Moving from a brownstone in Brooklyn to a doorman condo in Manhattan, I never would have expected ten days into my new apartment to suddenly be faced with a serious allergy to mysterious spider bites. Fearful, I wondered, did I make a major mistake – I had committed months of searching to relocate with my boyfriend. Now, could I be allergic to my new apartment?
The Urgent Care Center didn’t have an immediate diagnosis so they bandaged my swollen bites, gave me meds and sent me on my merry way. I tried to distract myself from the anxiety of not knowing what was attacking me by focusing on the trip ahead of me. Fortunately, the time away was healing. But, when I returned, so too did the bites.
My doctor sent me to a dermatologist who could not make a diagnosis so he sent me to an allergist who reacted: “You are a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, how could you never have been tested for allergies?” I laughed in agreement, but secretly just wanted him to already figure out what the hell was wrong with me. When the results came back negative and the doctor revealed the only diagnosis that hadn’t been eliminated was a rare immune skin eating disorder, I was barely listening, trying to not have a panic attack.
Even our family friend doctor who lived in Cambodia could not offer a diagnosis (My mother actually emailed photos of the bites to him, hoping his expertise in tropical diseases might expedite us discovering the source. Why? Because clearly tropical bugs live in NYC apartments!)
As the situation continued, I began to sleep on the couch because I was starting to suspect the unthinkable – the creatures only attacked at night and lived in my bed. Could it be true? Did we have bedbugs? But, my boyfriend was fine staying in our bed. So, the search for the culprit continued.
Finally, two months after my first bite, a major breakthrough occurred. I left early for the weekend to visit family. Frustrated that my boyfriend had absentmindedly waited until the last minute to buy his tickets, he had to wait to travel until the next day to join me because the train had sold-out. I angrily insulted him by saying — “the delay better be worth it.” Well, it turned out to be just that. What better activity did he have to do without me on a Friday night – go drinking with his friends? Actually, no, he went on a search and rescue mission, tearing apart our entire apartment to find these mysterious creatures.
He thought he was sleeping alone, but Saturday morning he woke up next to another woman in the apartment – she had a lot of legs. As she unabashedly batted her eyelashes at him, he captured the little critter in a plastic bag, snapped a photo, and sent it to me with the text: look what I found! It was official, we had bed bugs! I’m not sure why I sound so excited, perhaps it’s that we figured out just what was causing the problem!
The building brought in a K-9 Crew, because apparently, that’s what happens when you have bed bugs – a dog sniffed the apartment which needed to be treated immediately. The management undertook the cost for this, much to our surprise. However, when it came to the treatment, that was the landlord’s responsibility. Conveniently for us, our landlord had been traveling internationally with no email or voicemail access.
Our doorman became an unhelpful pawn in our communication triangle with the building, asking us about the status of our apartment in a vague way so as not to draw attention to what was unfolding. He would ask us, “so, what’s the status of your situation?” as we walked in and out of the lobby. His behavior made me want to scream back at him to let all the neighbors know – they too could be next to be eaten alive by the creatures of the building! When I would see friends who would friendly ask, “So, what’s new? Oh, and how’s the new place?” I felt like they were wondered why they had not received an invitation to a house warming party. It’s not like I could tell them – “Oh, I have this bug issue in my apartment.” I feared they might back up from me when I divulged this dirty little secret.
Eventually, we decided to make the executive decision after not being able to reach our landlord that we would deduct the $1,000 bed bug cleaning from our rent. Even though we had just moved in, we had to pack our ENTIRE apartment again, bundling up all our clothes into the not so fancy garbage bags and put them in the drier — the heat would kill the bed bugs.
The exterminator came to zap them away completely.Running up and down the stairs with our mysterious trash bags to dry all our clothes on high heat, we hoped the neighbors wouldn’t notice us and ask what we were doing. On the way out of the laundry room, I saw a new woman who had just moved in to the building. She asked me: “ How do you like it here?” “Well,” I paused, before replying. Thankfully, the elevator came and I didn’t have to finish my sentence.