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Bedbugs!

The new New Yorker Opera singer, 33, Washington HeightsMy sister and I moved to Washington Heights from Boston in 2008. When we showed up, the place was...

By Stephan Lee
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The new New Yorker

Opera singer, 33, Washington Heights
My sister and I moved to Washington Heights from Boston in 2008. When we showed up, the place was still in shambles. The solution the management company and our broker came up with was to store our belongings in a vacant unit until the overhaul was finished. All our possessions were sitting in a dirty, roach-infested apartment, which I'm convinced is where the problem began. Once we moved into our real pad, my sister and I were sitting on the couch watching TV when a bedbug crawled right onto her lap. I put the bold little shit in a Ziploc bag and found pictures online to make a positive ID. I'd been bitten for months, but my sister hadn't, so I thought it was a rash or mosquitoes.

I spent the next eight sleepless weeks fighting management, who denied any knowledge of previous problems. Eventually, they sent an exterminator, but I'd already gone through everything I owned. The emotional and physical costs made me prioritize what I valued and whether or not I had the resources to treat each item. I threw away things I'd owned since childhood, put books in the oven and baked them at 300 degrees for ten minutes... I even pulled my bed away from the wall and put a circle of diatomaceous earth around it to protect me while I slept.

The exterminator who came to deal with my situation told me that bedbugs could fly and was dismissive when I asked about returning for the second treatment. After everything was done, I had a long discussion with my landlord about taking care of the whole building because I'd seen people dumpster diving in my BEDBUGS/CHINCHES DE CAMA-labeled trash, but to my knowledge, he never did anything about the overall situation.

For months, I lived in my new apartment with a barrier of Vaseline and insecticide around my bed. It took a year for me to relax, and two years later, I still panic a little when I see a strange red mark on my skin.

Caught in a bug romance

Independent consultant, 25, Brooklyn Heights
My battle started when I was living in a Brooklyn Heights one-bedroom with my then-boyfriend. Our dog started going crazy one night, and when we turned on the lights, we found a handful of bedbugs crawling in our bed.

Our landlord sent a militant exterminator from Bug Johnson's, LLC, who gave us a list of everything we needed to tackle, from washing all our clothes to throwing out the bed. Then he demanded we toss out all the nonwood furniture, including our brand-new couch. Once the apartment was empty, the exterminator treated it and told us we couldn't come back for 48 hours.

When we'd been assured the bugs were gone, we started to move back in, but in the clean-up process, we saw more bedbugs coming out of the walls. The exterminator blamed us for not following his instructions. We cleared out again and crashed with family and friends while we sprayed for a second time. We were convinced we'd been victorious, but as we were cleaning our place on a bright Sunday afternoon, we accidentally chipped back some paint on the bedroom wall and found a plethora of bedbugs crawling behind it.

This third time the exterminator used chemicals legally graded for outdoor use. At this point, our case was serious, and we were desperate. It seemed to do the trick. The hell was over in September 2009, and we lived in the apartment bedbug-free until this past March, when my boyfriend and I broke up and we moved out.

Our landlord was great during the ordeal, and he paid for the exterminator's services—the first round alone cost $800—and refunded the rent money for the days we weren't living there. Even so, we threw out a $1,200 couch, a $500 leather chair and a $500 mattress, and I spent hundreds on laundry, AeroBeds and more. My current boyfriend teases me about the plastic mattress covers I still use, but I don't care. Bedbugs change you.

Teacher's Pests

Special education teacher in a psychiatric treatment center, 25, Upper East Side
Just over a year ago, I relocated to NYC from Tennessee. I'd read a lot about the bedbug "epidemic" plaguing the city, so shortly after settling into my shoebox-size Upper East Side apartment, I took the necessary precautions. I promptly bought my mattress protector from the store, and every time I washed my sheets I'd look over my mattress and box spring to check for any signs of creatures living there. A year passed without incident, but about two months after moving into a considerably nicer and recently renovated apartment, I woke up with random bites on my ankles and toes that even Benadryl didn't comfort. I immediately flipped out, delved back into online research and read everything from the 311 website to journal articles published on bedbugs. To my horror, the bites that were beginning to scar my ankles and feet matched the description: small, all in a row and itchy as hell. My roommates and I spent the next few hours tearing apart my room. We looked for living bugs, dead bugs, bug poop and blood stains but found nothing.

I was fine for a week, but just as my fears subsided, I woke up with bites on my ankles, toes and legs this time. I stripped down my bed, and this time I found a small whitish bug crawling across my sheet. I put it in two Ziploc bags and went back to full-blown paranoia.

My roommate contacted our management company, who said they'd pass along our name to their exterminator. We had to dry every piece of fabric in our apartment—from rugs and pillows to laptop carriers and winter jackets—on high heat for 30 minutes, which meant carting all the materials up and down the stairs of a fifth-floor walk-up.

On treatment day, the guys from NY Bed Bug Exterminators showed up 45 minutes early and were professional, helpful and supportive despite our exhaustion and panic. They started a three-part extermination process—heating up the room, super-vacuuming and inspecting—and fumigated to kill everything. I still catch myself checking out every flick of dust or speck on my comforter, but I know the feeling won't last forever.

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