Thursday, August 22, 2013

I'll have the puppy with a side of bedbugs

Meet Sasha!  Our glamorous puppy.  (Photo Credit:  Maya Kosok)
Meet Mr. Bedbug.  Our unglamorous, uninvited guest.

Disclaimer:  This post will most likely have TONS of typos.  I apologize, I wrote it in a rush, and just decided to post it without a proofread.  Forgive me!  I'll proofread the next post, I swear (but only if the bedbugs are gone by that point!). 
Now--I know I post a lot of happy photos, finished products, successes, and progress, and so if you are looking for that--this is not the post for you.  Once in a while we all need a reality check.  A time for reflection, and seriousness, and this is that post.  Things here at the Remington Rad have not been so glamorous lately. 

It all started so innocently.  We thought Kitty had fleas.  I had bites, Kitty had bites--looking back on it, I'd say we were both getting eaten alive.  We chalked it up to the fact that Kitty was spending more time outside and that this kind of thing was to be expected.  So we started treating the house for fleas.  I had read that diatomaceous earth was a great natural pesticide for fleas, so I started spreading this around the perimeters of the rooms--when it got bad enough, I even got Kitty a flea collar...we were taking care of the problem...or so we thought.

...meanwhile, I had been perusing the animal shelter websites.  Throughout the year, we'd had an on and off conversation about getting a dog for companionship, yes, but also for security.  While Remington is a great neighborhood, it is still transitioning, and I had been feeling a little vulnerable during some of Peter's overnight calls.  It seemed like now was the time that we should start thinking about getting a dog--especially since Peter's calls were getting longer in his second year of residency. 

I had been searching the shelter websites for a while, but found nothing that we were really interested in.  Baltimore's shelters were full of pitbull mixes, which with the controversy surrounding the breed in the city, I wanted nothing to do with.  But then I found an adorable litter of shepherd husky mixes... 

Anyway, this story is taking a little bit longer to tell than it really deserves.  I ended up filling out an application to adopt one week, and suddenly we were due to pick up the puppy two weeks later.  I knew a puppy was going to be a lot of work--especially an 8 week old pup, but since I work at home, it seemed like with a little bit of planning and structure, it wouldn't be too much to handle.  A day or two before I was supposed to pick up the dog, Peter and I were sitting in our living room talking.  Peter slapped his belly suddenly and said, "that was weird, that bug was full of blood." 

After spending a few hours (actually, if we're going to be real--it could have been a few days) in denial, I was finally persuaded that this bug, which had sauntered across Peter's belly before meeting its bloody demise, was indeed a bedbug.  And this is when life really began to change.  Fast forward to present day, and I am just now finishing the very last loads of our laundry (bedbugs, adult, larvae, and eggs, cannot survive extremely high temperatures, so if you put them in the dryer for 2 hours on high, you're good).  Reality for us looks like this:  we keep all clothes, both clean and dirty, in plastic bags; we have no furniture in our living room (they met their maker at the dump last week); our sheets have to be washed and dried weekly (on high for 2 hours!) to curb the risk of a re-infestation in our bed; we have spent hundreds of dollars on bed-bug paraphernalia, including a new bed-frame and DIY "bed-bug interceptor cups" that go under each leg of the bed, to both monitor and trap existing bedbug infestation; and we cannot have any guests to our house. 

And we have a puppy.  That needs love, affection, patience, training, housebreaking, a feeding schedule, a poop and pee schedule, PATIENCE, space to run around, time, PATIENCE.  Oh did I mention PATIENCE?  Balancing bedbug extermination and the puppy has been difficult, especially since Peter is in an extremely time-consuming rotation.  I have pretty much been a full-time puppy mom and bed-bug exterminator, and also a social butterfly because--well I can't stand to be in the house.  Though Peter was the one to find the first bug, he rarely gets any bites, and when he does they're tiny and insignificant.  When I get them, they become welts--itchy, swollen and red.  And then they become bumps that break open and scab over, leaving me with big scars when they're all said and done.  Real attractive--such a delight!

Because we don't really know where we got them, nor where they're really living, we're having to go through the contents of our house in their entirety.  All rugs have been picked up and bagged, all clothes (as I mentioned), every nook and cranny must be inspected and possibly sprayed with rubbing alcohol (70-91% kills bedbugs, larvae and eggs upon contact)--this includes floorboards, trim, brick walls, dressers, get the idea.  The worst part of this, is that because we don't really know where we got them, there is always the potential re-infestation.  Quite possibly, we got them from our neighbors (who most likely got them from their neighbors on the other side).  If this is the case, then we may have some very long years in our future (full of repeat infestations--eek!).  The other possibility is that I somehow brought them home in a very innocent-looking bag of nice mohair yarn that I got at the thrift store for $1.49.  At this moment it's still very hard to tell where it all began... 

These thoughts keep going through my head, though:  event though this sucks, and I'm literally going a little crazy because of these bugs, we are actually in the best position to have these little visitors in comparison.  Because I have a flexible work schedule, and we don't starve when I can't make art, I have been able to meticulously go through every single thing that we own, and I have been able to find most of their tricky hiding places (inside the base of a floor lamp!!  UGH!!), I am able to dry every piece of cloth that can be dried.  I can't imagine what we would do if we both had full-time jobs, if we had kids, if we didn't have the money to buy these things that we can.  Bed bugs have historically had a stigma attached to them, associated mostly with the impoverished population, and though the demographic has definitely changed in the latest resurgence in the past decade (New York City is FULL OF THEM!!), I can see how having a low income would definitely put you at a disadvantage when fighting these little buggers.  Quite literally, I could imagine we would be losing the fight if we weren't in our current situation.  

If we both had to work full-time, and even if we hired professionals to do the entire treatment (we're just going to hire at the end to get an "all clear"--hopefully.  Fingers crossed), we would still have to dry and bag everything we owned.  CAREFULLY.  We would still have to go through our belongings, and judging by how long it has taken me, this would most likely not get done.  Or, if it did, it wouldn't be thorough enough.  Having a puppy through this all is bad enough, throw in a kid or two instead, and the time would be even more limited, the resources would be even more limited, the patience would be even more limited.  Because even if we hired a professional, it would be entirely possible that it won't be taken care of completely because we weren't thorough with our clothes... and we'd re-infest ourselves, over and over again.  And because we are living in a "lower income" neighborhood which has such tiny (attached) rowhomes, we're all stacked on top of one another.  Like New York, this provides the perfect opportunity for the spread of bed-bugs.  

And then there's the psychological effect of bedbugs:  there's the anxiety over getting bitten during sleep, the paranoia that every single bite is a bedbug bite (even if it's just a mosquito bite) and thinking that everything you seen on the floor is a bedbug (I know it sounds hilarious...but this is very real...), the depression that settles in due to feeling all alone and not feeling safe in your own home, and the relationship troubles due to the tension and stress that the bedbugs cause...

So, we're lucky.  Though it's hard to count blessing during times such as these, at some point that's all you can do... (or so they say).  We've got a cute dog, and a cat who tolerates her presence most of the time; at the end of all this, we'll have a REALLY clean and organized house (we will be forever changed and I highly doubt we'll live the heavily cluttered life we lived before.  I don't think I'll ever store things on the floor again!  So paranoid!!); we'll get firsthand knowledge of what so many other people are having to face (including the painful understanding of what "good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite" means); we're both healthy and still together with a roof over our head.  We're just a bit...itchy...