“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!” It seems innocuous enough, right? But uttering these words for the last few weeks to my daughter in our traditional bedtime routine has felt very, very wrong. You see, we actually have bed bugs. I know, now your skin is crawling and you feel itchy all over. I’ve felt that way for weeks. Thankfully the Plunkett’s guys are in our house getting rid of the bed bugs as I type this, but it has been a long and interesting journey.
How did we get bed bugs? I don’t know. They might have latched on to my clothing or backpack when I visited an apartment that had an infestation earlier this year. Or maybe my mom brought them on her suitcase when she came to visit (after staying at a hotel). Or they could have come from my husband’s conference at Penn State. Or maybe one of the children picked them up at school or on a play date. The point is, we don’t know. And when I asked the Plunkett’s guy to get some clarification, or to be able to point a finger at somebody else besides me, he simply said, “We don’t know where they came from, and we can’t know. We’ve stopped trying to figure it out. Let’s just help you get rid of them.”
Ironically I’ve spent the last nine months learning far more about bed bugs than most people would care to know in their lifetime. My interest has been focused on the financial burden that bed bug extermination places on low-income families in multi-unit housing structures. I attended a “Beat the Bug” session hosted by the U of MN and the MN Department of Health in an effort to educate myself so I could advocate for low-income families dealing with bed bugs in Rice County. I worked with a class of students at St. Olaf College doing research to understand the political and civic frameworks that help and hinder immigrants from effectively advocating for themselves in situations like this. I even helped to plan an educational forum for Rice County folks to learn more about how to avoid getting bed bugs.
And then I got bed bugs. In the past two weeks my family has paid nearly $2500 to verify the extent of our infestation and treat the house. We’ve had countless sleepless nights as we battled the imaginary bugs crawling all over us, and some real bugs, too. We packed all our belongings into boxes and laundry baskets as if we were moving out. And this morning we woke at 5 am to move all the furniture to the center of each room – leaving enough space around the perimeter for the exterminators to do their work. I have felt tired, and frustrated, and broke, and more than a little embarrassed at having to admit that we have this pest.
So what? Why does my experience matter in the big picture of making bed bug extermination more affordable for low-income families?
1. While I admit to being somewhat embarrassed to say that I have bed bugs, I am not going to be quiet about it. I HAVE BED BUGS AND IT IS AWFUL!!! But it isn’t my fault. I knew what precautions to take, and we still ended up with bed bugs. The point here is that bed bugs are never someone’s fault. They just are. And until we get over the finger pointing blame game, we’re never going to find a solution to the issue.
2. Bed bugs are more than expensive. My family has had 2 weeks of total upheaval during this process – and none of that has had anything to do with the monetary cost. It is exhausting and frustrating and nerve wracking and insomnia inducing. Lest we forget in our analysis of the situation, people experiencing bed bugs are dealing with a LOT more than just a big bill.
3. Bed bugs spread if they aren’t handled properly. Chances are the bed bugs in our home were introduced into one room in the house to begin with. But by the time the K9 unit came to find out just how bad the infestation was, they were in all four bedrooms and the family room. In a multi-unit housing structure, bed bugs can move from unit to unit if they aren’t exterminated fully. This means that the issue is bigger than one family. It is bigger than just the landlord. It is a community issue and needs to be dealt with at the community level.
To quote the late Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.” If my neighbor has bed bugs, then I might be next. Or as I’ve just learned – I wouldn’t wish bed bugs on anyone.
So now that you are all itchy, are you ready to dream up some solutions?