Bed Bugs, Boston, and Beyond

This is how you apply Clobetasol to the area of your lower back that you cannot reach because your arms aren't long enough, or you don't have a partner willing to pave the ointment across the bed bug bites:

You tug a portion of Saran Wrap from its carton -- a square about the size of the infected area -- and scotch tape it to a wall. Then, you apply the topical to the wrap -- gently, as if you are buttering a slice of freshly baked bread -- until it is covered corner to corner.

Next, you remove clothing from your upper body and smoosh your back against the creamy wrap.  You may add music to accompany the swaying you will do to transfer medicine to the dots that have spread across your back like stars in a night sky.

Over all, I handled the recent plague of my person quite calmly because I was certain it hadn't originated in my apartment. The outbreak occurred just after I returned from a weekend at a Kansas City hotel. I know that hotels -- no matter the number of awarded stars -- are vulnerable to bed bugs.

But, my composure threatened to crack when I considered the trip I would be taking in two days to Boston. What if the critters had decided to travel home with me from K.C.? Could they have hitched a ride in my carry-on? Had they weaved themselves into the threads of the clothing I wore on the trip? Did I bring the terror troop into my sweet apartment where they would soon finish the job on other parts of my body?

"Is it possible you brought them back?" asked my Boston daughter Faith, who was echoing my unease. "Is there a way you can check it out so you, um, don't bring them to my place?"

"Do you want me to stay home?" I said in my perfected passive aggressive voice.

"No, Mom, I didn't say that. Just, is there a way you can be sure they haven't adopted you and won't accompany you to Boston?"

Because I admitted the same concern, I sought advice from Karen, my interior designer friend. "Call your building's management office," she said. "They likely have a protocol for dealing with bed bugs."

Protocol, I loved the sound of that because it meant I was not a pariah. If there was a protocol, that denoted something they teach in building maintenance school.

I called Kendra at the concierge desk. "Uh, I have a problem," I said, as if I were confessing a dead body that needed disposing. "I have a bed bug rash, which I'm certain I got at a hotel. But, I want to be sure I didn't transport any back to my apartment."

The knock on my door came as soon as I hit "End" on my mobile. Roberto and Edward, each bearing a powerful specialty flashlight, trailed Dzenan, our chief engineer. I stood to the side, as the trio flipped my mattress, removed cushions from the couch, poked into bookshelves and floorboards, scanned my carry-on, and combed through closets.

"No, nothing, no," were their findings, words as dulcet as a favored song. "Just to be sure, though, we'll get an exterminator to double check."

"I'm traveling again," I said. "If bugs are here, what can I do to be sure I don't carry them with?" (My daughter's worried voice had infested my brain.)

"Do you have another suitcase you can take?" Dzenan asked. I pointed to a new one I purchased after my dermatologist made the bed bug diagnosis and replacement suggestion. "Let's put the old one in a plastic bag just to be sure," he said, as serious as if he were plotting a military maneuver. "Buy encasements for your mattress and box spring; that'll kill any surviving bugs. We'll put them on for you. Toss the clothes you're taking with in a hot dryer, then, pack them in plastic. Bugs can't survive in heat."

Resisting an impulse to salute, I thanked the staff for their aid and absence of judgment. "No, we thank you," Dzenan said. "If the bugs are in an apartment, and the tenant doesn't let us know, it can turn into a much bigger problem. You were smart."

This was smarter: "Dear Sir," I wrote to the hotel's management. "I spent $487.32, including the two nights, to heal the bed bug rash from my stay in Room 211, Nov. 14-16, 2013." I included the phone numbers of my dermatologist and engineer, along with receipts from Target and Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Will the check be in the mail? Stay tuned.