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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paranoid Part 2: Scabies seem appealing

If there was a theme for this litany of misfortune, it’s this: We all have a sliding scale of what we’re willing to accept or deal with. For example, I remember thinking (at a time before I had children) that dealing with lice seemed the worst thing ever.

In my mid-20s, I was a reporter at a small daily paper and I ended up doing a whole series on lice outbreaks at this particular school—an assignment that had me scratching my head and shuddering with revulsion.

The fun and frolics of 2007 made lice seems like a vacation. But here I am, jumping ahead of myself.

My last post ended with my husband adjusting to the reality of heart failure because the heart damage from his viral infection became permanent.

But there were improvements. He managed to work half-time, an effort that required him to sleep all afternoon.

Then, my contract wasn’t renewed. I got a full-time job offer from a company that I contracted for, but they were bought out by a U.S. firm and a hiring freeze was instituted.

I had a cushion, so we were fine at first. Though eventually, the funds dwindled and mild panic started to set in.

Then, I landed my current position at a medium-sized high-tech company. Whew.

It was a steep learning curve, but I was keen. Running out of your emergency funds is very motivating.

Could the hives be scabies?

Shortly thereafter, I developed hives on my arms and I joked with my co-workers that I was allergic to my job. I started a food journal to see if there was a correlation to the number of hives I had each day and what I ate.

The hives continued. Benedryl became my close personal friend.

Then, my children started getting hives. Off to the doctor we went.

“Hives aren’t contagious,” she said. “It looks like scabies to me.”

Scabies! It just sounded gross and when she told me that they were mites that burrow into the skin and lay eggs, I was nostalgic for lice.

Filling the prescription was a laugh a minute. The pharmacist, an enthusiastic East Indian fellow who seemed to be used to dealing with the hearing impaired, told me loudly how the pesticide was to be applied from “the neck down--avoiding the genitals, of course—for the most successful removal of scabies.”

In my peripheral vision, I could see everyone near the counter take one big step back.

Home I went for The Great Family Pesticide Rubdown. Then, all sheets and clothes went into the washer/dryer on the “boil”/”roast” cycle.

We were cured—for about a week and the marks came back.

The treatments were so hard on my asthmatic daughter. She was pale and wheezing and I wasn’t going to do another treatment no matter what.

I was crying on the phone to my friend Susan, who, recalling bed bug horror stories from her grandmother, told me to look for evidence of bed bugs.

Sleep tight; don't let the evil motherf#$%ers bite

“Are there small specks of blood on the sheets,” she asked?


“Do you see little black specks?”


“Can you see the bugs? They’re like apple seeds in size and colour.”


I checked the mattresses and not one was found.

“Check the box springs.”

Holy Mother of God! It was a colony. Several colonies. It was a bed bug New World in my house!

I had an answer. I was elated for one day and then I found out that they are incredibly hard to get rid of. If you miss just one pregnant female in your pest control efforts, you’re screwed. Adults can survive up to a year without a blood feed and females lay one or more eggs a day.

I was pining for scabies.

So, we were plunged into a (new) hell. Actually, I think I was the most plagued by this special kind of six-legged crazy. My husband kept his perspective. After all, he felt that after his heart troubles, this was bad but not that bad. For me, it was my tipping point into full-blown anxiety, which was further fuelled by insomnia.

We purged like crazy. It’s amazing how quickly you can declutter when you assess everything as a current or potential bug habitat. Ironically, before this whole drama, we had a blog entry from Penelope Trunk posted in our kitchen, called “5 steps to taming materialism” in which she described her own family’s experience with bed bugs.

It was a reminder of our pledge to have a small house but big adventures. What a load of crap that goal turned out to be. I tore that off the wall.

Because of my daughter’s asthma and her earlier exposure to harsh chemicals from the home refinishing and then the “scabies” treatment, we decided on the pesticide-free approach and worked with Evergreen Pest Control.

Of course, the plumbing goes to hell

It took herculean efforts of vacuuming and cleaning and caulking every baseboard, electrical outlet, everything. My friend Susan came over and helped out. She caulked and then parked herself in the backyard to steam clean the pieces of furniture that we decided to keep. What a hero. I wouldn’t have set foot in the place if I were her. Of course, her husband made her strip on the porch before entering her home. Lucky neighbours.

I even inspected my neighbour’s house because we were attached by a wall and the six-legged devil spawn can follow a wire or crack into another dwelling. The neighbour was in the clear.

For weeks, I cleaned for four or five hours a night (after returning home from work), until the sweat dripped off my head and exploded onto the floor. I’m sure all this was very slimming.

By day, I was a mild-mannered tech writer; by evening a panicky, maniacal cleaning woman.

And the laundry! Everything that was washed had to be run through again. And in keeping with our stroke of luck, our basement flooded.

The plumber ran a camera through the pipe and called us over to see how “not good” it looked. The drain vomited chunks of rusted out pipe and dirt when he pulled the cable out.

The old cast iron main sewer line rotted away and had to be replaced. This required chipping a channel through the cement floor in the laundry room and garage. Cost: $7,500.

Our garage floor was old and cracked, so we opted for replacement rather than patching.

But none of the companies we contacted wanted to dispose or remove the remaining concrete. Demolition sounded so appealing. My husband wasn’t well enough to do it, but I sure could. I rented a drill from Home Depot and tore out that concrete all by my-damn-self.

And I loved it. Even now, when things seem to be going badly, I fantasize about jackhammers and crowbars.

See also:

Part 3: Betting our hedge


  1. Jesus Christ, that God you don't believe in is a real a-hole sometimes, huh? You should have called me too, I would have helped (and burned my clothes and bathed in bleach afterwards). Your blog rocks (even when life sucks).

    Tag, you're it (if you feel like it).

  2. Hey, thanks, baby. I'm subscribing to your blog right now.

    You're so brave to even consider helping. A friend of mine is battling these little f*ckers and I can't offer more assistance than leaving vodka on her porch.

  3. Holy sh!t, that sounds horrendous. Bed bugs scared the bejeezuz out of me before I read this...I think they scare me even more, now.

    I'm sure if I was in such a predicament I would greatly appreciate any vodka left on my porch.

  4. Oh yeah! I'm a tech writer, too. Isn't it great having a blog so you can write about things that don't have to do with product installation, coniguration, administration and blah, blah, blah...zzzzzzzz. Sorry, what was I saying? No really...I love my job.

  5. Bed bugs are crazy-making for sure. But I learned a few practical and philosophical things about this that I'm going to share in a future post. My litany of mild misfortune is not over. "Paranoid Part 3" is coming soon. But, this whole thing in Haiti keeps it in perspective. God, what terrible suffering.

    Nice to meet a fellow tech writer. The blog is a nice addition to product documentation.