Saturday, July 25, 2009

Plague


During this week's hospital shift, I saw a truly terrifying medical issue, one that's made people I love miserable for months on end, a pestilence that's notoriously difficult to contain and eradicate.

I'm not talking about bubonic plague (which still exists, but can be knocked out by penicillin), leprosy (which is also treatable), HIV, HPV, H1N1, TB, SARS, MRSA, or the many varieties of Hepatitis. I'm not even talking about pink-eye.

No, dear reader, I'm talking about bedbugs.

As you may be aware, there was a serious bedbug epidemic in New York City and surrounding areas several years ago. Gary and I knew a number of people who were affected, all of whom spent many months and thousands of dollars trying to get rid of the pests. In most cases this meant disposing of beds, other furniture, carpeting, clothing, even books. In the meantime, there were itchy bites to deal with. The sufferers we knew -- who've survived all kinds of other emotional and physical crises, including cancer and 9/11 -- all talk about bedbugs with unparalleled heat and hatred.

Having bedbugs is extremely traumatic.

Listening to the long epics of Battles with Bedbugs, Gary and I were really grateful that we'd never heard of them in Reno. For a while, our trips back East were underlaid with anxiety about bringing unwanted guests home in our luggage, a disster we seem to have been spared. We've been living with the complacent, slightly self-congratulatory belief that bedbugs -- like mosquitos, cockroaches and deer ticks -- are primarily non-Nevadan (or at least non-Reno) critters. Aren't we smart to live here? Yes, we are!

And then I met a patient covered with bedbug bites. This person had moved to Nevada from a place that doesn't have bedbugs, and hadn't even heard of bedbugs before moving here.

Be very afraid.

When I came home and told Gary the story, he backed up several feet and said anxiously, "You didn't bring any home with you, did you?"

I don't believe so, no. I wasn't in direct contact with the patient or the patient's belongings. And if I did bring some home, it certainly wasn't deliberate.

But I really hope I didn't!

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