The Bedbug Club: My Experience with The Little Buggers

Congrats to Washington, DC, which just usurped Baltimore as bedbug capital of the US!

(Warning: there will be pictures of bugs in this entry.)

Bedbugs are a big worry when traveling. They can hide in the seams of mattresses and attach themselves to your luggage.

They can also be lurking in the corners of your new apartment, as I found out last year. The apartment had been empty for about two years, which proves how hardy the little buggers can be. I noticed a bug the very first night after we moved in, and fearing the worst, googled “bedbugs” only to be assured that we definitely had an infestation.

Image: flat brown bedbug on a white wall

The next morning, I gathered up some of the little critters (including a live one I found) in a plastic ziploc bag and we headed to the leasing office. It was all very dramatic, I assure you. The leasing office gave us a couple of options: we could immediately move into another unit or stay in our current one, and they would waive the lease breaking fee if we found a new place to move into by Friday.

Image: blurry photo of two bedbugs in a plastic bag. One has obviously had a blood meal, as its torso is elongated.

We decided to search for a new place and just leave our belongings in the apartment. In the meantime, the leasing office assured us that they would start the extermination process immediately the next day.

My roommate managed to find a new place and moved out by that Friday. I was not so lucky.

I am eternally grateful to my friends Karin and Jim, who so kindly allowed me to stay in their home the first few days and then periodically while my cat and I had to be out of the apartment while the extermination process was happening. They knowingly took a risk by housing us.

During my experience dealing with the bedbugs, I often wondered if I would rather have scabies again or bedbugs. I still don’t know the answer. A couple months after returning home from India, I discovered I had a bad case of scabies, presumably something I picked up on the train I took to New Delhi. While bedbugs live in small dark places like mattresses and come out at night to bite, scabies live in your skin and make you itch at night. The recommended treatment for scabies is a pesticide, applied from the neck down, and left on for 48 hours. You also must wash all of your bedding at very high temperatures, like with bedbugs. Bedbugs are notoriously hard to exterminate and when I say it was a process, I mean it was a process. The exterminators came into my apartment no fewer than five times over the course of the next five weeks, applying pesticide and diatomaceous earth.

Image: my right arm, with four small groups of three bite marks

Those five weeks were pure hell. I would wake up covered in tell-tale bedbug bites: three small bites in a small area, known as “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” I was now alone in the apartment, unsure if I should even bother unpacking anything. I had to wash everything I own, which was costly and time-consuming, and I had to throw out hundreds of dollars of yarn that I had accumulated over the years because I didn’t want to take the risk of reinfecting my apartment.

I reached out to a few friends and discovered that some of them had also dealt with bedbugs. One friend told me that when she got them while she was living in NYC, she was embarrassed to wear shorts that summer because of the bites. The more common that bedbugs become, the more important it is for us sufferers to come forward and share our stories so that no one feels as hopeless as we once did.

Bedbugs don’t happen just while traveling. They don’t happen because we’re poor or dirty. They can happen to anyone, and I realize that I was very lucky to have an understanding leasing office that did everything they could to exterminate them. I was also very lucky to have found an amazing new roommate who didn’t seem to mind that the apartment had been infested with bedbugs, as she had just had a friend who also dealt with the little buggers.

My infestation was not nearly as bad as it could have been. The carbon dioxide from my roommate and I had awakened the bedbugs, and my first roommate was lucky in that none of the bugs hitched a ride on her furniture. The infestation was contained mostly to my bedroom, and in one particular corner–that I dubbed “The Bedbug Club.” When I noticed I was sweeping up a majority of bugs in that corner, I put out a little note for the exterminators, which they thought was funny.

Image: corner of my room with a tent note set up that reads “The Bedbug Club/(no seriously, I swept up a bunch hanging out here–be brutal!)” with two crudely drawn images of bedbugs waiting outside a door. One of them has a top hat.

As much as I’ve traveled, it was only time until I got bedbugs. And hopefully, that will be the last time.