My husband and I went to Charleston last week and came home with bed bugs—maybe. A lovely city, we have been there many times joining friends at the same hotel. This time, after a hiatus of a couple of years, the hotel was looking a bit rough around the edges. Our first room was quite dirty and we had 30 minutes of dumpster noise at 3:00 a.m. We asked for another room.
The next morning my husband came out of the shower complaining of a terrible itch.
“Stop taking daily showers,” I told him. Our usual battle over dry skin and aging.
The next two mornings, after his shower, he had the same rash and extreme itch. During the day both would subside. While driving home, he showed me the “hives.” What was he allergic to?
I had been too preoccupied with my friend’s behavior to be concerned about my husband’s “allergy.” Her short-term memory loss had side tracked my delight in sharing our mini-vacation with our two longtime friends. Sue, I will call her, and I met while working at the same hospital before either of us married. Over the years we shared family vacations, grew older and retired but continued seeing each other at least once a year. Infrequent phone conversations didn’t reveal her problem. However, at dinner that first night, after Sue asked me for the third time if I had heard from a mutual friend, and then forgot where we were going to dinner the following evening after she accompanied me to that restaurant to make the reservation, I became worried.
Conflicted as how to proceed, addressing or not addressing, Sue’s memory issues, my husband and I spent the late evening hours weighing appropriate responses. I had to call attention to my concerns. How could I ignore symptoms that maybe could be reversible? Sue’s husband seemed untroubled. The last day, Sue didn’t join us to visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens due to the unseasonably cold weather. While walking with her husband past the flowering azaleas, I learned how worried he was about his wife. The short-term memory loss started just six months ago. Any concern expressed by him was met with denial and anger from Sue. Would I speak with her? He was grateful.
That last night after dinner, I took Sue’s arm in mine and we navigated the narrow cobblestone sidewalk toward the hotel. “I’m concerned,” I said, pulling her close and looking into her eyes. How often had I had to discuss uncomfortable topics with my patients over the years; how to talk of hopeless scenarios while still giving hope? But this was not a patient-nurse interaction. Would Sue lash out at me for saying she had memory issues, deny any problems or sever our friendship? My words bypassed any resistance. Sue agreed to see her primary provider when she arrived home. If her primary dismissed her concerns, Sue would seek help from a geriatrician who knew to look for changes not necessarily related to aging.
With hugs and tears, we said our good-byes at the end of the evening after I repeated my suggestions to both Sue and her husband. They had to leave earlier than we did the following morning.
After congratulating myself on my successful intervention, I slept soundly.
My daughter came to visit the day we came home. After she listened to her father’s story of his “allergies” and “rash,” she said, “Sounds like bed bugs.”
Yippes. We immediately went into action: suitcases packed in plastic bags and put it the garage, clothes washed in hot water, emailing a friend who I knew had a recent exposure to bed bugs.
I found out that a dirty environment does not always have to be part of the bed bug scenario. They are bugs of opportunity and settle in upholstery like beds and sofas and rugs and chairs.
And the “rash” that still pops up on my husband’s arms and legs can be residual of the first exposure. It can take up to a week for the sites to subside. In the meantime, I have been spared. I am on the lookout for telltale signs of infestation: blood droplets and brown spots on the bed sheets.
I texted Sue to alert her of the bedbugs. When she didn’t respond, I called her. Her voice flat, and her words curt, she cut me off before I was finished with my story.
I sat for a long time with the silent phone in my hand.