"Bug Bedlam," this week's cover story about Denver's bedbug infestation, has inspired readers to post stories of their own battles with the tiny bloodsuckers. One story, from the former manager of a Capitol Hill apartment complex, was accompanied by some of the most disgusting, creepy-crawly photos we've ever seen.
Five years ago, Andy Martin got a job managing an 84-unit apartment complex in Capitol Hill. The complex had a bedbug problem that predated his tenure, but as the new manager, he was determined to get rid of the pests once and for all. So he invented an excuse to go into all 84 units in an attempt to figure out where the problem was coming from.
And boy, did he find it. "When we walked in, it was instantly obvious that that apartment needed to nuked," he says. The apartment belonged to an elderly man with dementia, who also happened to be a hoarder. Nearly every inch of his apartment was covered with papers, furniture and trash. And, Martin estimates, as many as 10,000 bedbugs.
Unsure of how to proceed, Martin began by calling any city agency he thought might be able to help, including social services. But no one was willing to come take a look. Exasperated, he called the Denver Police Department, who agreed to do a welfare check.
"When he opened door (for the police), he had bugs crawling in his hair and stuff," Martin recalls. The policeman asked the old man about his health, and when he admitted that he took medications for dementia and schizophrenia but hadn't been to a doctor in years, the cop suggested the old man come with him to the hospital. On the way out, the cop turned to Martin. "He said, 'You guys can gut this place,'" Martin says.
They did, carefully saving the old man's personal effects -- which included about $40,000 worth of cash; for years, the man had been saving $10 or $20 from his Social Security checks in little envelopes stashed around his apartment. Martin says they turned the money over to the man's family. Then they got down to eradicating the bugs.
The entire apartment was gutted and sprayed daily. At first, Martin says, even the exterminators were grossed out. "They said, This is horrible. We don't even want to go in.'" The man's bed was so covered in bugs, it almost looked alive. "The bedbugs were like bees in a honeycomb, just crawling all over each other," Martin says.
It took nine months to completely rid the complex of bedbugs, Martin says. They had spread through the walls from the old man's apartment to several others in the building. The problem was made worse by the fact that many of the young college students who lived there had a habit of salvaging furniture from the complex's common dumpster. "Someone would throw out a bad mattress and someone else would haul it back in," Martin says, despite warnings not to do so. "Some people just don't get it."
Though Martin says he managed not to bring the bedbugs home with him, he didn't escape unscathed. "My legs were chewed to pieces," he says. And the memories of that epic battle continue to haunt him. "I still have nightmares about it," he admits.
Flip the page to see more photos of the old man's apartment. Warning: Not suitable for lunch.
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