Bad Bugs—I Mean Bed Bugs (A Survivor’s Tale)

I’m not really wiggy about bugs. I’d really prefer if they stayed outside, truth be told, but should a wanderer mosey into the tub or a wiggly-iggly take a jaunt up the wall I’m usually pretty level-headed about it all. After all, spiders in the house are good luck, right? My point is, I’m hard pressed to find a bug story that really phases me, and the story I’m about to tell you is one that pushed me right past the precipice of my comfort zone.

The year was 2010 and I was living in a very old, very large Boston house with a slew of roommates. If this is anyone’s story, however, it is my housemate. My housemate treated his bedroom like a garage. It was a smattering of workout equipment, drum sets, tool boxes, pieces of wood, car tires, and rustic wooden furniture fit for a pirate. Complete with a cot on the floor.

My housemate’s room. See what I mean?


One day, My housemate’s sister moved home from Ohio and arrived at our house with a giant, fluffy, tempo/orthopedic mattress. The kind made for jumping on one side and balancing glasses of red wine simultaneously on the other. The universe had smiled down upon my housemate.

Soon though, my housemate and his girlfriend started to break out in welt-like, lumpy-type, mystery hives. Stress? New detergent? An accidental brush with an oak or ivy of the poisonous persuasion? Nobody knew. Not until one night Itchy and Scratchy, merely by chance, turned the lights on in the middle of the night to find, on their person—you guessed it—a bug from their bed. A bed bug.

See, Rachel forgot to mention that the mattress was stored in a damp outdoor garage for two months, and even though my housemate’s room looked like a garage… well, it was in fact not.

What came next was a frantic string of phone calls placed to our maintenance man, a scouring of the internet’s expansive knowledge on these things, the desperate, paranoid sympathy-itching (sympathitching?) that the rest of us felt, the removal of all of my housemate’s things to the curb, and an explosive argument about the lifestyle, breeding, and feeding habits of bed bugs.

Allow me to clear some things up for you:

  • Bed bugs cannot and will not live on you. You are not a bed and you go into the sunlight. This goes against their whole life philosophy.
  • They can live in clothes piles, couches, hidden spaces of wooden things, and floorboards. I know what I said in the last item, but you are still not any of these things and should not be concerned that they are on you. Your pet is also none of these things which means Whiskers and Fido are also in the clear.
  • Bed bugs are not known to transmit infectious agents or pathogens, and therefore the risk of them making you sick is extremely minimal. They can make you look like you’ve been beaten with a flail, though.

They are tough to get rid of, but here are some housemate-tested, results-based advice:

Discard all affected items. You might be tempted to wrap everything you own in plastic diaper-like packaging and then keep using it, but don’t be that guy. Take one for the team and throw everything you own away. And please, if you’re going to put your infested mattress on the street corner please label it as such to prevent some poor college kid from thinking they just scored themselves a swank new sleep slab.

Examine everything. Get some rubber gloves and go for a hunt. They are pretty gross though, so maybe do this one before you eat your lunch.

Sterilize. If you find any perpetrators, or if you have something you feel desperately attached to, spray it with rubbing alcohol. This will damage the bed bugs to death. Just the way you want them.

Heat. Wash all of your clothes in a hot wash cycle or boil them. Steam any upholstered furniture you can’t bear to part with.

Vacuum. Any place you steam will need to be vacuumed: this will remove any eggs, survivors, and (of course) carcasses of the bed bugs.

Exterminate. Have your exterminator and maintenance guy come and spray toxins all over the house. Have them explain to you that you do not have the receptors that are meant to be damaged by this spray. Google that information later just to be safe, and follow them around to make sure they really do spray everywhere and that they answer all of your questions. They will be happy you were there.

Sleep tight! Don’t let the … oh, never mind.

Photo by Meaghan Morrison

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