Feature Writer Karen Crowder – The Menace of Bed Bugs: Paula and Claudia’s Story

From the 1940s to 1995 everyone assumed bedbugs had disappeared from the US. In the 21st century, reports and articles in magazines confirmed their reemergence.

Paula and Claudia reside in Lincoln, Nebraska. In July 2011, they lived in a three story apartment complex. Paula had been there since 1977, living in a garden style one bedroom apartment. Her best friend Claudia moved there in 1981 and lives in a studio apartment. On this warm July day they sat in upholstered velvet lined chairs appreciating summer sunshine. As they walked to their apartments that afternoon they were unaware how their lives would change.

At night both women began experiencing intense itching, did they have fleas? Claudia told me “I noticed marks on my arms and legs and my feet were so itchy.” Paula told me “I noticed bites on my legs and arms, it aggravated skin conditions I have eczema, dermatitis and shingles.”

By August, they were getting two and a half hours of sleep many nights. On August 4, they discovered there was a bed bug infestation in their complex. A mentally unstable neighbor had brought chairs and other second hand furniture from the dump to the complex. They could hear their land lady broadcasting the news angrily, threatening to evict all three disabled tenants.

The relationship between Paula and Claudia and the landlady became worse, and on the 18th, she called Claudia angrily demanding that they both fill the trash barrels tomorrow, so she could properly exterminate their apartments. They could not fulfill her request; they were so debilitated from sleep deprivation. As Paula was walking outdoors Saturday morning the kind trash hauler was alarmed by her appearance. He noticed her tiredness, arms and legs riddled with welts and bite marks. He said “you should be in isolation, you don’t look well.” The man notified police about the complex’s situation.

Paula notified Adult Protective Services and the police. On August 31, a sheriff served Claudia and Paula with eviction notices which Paula appealed to the director of fair housing. He gave them a two month extension.

By October the apartments were not exterminated. Both women were experiencing severe sleep deprivation psychosis. Some of the symptoms include daytime hallucinations, paranoia and excessive confusion. Claudia suffered from allergies and since she took Benadryl it mitigated the effects of the parasites.

When Paula visited the dentist in October, frightened by her appearance he made an emergency appointment with her dermatologist. On November 3, he insisted “Paula should be hospitalized and placed on intravenous antibiotics.” She had stage 1 sepsis, without treatment she would be dead in a week. In tears she said, “But I am being evicted.” He was shocked and tried to reason with her landlady. She was callous stating, “I don’t care how sick she is they have to be out of here by November 11.” On November 7, Paula found the apartment she is living in. As she told me, “I had five minutes to decide whether I wanted it.” Adult protective services and the League of Human dignity partially helped them pack and paid for one of two storage units.

On November 10, with just the clothes on their backs, sick and exhausted they moved in to a motel to stay for a month. Most of their belongings were consigned to storage units.

In my next article I will talk about their amazing recovery and give information about these insects.

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