Since beginning as a licensed applicator and technician in 1976, I’ve been doing pest work a long time. Pest pros see all sorts of things when working in customer’s homes but it was when working as a pest management consultant on a bed bug remediation project that an incident happened that would forever set the tone for how I viewed bed bug projects, as well as how I conducted bed bug remediation work from that day forward.
Years ago I received a call seeking assistance at a large apartment complex. The call was from the property owner who had been referred to me by an industry colleague. During our initial conversation it was reported that the apartment complex was experiencing a long-standing bed bug situation, that the problem had been on-going for at least four years and that it had progressively worsened. By the time they had contacted me they were on their fourth pest company. They had simply had enough and were at their wits end. During the conversation, the situation and plan of action regarding the necessary remediation work was discussed and agreed upon.
Soon after, I was on location and up to my neck in bed bugs. It was immediately clear that the problem would never be eliminated if the work being done was allowed to continue in the manner observed. The efforts were haphazard, ineffective and, obviously, not working. No one involved was happy and much needed to be corrected.
There, I began my work with an inspection of the facility. The apartment complex was large and hundreds of apartments were infested with bed bugs. The infestations varied from very light (where just a few bed bugs were present), all the way to severe (where the apartment was a video-worthy “bed-bug-ground-zero”).
As a pest pro I had entered many homes as a normal part of my work. Some are very neat and clean, while others not so much. Except for the presence of bed bugs, this location was not unlike numerous others I had visited in the past as far as the living conditions observed.
During my inspection I entered one particular apartment. This was when something occurred which I’ll never forget, the incident that served to set the tone for me on bed bug work. It remains a vivid memory which, to this day, serves me to help my clients. In fact, it was such an influential moment that it was included in the beginning pages of my book, The Bed Bug Combat Manual, with the specific intent to help others adopt a similar mindset regarding their own bed bug work.
Upon entering this apartment, I was struck by how neat, clean and orderly it was. It was modestly furnished and decorated and it was very clean. It was the literal translation of the “you can eat off the floor” type home. At home was a young mom and her infant son, who was lying in his crib. It was visually obvious that there was a bed bug problem in this apartment, as evident by the numerous bite marks on the mom’s arms and on her baby’s arms and legs.
I began speaking with the young mother. The absolute despair she felt soon became readily apparent. She began by relating that despite her best efforts to keep her home clean, she could not prevent her baby from being bitten by bed bugs. She didn’t know where they were coming from or how they were able to get to her son to bite him, her husband and herself. She was doing the very best she could but nothing she was doing was working. It was at this point that she literally broke down in tears while holding her baby in her arms and crying on my shoulder.
Something like that is not easily forgotten. It was “the hook” that shaped my bed bug outlook and mindset from then to this very day. I promised that we would be taking care of her problem and would be saving her and her family from bed bugs immediately. My thoughts included that the mission here was easily defined as: (1) save these people from being bitten by bed bugs, and (2) save their assets (i.e., prevent them from having to throw out their infested beds and furniture that they could ill afford to replace). The mission needed to be accomplished by delivering zero bed bugs. To successfully deliver zero bugs and keep my promise, a thorough and comprehensive work effort was required – which we did.
Since that time I have performed bed bug remediation projects at many locations. I am continuously surprised by how this one pest can adversely affect so many normally sane people on an emotional and psychological basis. In speaking with numerous bed bug victims, I’ve come to understand that sometimes it is not the bed bugs themselves, but underlying issues that the bed bugs trigger which so unnerve these people.
There are a multitude of reasons why bed bugs affect people as they do. Some of these include: the social stigma associated with bed bugs, the cost of remediation, the feeling of isolation, the fear of spreading them to friends and family, the sleeplessness, the feeling of loss of control, the fact that they attack you in your most intimate safe place (your home, your bed) and the feeling that you can’t protect your children from them. Of course there are others, but the fact is that bed bugs cause tremendous anxiety, stress and emotional turmoil for those having to deal with them.
Therefore, when work seems to get to be too much or too difficult, I remember this mom and her infant, as well as the many other bed bug victims encountered, which serves as a reminder that these folks are counting on us to save them from bed bugs.
So thanks to this young mom and infant son . . . the tone was set – and set in stone.