in NYC as well).

And for anyone reading this who is at an earlier stage in the process, be sure seal your items completely before storing them for 18 months, if you choose to go that route. Bed bugs can escape from items in any storage situation; in some cases, bed bugs can be introduced to your things in storage.

I am glad this family found a solution to their bed bug problem, and wish them well.

More bed bug success stories here.

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