Mission Accomplished (Bed Bug Edition)
About eight years ago, I started a job where I traveled a lot. I was on the road between ten and fifteen days a month, staying in hotels throughout the U.S. At the time, there were occasional stories about bed bugs in hotels. I never took the stated precautions — putting my luggage in the shower until I’d had a chance to strip the beds and check for evidence of bugs, never ever ever using the wooden dressers, studying mattresses, sheets, and pillows for fecal residue of the insects, etc.
I escaped without any bed bug bites. In the intervening years, I’ve followed the mainstream press articles about bed bugs, noting how difficult it can be to eradicate them from homes (or hotels.) I’ve checked out a few potential hotels on the Bed Bug Registry, but I’ve never made plans based on that information. And I continued to escape without any bed bug bites.
Skip forward to late last year. I was doing a lot of traveling — conferences, writing retreats, vacation. And as fate would have it, I came in contact with bed bugs at one of those places — bites on my arms, hands, and feet. The ones on my hands were severe enough that I couldn’t get my rings off, and my doctor worried that I was cutting off circulation to my fingertips. She gave me twenty-four hours of treatment with steroids before she ordered the rings cut off. I responded immediately to the drugs, so I still have my rings.
(I didn’t write about my bites publicly at the time. The hotel followed up immediately, hiring a remediation service, and they paid for my medical treatment — and a chunk of my hotel bill. I figured they shouldn’t get a permanent bad mark on the Internet, when they can’t control who brings what into their rooms.)
While the treatment cleared up my bites quickly, I waited for a few days, fearing that I’d brought the critters home with me. (I’d only know if my husband got bitten; I wouldn’t see new bites, given the drugs in my system. He took to calling himself the Tethered Goat.) I laundered all the clothes I’d taken on the trip, using the hottest water. I froze items that I couldn’t launder, wrapping them in plastic bags and cycling them in and out of my kitchen freezer.
And that left the suitcases.
Some Internet advice says to throw them out, that they can never be salvaged, but I didn’t want to do that because I truly believed I had not brought home any bugs. (The Tethered Goat remained unbitten.) Some Internet advice said to leave them in a summer garage where the temperatures reached above 150 degrees. Um, we don’t have a garage. And even on our worst summer days, the temperature wouldn’t get that bad. And some experts said that wasn’t high enough to do in bed bugs.
That left freezing them. And so, I bagged up my suitcase (and carry-on bag) in two layers of trashbags, taping closed the tops, to make sure no six-legged enemies could climb out. I left the bags in a corner of my office. And I waited.
During our first hard freeze, I was out of town, unable to put the bags outside overnight. Our second hard freeze was New Year’s Eve, and I decided not to put the bagged suitcases out on our porch when there were rowdy parties going on across the courtyard, lest some drunks think it a great idea to start off the New Year with a little theft.
But last night, the temps got down into the upper teens. Last night, I set out my suitcase and carry-on. Last night, I let the freezing temps do their worst.
And now, I have luggage again. Just as well. Dragging my duffel bag through Costa Rica was a pain in the … palm.