Before I moved to Canada, I wasn’t really aware that bed bugs were real. They were a foreign idea and I never considered that I could get them. My sole experience of bed bugs was that oft used phrase “Goodnight, sleep tight…don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
To my mind, those little insects were a fairy tale, up there with the tooth fairy and Easter bunny.
How naïve I was. While looking for accommodation in Vancouver, I read numerous people shouting that I should lookout for signs of bed bugs. The city was overrun with them and they were everywhere. Or so I was told.
Bed bugs were the least of my problems. Finding a place in Vancouver is a full-time job. I would spend all day at work looking at Craigslist, sending dozens of emails off to landlords and flatmates. Some would reply back and later that night I would travel from one end of the city to the other meeting people, getting shown rooms )and large cupboards pretending to be rooms.)
Late one evening I found myself knocking on the door of an old character home. The owner showed me around the place and it looked great. New kitchen, new bathroom, warm heating. Perfectly situated on the edge of downtown. I needed to find a room so badly that I immediately asked if I could move in. I asked no questions, did no inspections. I was desperate.
The next week after I had moved in, I was quickly introduced to the reality of bed bugs. My bedroom was right by the living room and I was kept up at night by my new Czech housemate who for some reason was sleeping on the sofa. Added to this mystery was the fact there were black plastic bags everywhere filled with clothing. Was this just how Czech people lived? Maybe it was some weird tradition? Sleeping on the sofa each night, living out of plastic bags.
I asked another housemate – a kind Canadian guy – what the deal was. In a matter of fact way, he explained to me that the Czech housemates had bed bugs. “Don’t worry though, those guys live upstairs, the bugs haven’t gotten down to our rooms. We’ve had somebody come to spray the house and they’ve killed all the bugs.”
The reason my housemate slept on the sofa was that he was too scared to go to bed. His bedroom was infested with bugs. Everybody’s clothing was in plastic bags because that’s what you need to do when you have bed bugs. You place your clothes in the dryer for 30 minutes in order to kill the bugs with heat. Then you place your clothing into bags so that bed bugs can’t re-infest your house.
While your clothing is in bags, the exterminator sprays your bedroom with chemicals, hopefully killing all the bugs. But since the chemicals don’t kill the eggs, you need to wait 2 weeks for them to hatch, then the exterminator comes again to do another spray. In that period you need to live out of plastic bags so no bugs make their way into your clothing where they can hide for weeks on end, just waiting for the chemicals to evaporate.
I know all of this now because I’m an expert on bed bugs. At the time, I did as my housemate suggested, I stopped worrying. The bugs were dead, I thought, why bother to think about it?
Fast forward 2 months. I’m lying in bed, using my laptop before I go to sleep. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a tiny little bug on my keyboard. I squish it, thinking nothing of it. Wherever you go in the world you see tiny bugs, this could have been anything.
A few minutes later a thought suddenly popped into my head. What if it was a bed bug? I went straight to Google to research. I wish I hadn’t now, ignorance is bliss after all. But soon enough I found the signs to check for:
- Black or brown stains on your sheets, pillow, mattress, or bed. Nope, I’d never seen those.
- Small itchy bites on your body. Nope.
- Black stains or small white eggs in your headboard…
I pulled back my bed from the wall to check and what I saw was like something from a horror movie.
The back of my bed was covered in tiny black stains. The stains grew larger around the nooks and crannies of the bed frame. In every screw hole, every joint between pieces of wood, there were black spots. Looking closely, I could see dozens of tiny white specks – just like grains of sand. Eggs, fucking bug eggs! Inches from where my head rested at night.
Worst of all I could see the bed bugs scurrying into the cracks, hiding from the light. Pushing their way into the crevices of my bed with their flat red bodies. Some of these bugs were BIG, filled with blood–my blood!
In terror, I went to the kitchen and got a small, flat knife. I slid the knife along the joints of the bed slicing through the gaps. Blood streaked along the blade as I attacked the bed until I couldn’t see anything more to kill. I knew that didn’t mean I’d killed them all though, there were cracks I couldn’t get into, crevices that were inaccessible.
That night I tried to sleep, but it was impossible. For 10 minutes I took my duvet to the sofa in order to sleep, but in my research, I had read you shouldn’t do this. If you move from your bed, the bugs simply follow you, infecting more of the house. That’s probably how my own bedroom had become infected.
I also read that when an exterminator came, I would have to act as bait. Luring the bugs out at night so that they would walk into the poison sprayed around my bed.
I decided I had to sleep in my bedroom. I brought my head as far away from the headboard as I could and rolled my legs up into a ball. Trying to sleep as far as I could from the bugs in order to offer my body some protection.
I lay in the dark and instantly my body started to itch. All I could picture in my mind were bugs, biting me, sucking my blood. Worse, I knew they came out in the dark. I knew that they use an anesthetic on your body so you can’t feel their bites. I knew they’d been sucking my blood for weeks and the thought made my toes curl. Most of all, I knew that there was nothing I could do.
Still, my mind was racing. I slipped into a cycle. Try to sleep. Imagine bugs biting. Jump up and hit the light switch. Search for bugs and find nothing. Turn off light. Try to sleep. Imagine bugs biting. On and on all night.
This is how I spent my time for the next few weeks. In a constant state of psychological terror. I became obsessed with reading about bed bugs. The more I read, the more terrified I became, the less I could sleep at night.
The exterminator came. I took apart the majority of my infested bed and threw it away. I put my clothes through the dryer. Started living out of plastic bags. My cupboards were empty, everything placed in black bags.
I didn’t tell anybody at work what I was going through. I feared the reaction. My co-workers slowly backing away from me with looks of disgust.
From time to time I would check my desk for the warning signs. Whenever a co-worker mentioned they had a bite or an itch, my mind would click into gear and I’d start to worry I’d infected my workplace. The bed bugs took over my life, I thought of them every day, every minute. They were an invisible threat that I knew could pop up again at any moment.
The exterminator came a second time. Sprayed to kill all the hatched bed bugs. For a while all was good. We’d won. I started to relax a little. I no longer checked my bed for bugs each night with a headlamp. I checked it every second night. Every third night. I stopped reading the articles online. Stopped worrying.
Then one day, I decided to give my bed a real check. I took it all apart, checked every nook and cranny. Since I’d thrown away half of my bed this was easy. The frame only consisted of a few pieces of wood. Throwing away parts of my bed had left a few long holes through the wood where screws would usually go. I peered into one of these holes and there it was. Another bed bug. Hiding in there. Thinking it had escaped.
The exterminator came. We started again. Clothes in bags. The stress. The obsessing. For weeks and weeks.
I poured boiling water over my entire bed, either to kill the bugs or to put my mind at ease. Each night I would go to bed and the slightest itch or smallest twinge of hair would have me jumping for the light switch. Yet, I saw no more bugs.
I realized then that the bed bugs had infested more than my bed. They’d gotten into my mind. It took me a while to sleep comfortably in a hotel bed or sit on a cafe sofa without feeling itchy. I continued to check my room constantly for signs. Sometimes, I convinced myself the signs were there when they weren’t.
A few months later I finally accepted that we’d beaten them. Still, I would think about them. I would bug (pun intended) my Canadian housemate constantly by talking about them.
One night as I was heading to sleep he laughed evilly. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I looked at him with complete seriousness and uttered the only appropriate words I could find.
Fuck you. Goodnight.