On a school night, even.
This is actually quite a story. And I'm going to tell it despite the fact that there is a certain level of judgment that usually accompanies the situation I'm about to reveal. Those of you who know me well understand that the number of fucks I usually reserve for judgment associated with misunderstandings about said situation is, like, zero.
Interested yet? All right, buckle up.
This all started over the MLK holiday weekend. We had lots going on -- I was attending multiple auditions, Brendan was having multiple sleepovers, and we were just generally busy. The fact, though, that Brendan was having sleepovers (time spent at others' homes, and others spending time at ours) is important to note. This entire experience all boils down to that one fact.
You're about to see where this is going.
Because, you see, toward the end of the weekend, as we were getting ready to head back to school and work, Brendan began complaining of sores on his arms. To me, these sores looked like spider bites -- an obvious red welt surrounded by a halo of pink skin. When he first pointed these out to me, he had one on his elbow and one on his leg, and I assumed that he'd been bitten by something (again, likely a spider) but that it would eventually go away and he'd be fine.
I'm sure you've already guessed that they didn't just go away. Each day he complained of new bites, and they were appearing all over his body. By Wednesday, he was so uncomfortable with painful, dreadfully itchy bites that Matt suggested I take him to the doctor. I agreed, too -- this didn't seem like spider bites anymore, and I began to wonder if he was exhibiting an allergic reaction to something (either a new food or a new laundry detergent or something). I gave him Benadryl just so he could sleep at night. I was pretty mystified (although, honestly, I really shouldn't have been).
The next day, Thursday, I spent the majority of my prep hour and lunch time trying to contact Teachers Health Trust so that I could set up an appointment for Brendan. One of my fellow teachers, Ken Witty, asked what was wrong, and I told him. I gave him a detailed description of what I was experiencing with Brendan, and he responded with raised eyebrows.
"You know what that sounds like?" he asked.
I knew where he was going with this, and it made me stop, pretty much frozen with anxiety. See, a couple of years ago Ken dealt with a bed bug infestation that he'd picked up at Hickey Elementary School, where we both used to work. And he told me that what I was describing in Brendan was nearly identical to what he and his wife had experienced. I insisted that I didn't think we had bed bugs, but when he pulled up pictures on his phone of what those bites look like, I couldn't deny that they were very similar to what I'd seen on Brendan.
"I would recommend that you go home and search his room," Ken told me. He instructed me in how to do this -- stripping the bed of sheets, lifting the mattress, looking for telltale signs of these awful, vampiric insects.
I rushed home, filled with anxiety, telling myself over and over again that it probably wasn't bed bugs and that I needed to calm down. But I was also very well aware of what a nightmare bed bug infestations can be, and knowing that the notion of one in my home made perfect sense was nothing less than terrifying. Bed bugs are an extremely successful species and, much like cockroaches and head lice, can be extremely difficult to control. They hide well, they survive most pesticides well, and, most importantly, they breed well. A small infestation can turn into an out-of-control problem very quickly. And a bed bug can survive for up to 18 months without eating -- for real. So you can't even go away for a week or two and starve them out. I've heard of people spending thousands of dollars to deal with bed bug problems, people buying all new furniture to eradicate them completely, and people moving because they couldn't win the battle with the bed bugs. This was not something that I wanted to deal with. At all.
I arrived home just minutes after Matt and told him that I needed to inspect Brendan's room.
"Just to confirm that it's not bed bugs," I told him.
The two of us went together upstairs and I tore all of Brendan's sheets off of his bed. His mattress was clean -- pure white, with no signs that I could see of bed bugs. I inspected closely in the crevices, but found nothing. I lifted the mattress and investigated the underside, as well as the box springs. I looked at all four corners, as closely as my eyes would allow.
Nothing. Everything looked clean.
I was about ready to give up the search, pretty convinced that bed bugs were not the problem, after all. But then, I saw it.
A tiny, rust-colored bug, with a wide, flat body. Just a single bug, standing on the edge of the box springs.
"Oh, shit," I said. "I see one."
"Where?" Matt asked.
I pointed. "Quick, get me something to catch it with. We'll need it for identification."
Matt ran downstairs and brought me a small tupperware container, which I used to trap the bug. With it contained, I had a closer look, and I was 100% positive now that we were dealing with bed bugs. The question now was what to do about it.
I told Matt to go immediately to our property manager, which he did. She understood what an awful problem bed bugs could be, and was absolutely as interested in getting them eradicated as we were. So she immediately called pest control and gave us specific directions as to how to prepare for their visit.
We spent the next many hours, well into the night, essentially moving "out" of our house. Pillows, sheets, and clothing were washed in hot water and dried on high heat. Stuffed animals were bagged and set outside (to be put in the drier later). We emptied drawers and closets and moved furniture away from the walls. Everything had to be washed and dried before being moved out, lest we accidentally move live bed bugs out of the house and then, inevitably, back in.
At this point, I did something I probably shouldn't have done. I emptied a can of bug spray all over Brendan's bed area, hoping to at least contain the problem until pest control arrived. I closed the door so that the cats couldn't get in, and hoped that it would kill some of the bugs and at least contain the others. I realized later that such a move could cause the bugs to spread to places they hadn't previously been, in an attempt to escape the poison, but my hope at that point was that there was enough to kill them before they could leave the room.
As midnight approached, Matt told me that pest control was going to try and come by the next day (Friday). If everything wasn't ready, including our two cats not being on the premises, they wouldn't be able to treat the problem, and they'd have to come back the following week. We didn't want that to happen.
The problem was that we both had work the following day, and it was going to be nearly impossible to leave work, go get the cats, and get them somewhere else once we knew when they were going to be arriving. So I suggested that we get a hotel that very night and stay away until after we were given the clear from pest control. Matt agreed, and jumped on Hotwire to find us a place.
"You know," I told him, "we could probably take the edge off of this whole situation if we turned this into an adventure and stayed somewhere on the Strip. Want to?"
He did -- he agreed that this could add an element of fun to an otherwise nightmarish situation. So we investigated various hotels that were not too overpriced, and also accepted pets. We found what we were looking for in The Rio, and I booked us a room for Thursday and Friday night. I assumed that the cats could stay in the room (with a "do not disturb" sign on the door) while we were all out at work and school, and then we could all return home once we were given the clear. The Rio, I noticed, was also only a few minutes from Brendan's school, which added to the benefits of staying there.
We loaded the car with freshly laundered clothes, some bathroom essentials, and the cats. My sister happened to be in possession of my cat carrier because she recently adopted a kitten, so the cats got to free roam the car. Gavroche drove with Matt, and Auryn drove with me and Brendan (we had to take separate vehicles so that we could each get to work the next day). We had to stop at Wal Mart because, in the fiasco that had been our night, I forgot to pack any cat food or cat litter, or even a litter box. So we picked those things up, along with a small container that the cats could ride in from the car to our hotel room.
We arrived at the Rio, and Brendan waited in the car with Auryn (and watched Gavroche through the window) while Matt and I checked in. Then, we made multiple trips to the car to get the things we needed.
And that's how I wound up rushing through the casino at The Rio, on my way to a hotel room, in Batman pajamas and day-old makeup, with a container full of cats, giving no fucks about what that must have looked like. I had spent all of my fucks earlier in the day, and I really had no more left to give to this particular situation.
Our room was nice. I set up cat food and water, and put the new littler box in the bathroom. Now after midnight, we all pretty much collapsed with exhaustion. We all went to sleep, knowing that, for the first time in days, Brendan wasn't about to be eaten alive while he slept.
I drove Brendan to school the following day and went to work, quite exhausted. Matt picked Brendan up after school, and we all met at the hotel room. The following day we were allowed to move back into our house, and spent the majority of the day completing laundering, putting casings over the mattresses, and inspecting everything for bugs before bringing it back in the house. But we're pretty much done now. Pest control left a note stating that the only signs of bed bugs appeared in Brendan's room -- they hadn't spread yet -- and the infestation was small enough that they didn't see any of the actual bugs, only the signs. They did a thorough treatment, and they're coming back in two weeks to examine the situation again, do a follow up treatment, and make sure that everything remains under control.
Last night we slept in our own beds. And Brendan woke up with no new bites. And so I'm hopeful.
But really, though ... down the road, we'll always be able to say, "Remember that time we took a stay-cation at The Rio because of bed bugs, in our pajamas, and with a container full of cats?" Hopefully, we'll be able to laugh.