“An Army of Bed Bugs”: Washington Post’s tale of bed bug woe

by nobugsonme on March 14, 2014 · 12 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs

The Washington Post published Jessica Goldstein’s story of dealing with bed bugs yesterday. The article (“An army of bedbugs was partying in her mattress. What else could go wrong?”) does a good job of conveying what it’s like to deal with the hassle involved with having bed bugs, and reminds us how the stress of bed bugs may come at the same time as other crises (Goldstein unfortunately also loses her job the same time).

It would of course be worth checking out this article solely for Andrew Rae’s fantastic graphic of cartoon bed bugs partying in the author’s bed. The story, too, is one many users will relate to: a saga including an all-night laundromat trip, a Packtite, the prep, the prep, the prep…

As is often the case, Goldstein’s Pest Control Operator tells her to double bag, wash, dry on hot, and then again double bag every fabric item in her home. Goldstein writes,

Minimalists among you are probably thinking, “Well, I don’t have that much stuff.” Inaccurate. You would be shocked at the sheer quantity of your possessions. Everything you own is quite a lot of things. Those T-shirts you keep stuffed in a drawer and hardly ever wear. That bag of clothes you’ve been meaning to drop off at Goodwill. Every partnerless sock. Every last thing.

This type of preparation for bed bug treatment is required by many PCOs, and will be familiar to many if not most who’ve had bed bugs, even though experts tell us (a) it is often not necessary (some who do bed bug treatment never require it), and (b) if the item is clean, washing is not necessary, drying on hot alone is sufficient to kill bed bugs and eggs.

Part of what’s awful about bed bugs is not always getting the most knowledgeable advice, which is all too common.

Along those lines, consider what happened when Goldstein first calls the PCO to say she thinks she has bed bugs:

The next morning, I call pest control. The man who answers has a voice like Coach Taylor’s from “Friday Night Lights.” I report that I have bedbugs.

“First, we’ll need to verify that what you’ve got really are bedbugs,” he says. “Did you save one?”

“No,” I say.

“Oh.” He sounds disappointed.

“I didn’t realize I was supposed to.” Is that an established part of the common knowledge canon? Like how you’re not supposed to drink beer before liquor?

I describe the bug, the bed, the blood. I wonder, is this the same conversation Egyptians had with Old Testament Pest Control during the Passover days? “First you saw blood, and now there are — what, locusts? How do you know they’re locusts?” Wait. Is someone smiting me?

Pest Control Guy confirms my diagnosis. “It’s definitely bedbugs.”

Huh?

It’s a beautifully told tale, but should this sort of telephone diagnosis be happening?

Probably not, even if the consumer was right in this case, and they were bed bugs. Experts tell us blood doesn’t confirm bed bugs’ presence, fecal stains do. And these are two quite different things. Pest management professionals should do a thorough inspection and see visual evidence before confirming the problem is bed bugs.

Of course, given how things played out, it sounds like Goldstein’s team were able to confirm the problem at least when they started treatment, but it’s best to do so in person well before treatment is planned (and before the resident sinks money, time and energy into lengthy preparations for treatment).

I also found it very strange that the PCO told Goldstein she would be “displaced for a while” (she goes off to stay in a hotel during treatment) and that he tells her he killed a bunch of bed bugs in a way that causes them to “explode” and leave a bloody mess dripping down her wall.

There are many ways to kill bed bugs, but your home should not look like a murder has taken place afterwards.

I know you’ll enjoy this story (and the illustration!) so please check it out and please share any perceptions you have about the article or my response to it below in the comments.

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1 CarpathianPeasant March 14, 2014 at 6:39 am

She killed at least one. It doesn’t say specifically that it was full of blood, but that may have been what she told the exterminator, hence the telephone diagnosis may have been okay.

2 AbsolutelyFreaking March 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

I thought it was a “cute” story . . . if a bed bug story could ever be called “cute.” I agree that the illustration/graphic was fantastic! And although the author used a sense of humor throughout . . . reading it still made me “anxious”! What I did think was particularly cool though, was how she said her sister-in-law and mom stepped in and helped her. I think most people run, not walk, in the opposite direction whenever bed bugs are mentioned! Cool story and illustration! Thanks NoBugs!

3 Charlie March 14, 2014 at 8:12 am

She might not be accurately reporting the PCO’s instructions. He might not have told her she needed to put her clothes in the washer. On the other hand, I know there are plenty of PCOs out there who don’t know much about the science of the pest they’re trying to eradicate.

4 scaredstiffofbbs March 14, 2014 at 11:12 am

I too found it amazing that her family members were so willing to pitch in, even loading her possibly infested items in their own car and staying with her all night to do laundry. I hope for her sake it really is over, since that PCO didn’t sound like he necessarily knew what he was doing. At least he was compassionate, though. Also, the blood on the sheets in the beginning most likely was hers and not the neighbor’s — some people don’t react to bites, but that doesn’t mean they’re not getting bitten. I would add that it is brave of her to post her story with her actual name. Maybe it will help break the silence around this issue which is helping the problem to spread.

5 nobugsonme March 14, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Hi Charlie,
True– we are just getting the consumer’s report, but the other issues (eg bloody wall after bed bugs were killed by PCO) sound like the PCO was a bit “off”. But hey, the bed bugs are gone!

6 nobugsonme March 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm

AbFr,
I agree the humor was a big help, but reading bed bug tales of woe is always kind of stressful. I agree with your comments about the family’s assistance. Not only having family pitch in and help (either physically or monetarily) but just that emotional support means so much.

When I had bed bugs, it was years ago, and nobody had heard much about them and some of my relatives thought I was overreacting to dust mites, or some other issue (despite my attempts to thoroughly explain, and despite their being wonderful, supportive people generally speaking). As a result, the problem was even harder to deal with because I felt very isolated. Now, of course, it’s been in the news and they get it. :-)

7 nobugsonme March 14, 2014 at 12:54 pm

scaredstiff,
As I said in my response to AbFr, I agree with both of you about the family’s response. What a relief that support was I am sure. I love to see any media attention given to bed bugs, and particularly first person stories which begin to convey the importance of the issue. There will be many readers who will be prompted to learn more. I even like seeing bad articles on bed bugs (!), because they can help raise awareness, but much prefer to see good ones like this.

8 nobugsonme March 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Carpathian!
Our experts are not unanimous on a lot of things but they do agree that a pro should see visual evidence before confirming a diagnosis. I am not a bug expert but squashing some bugs may lead to a liquid one might mistake for blood.

9 NotSoSnug March 14, 2014 at 6:47 pm

How can I get a party of ladybugs dancing on my bed, I’m jealous…

Oh wait, they were bed bugs?!

10 nobugsonme March 14, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Alas, NotSoSnug, lady bed bugs…

So it sounds like you’ve “been there” and don’t need to go down that road again. ;-)

11 Daylight March 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Loved the author’s voice–concerned but humorous. She handled her infestation with the help of her family and a PCO and weathered it well. I appreciate her sharing the story of her encounter. Unfortunately, bed bugs are an all too real occurrence, and Jessica’s ordeal is not uncommon. So, bravo to her! The amusing graphics were a great addition too.

12 nobugsonme March 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Thanks for your comments, Daylight! I agree on all counts.

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