To those of you who were reading me in 2008 and were subjected to The Saga of The Bed Bugs, I am truly sorry. For those of you who have joined me more recently, count yourselves lucky you missed out on it. All my readers reported scratching while reading my posts.
It was such a depressing time of our lives, right from the initial stage of not being able to stop scratching my arms and legs until I bled, and wanting to stab anyone in the eye who said, "Have you changed your washing powder?" as if I'd never considered it, indeed, as if I have ever had any allergies to a washing product in my life.
For the record, it had nothing to do with washing powder. It had to do with lots of these guys ...
Stupidly, I was so delighted to find the bed bugs! I thought we'd easily kill them and life would return to normal! Unfortunately, the trouble with bed bugs is you have to physically find the nests to kill them, and after six pest treatments, throwing out and replacing furniture, books and clothes, repeatedly washing and drying all fabrics in hot water causing the death and subsequent replacement of both the washer and dryer, completely evacuating a few bedrooms, living out of boxes in the living room and kitchen, placing entire rooms worth of clothes and books in the sunshine to kill bugs only to find they have all been ruined by freak rainstorms, sleeping in a completely empty bedroom on air mattresses for a few months, and finally giving up and sleeping in the living room on couches for more months, ... finally after all of that, we found the final nest in our ceiling cavity above the fitting for the ceiling fan from where they would drop onto us in the night, have a feed, and walk up the walls to their nest before dawn the next morning.
After we realised that was going on and the pest guys put chemical bombs into the ceiling and then through the whole house, we began to get our lives back.
During this time, I made a blogging friend called Faith who lived in Seattle. She doesn't blog there these days, but in 2008 she was a great friend to me - she found weird merchandise from a company called Parasite Pals, and knowing my plight, she sent a care package to us full of interesting things. Here is the front page of the Parasite Pals website, so that you can familiarise yourself with the wonderfully cute little characters. I'll turn the image into a hyperlink so you can click it and go straight to the site, if you wish. Or don't, if you have sense.
Adorable. It turns out that my nemesis, the bed bugs that had cost me thousands of dollars, were in fact cute little characters with a name - "Zzeezz", and came complete with friends! Dig Dig the Head Louse, Tickles the Tapeworm and Blinky the Eyelash Mite. How charming.
Not only that, but there was a cute little "Hostess" called Holly. Interesting that she doesn't appear to have any fingernails, given this particular meaning of "hostess." One can only hope that the expression on her face wasn't prompted by the presence of Tickles.
Faith sent us little trinkets from each of the Parasite Pals. Our family's Parasitic Mascot, Zzeezz the Bed Bug, featured on this little LED torch. How wonderful to read the joyful words, "When you are sleeping, I am biting." Ooh yes, we believe that. The packaging reads "The sleepy time of the night is hour for many bites!" Substitute "scratchy" for "sleepy" and I'd totally agree.
At that stage in our lives, we thought to ourselves:
- It's understandable to have Bed Bugs.
- They are not after dirt and squalour, they are after blood, so they live wherever people live.
- The high turnover of travellers in backpackers' hostels makes the hostels ideal places for bed bugs, and that's what give the bugs their stigma. They are not just the purview of homeless people and people who are woefully negligent in personal hygiene.
- But the OTHER Parasite Pals? They would be far too awful for US to have!
Despite many treatments, Dig Dig the Head Louse continued to trouble us. Treatments can be expensive - the last one we tried cost $60 to treat all the heads in our house - but they can also be emotional torture. Jessie has very thick hair, and although we keep it as short as we feel we can without her ending up looking like a Troll Doll, combing with The Special Comb can be a screaming nightmare. Frequent and thorough treatments only end up in defeat, as small fingers scratch small scalps a few days later. I can only assume that a mother who reads stories to her children at night with heads close together, is an ideal carrier for Dig Dig the Head Louse.
NOT too awful for US to have, in fact. But what's $60 per treatment, in the grand scheme of things? If a parasite does not cause you to throw out and replace a perfectly good Queen Bed, it's better than Zzeezz.
Now to Tickles the Tapeworm. We don't suffer often from this Parasite Pal, and I haven't actually seen the offenders. So I can't be sure it's actually Tickles we're talking about, or one of his equally disgusting cousins, perhaps 'Pongo the Pinworm,' 'Revolto the Roundworm,' or 'Hobo the Hookworm.'
But one of the above is possibly NOT too awful for US to have. The occasional complaints have caused our family chocolate stash to include (just to be on the safe side) not only white, milk and dark chocolate, but also Combantrin. Because nothing says "young family" quite like Combantrin in the chocolate stash. This though, is usually Step 2 when dealing with the complaints. Step 1 involves manic shrieks of, "Dammit son, wash properly!" and a good deal of undignified demonstration of technique.
However, we do still use the cute little pencil case pictured above. It reads: "Good Day. Tapeworm of the tickles. The stomach living within is for fun. Likes much the good food. Great friends we are to the extremity. Love me Tapeworm." Uh - no. No love for the tapeworm.
One day recently, my children were asking questions about some of the items from our Parasite Pals care package from Seattle, the ones that are still in use. I sheepishly admitted that we have, in fact, suffered from three of the four Parasite Pals featured, not due to problems with housekeeping or personal hygiene, but simply because parasites love hosts and being humans who do not sequester ourselves from society, we make pretty good hosts.
"What's an eyelash mite?" they wanted to know.
"I don't know," I replied. "Probably though, they live on dirty people, and are much too awful for US to have."
It got me thinking. A short amount of Googling later, I had some shocking answers.
There are two species of eyelash mite that inhabit humans - Demodex folliculorum which lives in hair follicles on the face and and Demodex brevis which hangs out near the sebaceous glands on the follicles. Yes, much too awful for US to have.
Then I learned that a third of children and young adults are likely to have Blinky the Eyelash Mite. As you get older, the news gets worse, possibly due to having more sebaceous glands. Half the adult population is likely to play Holly Hostess to Blinky the Eylash Mite, and in the elderly population, the odds increase to two-thirds. Blinky usually goes unnoticed and causes no problems, so you can't point the finger at any particular Parasite Pal-afflicted family in particular, as you may very well have Blinky yourself.
I thought that having had such a rough trot with the Parasite Pals, I might be able to claim that our family is possibly free of Blinky, at least.
Then something rang a bell with me. Demodex ... Demodex ... hang on a minute.
The species Demodex canis lives on dogs. Like the human species, they can go unnoticed, and cause no problems. However, they can also go rogue and cause the pleasant-sounding "demodectic mange" which which creates rough, thickened bald spots on the skin.
Just like Bullseye had on her eyebrow when she was a young dog.
At the time, the vet confirmed the presence of Demodex canis and I even saw the little critters on the microscope slide. Hmm. NOT too awful for US to have, as a matter of fact.
And with the discovery that in our average suburban family, we had played Holly Hostess to a clean sweep of the Parasite Pals, I went disconsolately about my week.