When I started the hoarding clean out business, part of my mission was to help those who are not in a position to help themselves. This often times results in some pretty dirty jobs. I mean real dirty, disgusting, and gross jobs. Case in point – Bed Bugs!
I used to think you couldn’t see bed bugs. I had the idea they were microscopic. Well, they aren’t. You can see them; they are a little smaller than an ant. In a bad infestation you can smell them as soon as you enter the home. It is a musty smell, similar to coriander. When it’s real bad you can hear the crunching sounds as you step on the dead skins they have shed.
I get a call from the sister of Carl. He is 40 years old and has the mentality of a 5 year old and partially blind. His mom died a year earlier and he was left on his own in a small apartment that was infested with bed bugs. His siblings lived out of town but trusted us to help Carl clean up his apartment so they could spray.
My mom and I come prepared for this job. We have rubber gloves, haz mat suits covering clothes that we plan to dispose of when this day is over. It’s 9:00am and Carl can’t be found. I hear the worry in his sister’s voice when I call after an hour goes by. In the middle of our phone call, I see a man getting off the bus crying. His eyes are sad and confused. He is in blue hospital scrubs and no shoes. No one had to tell me this was Carl, I know this is him. I don’t want to agitate or scare him any more than he already is. I immediately give him my phone so his sister can talk him down. He starts to explain how he took the bus to the hospital because the bed bug bites on his body were so bad. He is still crying. He spent the night in the hospital and the staff took everything, including his wallet because it was full of bugs. He lost his clothes, his shoes, bus pass, his id and money to pay us. Heartbreaking.
We calm him down, enter his place and start the process. My mom and I have our own eye language in these types of situations. We can read each others minds. Similar to an action movie when the SWAT team is entering a house, instructions are sent through head nods and eye contact. My mom’s eyes dart to the ceiling. I look up and can see thousands of bed bugs on the walls and ceiling. Now I picture them falling in our hair and I itch all over. I have strong desire to shake my head and scratch my body. If my friends saw me now, they wouldn’t believe the scene. We dig deep and focus to the task on hand. We remove his bed, his couch and almost everything he owned that isn’t a necessity.
At 104 degrees and no air conditioning my mom starts to overheat. The haz mat suits do not allow ventilation. We were sweating but it’s like we’re in zip lock baggies and the air can’t get in to cool us off. Her face is turning white and she is dizzy. Her job is done. I make her sit down and drink water. As she sits in the chair next to Carl with the vacuum in her hand, together they suck up bed bugs. They turn it into a game and we are all laughing, deep belly laughs! In the midst of this madness we can still laugh.
We give him a bed, sheets and towels to get him started. Before we leave we clean his place for a fresh start. Now, he starts to cry tears of joy and gratitude at the transformation of his place. As we leave he hugs us both. Big bear hugs and I can feel how much we meant to him at that day.
When I get I asked, “How can you do what you do? My reply is, “How can I not? ” I went home feeling sweaty, disgusting, dirty and gross on the outside. On the inside, I feel happy, satisfied, full of goodness and gratitude and know Carl would sleep well that night.