You can tell yourself they are actually less harmful than mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can kill you, while bedbugs can only make you pray for death. An exaggeration? No. Try switching on the light and finding a bedbug plump with your blood crawling across your high-thread- count sheets and then try to sleep after you've crushed it. Enough nights like that and the most sane people in the world will start thinking about the peaceful solution of an overdose.
Luckily I've only had one of those nights so far. In response to it, I've thrown away my wooden bedframe which the sniffer dog claimed was the insects' happy hunting grounds and I've taped the zipper end of my futon shut. I've washed my bedding and dried it on the hottest setting and my apartment reeks of borax powder and lemon oil and lavender. I still feel disgusted. The second treatment with whatever toxins are allowed in this country takes place this week, with one more to polish off the vermin. We hope.
A friend in Myanmar told me about a powerful poison she uses for bedbugs--it's legal in this country but only if you pay an exterminator. It's not for household use in the U.S. Fortunately my landlord is paying for my bedbug eradication. He says they've had a 100% success rate. Hope comes into play once more.
In the years I lived in Thailand, I saw traces of bedbugs in one hotel. One. I never lived in an apartment or house that had them--cockroaches yes, bedbugs no. In the last year or so, a number of tourists died in a Chiang Mai hotel of mysterious causes. Their deaths were rumored to be caused by breathing toxins that are now banned in many countries but are still used to kill bedbugs in Thailand. But that was in only one hotel in a country that has thousands. Who knows what really killed them? I'm beginning to think one or two tourists may be a small price to pay for a nation-wide good night's sleep with no visible scars in the morning.
In the U.S. bedbugs are found on city buses, in theaters, in the bindings of library books, even in clothing purchased from department stores. In Thailand I rode the cheapest city buses at times, took long distance sleeper buses and trains, bought second-hand books that had been left behind in guesthouses by backpackers, often bought clothing and shoes in street markets, frequented movie theaters and in the decade and a half that I lived or traveled in that country, had only one fleeting encounter with bedbugs. It took a trip to high-tech Malaysia to get me up close and personal with them, and my return to a country that regards itself as the world's greatest to have them become a fact of my life.
So far I'm lucky. I have few possessions and the ones I have are vermin-free except for my bed. I hope. It would be nice to have friends come over again or to lend someone a book without fearing that it may harbor bedbugs in its binding. It would be nice to have the same comfort in America as I had in the Third World.