Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bedbug aid

A big exciting thing happened to me yesterday: I received a job offer from the University of Maryland. Ever since my second interview on Monday (read The Unfashionista for a shoe-centric account of the events leading up to it), I've been living in a state of anxiety, waiting to find out if I was the one out of three to make the cut.

Today, the call came in. When I heard the voice of the department head whom I had met at my second interview asking "How are you?", my lungs stopped working. Fortunately, they recovered in time to say I was fine and how was he? Pleasantries thus exchanged, he went on to tell me the committee had selected me for the job, to disclose the exact proposed salary, confirm that my freelance work would not prevent me from performing my duties, and ask me if I accepted.

I don't know if it's appropriate to accept a job offer with the same level of ditziness that Miss America accepts her crown, but I did. Pending the obligatory paperwork, I will start on January 2.

I could tell you the many reasons that I'm delighted to have the opportunity to work for the University of Maryland. I could tell you the equally many reasons that I'm kind of regretful. But I think I will save those topics for later and tell you instead about the road that brought me here.

If you have been reading this blog faithfully, you will know that from August 26 to October 1, I spent most of my time in a flurry of job applications. Following that, I began the battle of a lifetime with what may or may not be bedbugs (I finally scheduled an appointment for December 6 with the bug-sniffing dog, to find out for sure). Midway through that ordeal, I received a call about a job application I had all but forgotten, for Web development and training at UMD.

They wanted me to come in for an interview. I did. On the day of the interview, I arrived 15 minutes early to find the parking garage I'd been instructed to use was fully occupied. I drove around in an increasing rage before finally leaving a nearly tearful voice mail with the contact person to inform him that I was still looking for parking. Following this, I had to keep stopping off at bathrooms because my wardrobe was malfunctioning. Eventually I arrived 20 minutes late. I thought that was a terrible start, but the interviewers seemed to understand, and I think my presentation redeemed me a little.

As part of the job was to involve training others to use the web-based content management system, to assess my training skills, they had asked me to prepare a 5-10 minute presentation on a subject of my choice. The first topic that came to mind? Bedbugs.

I ran with it. In a moment of genius, I invented a catchy acronym—Bedbug AID: Avoid, Identify, Destroy—and made that the theme of my presentation. Of course, in giving the presentation, I forgot most of the points I wanted to bring up and all the clever transitions I had prepared, but I did elicit a number of horrified expressions and like to believe I imparted some valuable knowledge to my interviewers.

Bedbug bookmark, back and front
In my typical compulsively overachieving fashion, I decided before the interview that I needed to give my interviewers something to take home with them. So I made them bookmarks with the Bedbug AID slogan and some helpful pointers. They seemed to be quite impressed. "You designed these? Hmm. We never thought about a design element to this job, but it would be helpful to have someone with some design skills around. Our entire design team was laid off last year." When I heard that, my heart rejoiced a little—with an appropriate degree of reservation. And I was glad I had spent the nearly 3 dollars for a double-sided color print at Fedex Office (It was only 40 cents a side back when I was a design student!).

Following the interview, I had to immediately come back because I could not find one of my gloves. One of the interviewers kept trying to herd me toward the front door, but I wanted to go the other way because that was how I had come and maybe that way I would find my missing glove. In spite of my discombobulation, my late arrival, and my traumatic presentation topic, they still invited me to come back the next week. And that second interview was basically a formality.

I never thought there could be a good side to a bedbug infestation, but, had I not spent the last month researching the creatures fanatically, I don't think I would have gotten the job. As Miss America would put it, "And I'm grateful to...bedbugs...for getting me here. Thanks, bedbugs!"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Curses, foiled again!

Today, suddenly consumed with a burning need to have more information on bedbug extermination, I called two of the PCO's that I had called previously. Really, information was all I wanted, but before I knew it, I had an appointment for another inspection at 2 this afternoon.

The inspector arrived and was awed by our prep work (all the furniture was still pulled away from the walls, and most of our possessions were in garbage bags) but was not awed by my bedbug specimens. "Those aren't bedbugs; those are baby roaches," he told me.

What? Baby roaches? Now, I knew we had cockroaches since my female housemate had so graciously brought them from her old apartment when she moved in. But she and her boyfriend had applied some lethal substance all over the basement a few months ago, and it seemed like the roaches had finally gone for good (except for the giant deformed one I had found on the living room wall shortly after our fogger treatment). So it had not even occurred to me to consider that my 3 stooges were not the bloodsucking monsters I believed them to be.

But immediately, I Googled "cockroach nymphs," and found the following picture:
This awesome photo is courtesy of Flickr user cdresz
Compare those little creepy-crawlies (no, not the blobby grub-looking thing. That's an ootheca, which could be my new favorite word, even though I have no clue what it means) to the creepy-crawlies that I extracted from my freezer:
This spectacular photo is courtesy of me.
And you will understand why I chose the title for this post. Why does my evidence keep turning into an utter lack of evidence? And why were there baby roaches in my bedroom!? OK, it's possible that they weren't in my bedroom. The freezer was downstairs, in the hub of the cockroach infestation, so it's possible the roaches got into the freezer by some means other than via my box of art paper. After all, the fruit flies did it.

But the more pressing question is once again, what's eating me? Two seasoned pest inspectors have failed to find any evidence of bedbugs. Is it possible we really don't have bedbugs at all? I would like that outcome, especially since the estimates keep going up and up. The inspector that visited quoted $1200 to treat the whole house, and the one I called estimated something like $3000!

My new plan of action is thus: Maintain the status quo—that means, keep my light dusting of diatomaceous earth around the bed and carpet edges and hope that it does its desiccation thing and kill off what must be a fairly small population of bedbugs. If, after 2 weeks, any of my housemates is still getting bites, I will spring for the canine inspection. And then let those results determine what to do next.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's ailing my doctor?

I spoke too soon. Immediately after I submitted the last post, I got an email from my doctor saying one of my tests had come back positive, and she was going to consult a gastroenterologist about it. I re-read my results and whoa, what do you know? She was right. Thank heavens I have selective vision, or I would have freaked out all over again.

However, I had a lot more confidence in my health since the other 4 tests were negative, so with very little trepidation, I looked up more information on the antibody tests. I learned that the one test that had come back positive (gliadin IgG) comes back positive for a lot of people (1 in 10), including many who don't have celiac disease. A few days later, I got another email for my doctor saying essentially the same thing: It's a "nonspecific" test and "doesn't say much."

So, rather unsurprisingly, it seems that this positive result is just my body again revealing its knack for going into immune overdrive (boy, how I wish it would reserve this zeal for real viruses). However, one question remains: would I feel better if I were not overloading my intestines with wheat products on a regular basis? It may be worth trying a nearly gluten-free diet for a little while. I think I can handle that, and if it would cut down on the incessant abdominal pain, it might even be worth it.

But that was all a digression from the real purpose of this post--a little humor to brighten this cavalcade of lost job opportunities, parasites, and fear. Whilst responding to my doctor's message within the Kaiser Permanente web-based email interface, I happened to notice the title of the page—a typo, no doubt, but a very apt one: "ail your doctor." Indeed, I'm quite certain that me and my constant paranoia are doing just that!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Tale of Hypochondria

Early in October, I went on a much-needed vacation that got a passing mention in this blog. What I didn't mention was that while I was there, I started experiencing this incessant abdominal pain. Well, without going into too great a detail about my bathroom habits, I will say that I was diagnosed with IBS almost 10 years ago, and abdominal pain is nothing new to me. However, incessant abdominal pain is a horse of a different color!
Usually, when something goes wrong with my health, I assume the worst. Last spring, I started feeling a persistent tingling in my feet and was convinced that I had diabetes. I visited the doctor and requested a diabetes test, which came out negative. The doctor also tested me for vitamin B deficiencies (also negative) and concluded that my problem probably stemmed from standing in place too long at work. Once I had duly embarrassed myself with this false alarm, the tingling disappeared within a few days, mission accomplished.

When my tummy started hurting nonstop, I naturally self-diagnosed a bowel obstruction. However, as those bowel habits that I'm trying hard not to go into much detail about hadn't changed much, an obstruction seemed unlikely. As I researched the issue further, a few words kept popping out at me: celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a tricky little disorder; while many patients suffer bloating, diarrhea, constant pain, and all sorts of nutritional deficiencies (sometimes characterized by tingling in the feet!), others have no symptoms. If you have any one of the symptoms, you might have the disease. And I had TWO.

Well, I worked myself into another frenzy of anxiety. The thought of having to start a gluten free diet depressed the heck out of me. I visited celiac disease websites compulsively for a few days, and called the doctor for another appointment, which I could not get until the middle of the next week.

In the meantime, I started feeling these twinges that would appear and disappear spontaneously under my solar plexus and under the left and right sides of my ribs. As I noticed them and paid them more attention, they migrated up into my chest, and then up into my throat. It felt like the time I got a pill stuck in my esophagus. I worried a little half-heartedly about heart disease, but really it sounded suspiciously like acid reflux (except I thought heartburn was supposed to burn, not feel like a cramp!), Guess what! Tons of the people on the celiac disease forums also suffer from acid reflux! Coincidence? I thought not.

Well, my doctor (who persistently refuses to diagnose these dread diseases I keep coming down with) diagnosed acid reflux and prescribed me an antacid. However, at my request, she also ordered 3 celiac blood tests.

They came back negative. I started feeling better almost immediately.

And then, a few days ago, I remembered a certain party that I chickened out of attending this summer. I had driven myself almost all the way there, getting more and more nervous as I got closer. By the time I reached the street where the party was held, I had reached a pinnacle of anxiety. When I cruised past the door to the house where the party was held and didn't see any sign of a party, I knew I couldn't go through with it. So I kept on cruising back towards home, feeling that very same constricted feeling under my sternum. I remember explaining to my boyfriend later why I couldn't possibly attend: "I was so nervous, I got heartburn! And I never get heartburn!"

So now I see the reason for all this recent gastric upset. Stress! First I was all in a tizzy looking for jobs, and then that tizzy swung right around into full-blown bedbug paranoia, and then when I started feeling the physical symptoms, I made them even worse by worrying about them!

Unfortunately, the stress is not over. Today, while looking for a tank top in my bags of clothes in the basement, I saw a brown spot on one of the white bags. I looked closer. It was a bedbug! A deadbug bedbug, but how had it gotten there!? Best case, it blew out of the freezer when I was trying to retrieve it (I vaguely remember losing one of my specimens due to some injudicious breathing). Worst case, it had made its home in the basement, or in my bags of clean clothes!

Tomorrow we do our second treatment with the pesticides. I will remove the thick protective layer of diatomaceous earth around my bed and replace it with a thin, killing layer. I hate to do this, because I've been bite-free for almost two weeks and I want to stay that way, but if you want to lure bedbugs to their deaths, you have to use yourself as bait. I will wait two weeks, maybe three, and if we are still getting bitten, I will call in an exterminator. My worst fear is that even that last-ditch effort will not succeed.