Warning: This Post May Cause Itchiness

Just think of all the icky things you might encounter while staying at a hotel: mystery stains on sheets, a stray hair clinging to a shower tile, boogers on the nightstand…

Lucky for me, I’ve encountered my fair share of icky things.

My previous job took me all over the state of Colorado and I had the pleasure of lodging in a wide variety of establishments. Some were your run of the mill mid-level chain hotels; others were small, outdated and sometimes a little scary.

map Colorado

All the places I visited for my last job. My favorite was Dinosaur in the top left corner. The streets are named after dinosaurs, like Brontosaurus Blvd. and Tyrannosaurus Trail.

But my worst experience has to do with, of course, bugs.

It’s strange how it happened. It was like fate or something. I was talking about an upcoming trip with a coworker and I told her where I was going.

She gasped and her eyes widened. “Where are you staying?” she asked.

“Why?” I responded.

She explained that another group had just been in that area and the hotel where we usually stayed had, gulp, BED BUGS!

bedbugs eating

A pair feeding on a willing host.
(Image courtesy Medill DC via Flickr)

We proceeded to Google everything we could about the awful creatures–what they looked like, how to find them, what to do if you find them.

My brain absorbed the information like a very frightened sponge.

Did you know they can live about a year without eating, depending on their environment?

They can survive temperatures below 14 F (-10C) for five days and it takes 7 minutes of temperatures above 115 F (46 C) to kill them. In fact, many exterminators use heat to rid homes of the pests. The house is brought to temperatures above 120 F for at least 4 hours to zap the critters.

Now, they do have natural predators, but who wants to unleash scores of cockroaches, ants and centipedes in their house!?

cockroach says hi

Hello there. For just a few crumbs a day, I can help you with your bedbug problem.
(Image courtesy sirtrentalot via Flickr)

centipede babies

Don’t mind me. Just making centipede babies. You did say you had a bedbug problem, didn’t you?
(Image courtesy Wendy Eiby via Flickr)

Prior to the mid 20th century they were quite common. On History.com it’s noted that in 77 AD they were thought to heal snakebites, ear infections and other ailments. According to Bedbugs.org, about 1/3 of homes in America had them in the early 20th century, with nearly every residence in some areas infested.

And it looks like they’ve made a comeback. According to a Time Magazine article, the number of reported incidents in New York City alone rose from 500 in 2004 to 10,000 in 2009!

And lucky for us, humans are their favorite food.

A few days later I set out on my trip, booked at a hotel in a nearby town.

I lugged my giant suitcase and oversized wheeled bag up the stairs and pushed the door open. Right away I knew something was wrong–the headboard was off the wall and on the floor, propped against the wall.

That’s strange. The bugs are often found behind the headboard.

I took out my flashlight, just like all the websites said to do, and peeled back the blankets. My fingers pulled the thick cord around the edge of the mattress back. Nothing. Then, I lifted the tiny strip of fabric at the seam and looked for any signs of bugs.

mattress seam where bed bugs hide

One of their favorite hiding places.

It didn’t take long.

First, I found a shedding (they go through a molting process where they shed their exoskeleton).

Then there were spots of blood.

Then I saw it. It looked a little different than the ones I saw on the internet, more translucent (turns out he was a nymph–still a baby).

nymph bedbug

Bedbug nymph feeding, also on a willing victim.
(Image courtesy liz.novack via flickr)

He remained still, hoping I wouldn’t notice him. I poked him with the edge of my keycard. He took a couple of steps. I gasped and went into full fight or flight mode. My adrenaline pumped, my heart raced. I nearly passed out. I’m not sure why my reaction was so severe, it’s not like he was going to leap through the air and latch onto my face. Right?

I backed out of the room, tripping over my bags and let the door slam shut. Down the stairs I went, my suitcase nearly tumbling down without me. A lady passed by, giving me an odd stare.

“I need to check out,” I said to the front desk clerk in a hushed voice.

“May I ask why,” the woman responded.

I looked to either side and then leaned forward. “You have bedbugs,” I whispered.

She stepped back and cleared her throat. “All right,” she said. That was it. No argument, no apology. No ‘I’m sorry we almost made a meal out of you. Here’s a coupon for a free breakfast’.

I got in my car and panicked. Where was I going to stay? The next closest hotel was the one the last team said had bed bugs, but that’s where I headed.

The man at the front desk greeted me cheerfully. Yeah, but I wasn’t going to be fooled. The lady at the last place was just as cheerful as she put me in a bedbug filled room.

“I have to ask you something before I book a room,” I said to the man.

“Yes.”

“Do you have bedbugs?” I whispered, trying to read his face.

He paused, startled by my question. Then he insisted that they did not.

I scoured the room, tearing the bed apart. I looked behind the pictures on the walls, around the baseboards, anywhere I thought one of those awful critters would lurk. There was nothing.

That night, I woke up almost every hour, flicking on the light, waiting for bugs to scatter, but there was nothing. The next morning I searched for bites, certain one had gotten me while I slept. Luckily, I was fine. A little itchy and paranoid, but fine.

When I returned to the office I reported the hotel to Consumer Protection. And yes, at least five rooms were infested. The inspection report was detailed, to say the least. Multiple nesting sites, sheddings, eggs around the baseboards.

The hotel knew about the problem and had been trying to get rid of the bugs. How nice of them to book me in a room known to be infested (that was why the headboard was off the wall).

Of course, I’m now the crazy person who checks every hotel room while my family watches with amusement. I used to check all clothes before I brought them into the house, but let’s face it, I was too lazy to keep that up.

Now I look back, at that fateful conversation with my coworker. Had she not said anything, I would have booked at the hotel where we usually stayed, the one without the bugs. But I also never would have had my up close and personal experience with the things, which has made me very diligent in searching hotel rooms. And it makes for a good story 🙂