The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Saturday, May 30, 2009]

I Think This Is Good...


When we left Johns Hopkins yesterday, Laynie was not sure about her new map. She thought it was too quiet. But she thinks that after every new map, and then the next day it seems louder. It's like her brain takes time to realize that things have changed.

Sure enough, today things have changed. I can't remember if it was when we were doing listening therapy or if I was just talking while signing, but something I said made her wince... and not the content ;). She thought that maybe her high-pitched-sounds-bother-me problem was back. But speech sounds had never bothered her before; the culprits were things like plastic bags and running water. Of course, we decided to test what bothered her. We both have a healthy amount of scientific curiosity (OK, we're nerds). So, I said, "Sssssssssssssss," as loudly as I could, close to her. It wasn't too bad. Same with "shhhhhh." I said, "Eeeeeeee," and it was immediately apparent that the /i/ sound bothered her. I thought that /i/ had a second formant... oh, brother, I'm going to have to explain this.

Vowel sounds have two main frequencies, called formants. The relationship between the two formants is how we know which vowel we hear. There you go.

So I thought that /i/ had a high second formant, somewhere around 2000 Hz. Believe it or not, I remembered this because of a project I had to do for Speech Science class in 2006. Thank you, Dr. Dromey.

I wondered if Laynie might have gained ground in the mid frequencies, 1500-4000 Hz, and that those might be what was bothering her. I tested other vowels, and /i/ and /e/ ("ee" and "ay") were the worst for her, followed by /ae/, the short "a" sound, as in "hat." Because my nerdiness knows no bounds, I located a chart on the internet that contains vowel formant information. It was on Wikipedia, which means there's about a 50/50 chance that it's correct, but it did seem to agree with what I remembered from Speech Science and Physics of Acoustics classes.

Yes, aren't I the smart one. Mid frequency second formants. Another website said that nasals have formants around 2000-3000 Hz, so I checked, and /m/ and /n/ bothered Laynie, as well. Laynie suggested checking this using the piano. What a fine idea.

Ah, the internet, treasure trove of information. Naturally, it was easy to find a key-frequency correspondence chart for a piano. And, as an added bonus, I knew that my piano would be quiet accurate, having been tuned less than two weeks previously.

The piano proved to be an excellent resource, supporting my supposition that frequencies between 1500 Hz and 4000 Hz were bothering Laynie. Actually, down to 1300 Hz bothered her.

I know that these sounds are torturing Laynie, and that she now hates a strident or brassy voice more than ever, but I think this might be excellent news.

[Friday, May 29, 2009]

Another Mapping


It looks a bit different today.

Laynie had her three-month mapping today. She was disappointed to test at 35-45 dB for 125 Hz to 4000 Hz, because she was hoping for 25-30 dB across the board. She was still at 25 dB at 6000 Hz and 20 dB at 8000 Hz. High frequencies certainly are her strength these days.

Steve, Laynie's audiologist, redid her map from scratch, which was a great idea, in my opinion.. exactly what I was hoping he would do. I guess you need some context to understand what that means.

When Laynie's implant was activated, on February 13, she got her first map. A map is basically a computer program on the cochlear implant, and it controls how the implant processes sound and the way it stimulates her nerve fibers. The Med-El Sonata implant, which is what's in Laynie, has 12 electrodes. At the first mapping, Steve programmed each electrode by asking Laynie to tell him when the sound (beeping) was comfortably loud. At the second mapping, he took that same map and just made it louder. At the third mapping (and the third mapping was only a week after the first one), I think he increased the loudness and had her listen to electrode one and compare the loudness with electrode three, etc., trying to even them out a little. He didn't start over, just refined what she already had. At the fourth mapping, which was two weeks after the third, he kept the same map and made it louder. At the fifth mapping, Laynie told Steve how much high-pitched sounds were bothering her, and he decreased the stimulation on some of the electrodes and increased it a bit on other electrodes. I mean, more goes on at these appointments, like checking nerve responses, but as far as changes in the maps, that's it.

I don't think Laynie had enough "sound knowledge," if that makes sense, to give him decent feedback on what she was hearing. He did not test what she was hearing until the fourth mapping, and the only testing he has done it pure tone (sound field) audiometry. No speech recognition, CNC words, spondes, or sentences. Laynie would do poorly on those tests, which is probably why he has not done them. Although, I do think there is value in having low scores, because you can measure progress from them.

So at this latest mapping, Steve cleared the programs on Laynie's speech processor and had her listen to the beeps and tell him how loud they were on a scale of 1-10. 1 is barely hearing, 4 is medium soft, 6 is most comfortable (the target for conversational speech), 8 is barely tolerable, and 10 is painfully loud. So Laynie told him where to stop for each one, and then they compared electrodes to try to get the volume as consistently as possible across frequencies. Oh, and Steve was showing waaaaaaay more signing skills than he ever has. He can have a basic ASL (okay, PSE) conversation! He tries to front, but we're on to him. Laynie has been saying for a while that he seems to understand her sometimes, because he will be ready to answer before I have finished interpreting.

Anyway, that's a bit tangential. One odd thing happened at this mapping: when Steve stimulated electrode 10, it caused Laynie pain. That has not happened before. He turned off that electrode.  ?  Hopefully there's nothing seriously wrong.

The map that Laynie ended up with looked differently than the previous maps. It's kind of hard to explain.. would be much easier to draw! OK, the computer program shows the stimulation levels of the 12 electrodes as sort of a bar graph, with electrode number across the bottom and amperage (?) vertically. A higher bar equates to increased electrical stimulation. Laynie's bars used to look pretty much straight across, with a slight upward curve at the end. Now, they look the opposite! Electrode 1 is now the strongest, and electrode 12 is the weakest. But she felt like they were equally loud. I guess she does not need as much stimulation to pick up the higher frequency sounds of electrode 12. Now, it wasn't consistently decreasing with each electrode, but that was the general trend.

The reason I wanted Laynie to have a completely new map (rather than simply adjusting her previous map) was that she was having trouble discriminating speech sounds within a class, such as /m/ vs. /n/ or /l/ vs. /r/, with the exception of fricatives (s, z, sh, f, v, th). Fricatives are distinguishable based on high frequency information (i.e. over 4000 Hz), and she did well discriminating words like "sun" and "fun" or "thick" and "sick." Laynie was also struggling to discriminate low-mid frequency speech sounds of different classes, such as /m/ vs. /r/ or /b/ vs. /w/. Hopefully she'll have more luck with her new, more balanced (fingers crossed) map.

I guess that was pretty much it. He wished her luck on her second surgery. Normally she would be back to see him in three months for the next mapping (her six-month mapping), but her right implant will be activated before that. We will make the activation mapping appointments through the surgeon's office. Her right implant surgery date is July 13, barring any insurance snafus. So that implant should be activated in the middle of August.

[Monday, May 25, 2009]

Aren't People Funny


The people in the story I am about to tell did not look as friendly as the woman in this picture.

One afternoon, about a week after we moved to the new apartment, Laynie emailed me that someone was parked in front of our garage, so she couldn't pull in. There were a few people nearby, so she gestured and honked the horn, I guess, and they just went into the building. She ended up parking in the lot in front of the building, which has unassigned parking spots (obviously the space directly in front of our garage is assigned to us). She mentioned that it was a black car, and I thought I had seen the car before, parked in front of the garage next to ours. Laynie said that the garage next to ours had a disability services van in front of it. Suspicious, eh?

I was on my way home at the time, and when I called the apartment complex office, they gave me the phone number to have the car towed. Hmm. I decided to go home and see if I could find the car's owner before I called the towing company.

Sure enough, it was the car I had seen in front of the garage next door. A black car with Michigan plates. I thought that garage belonged to the people directly below us, so I knocked on their door. A woman bellowed, "WHO IS IT?" I waited.

The door opened to reveal several nurses: two by the door, one in the dining room, and one in the living room. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi, I'm Annie, I live upstairs.
Nurse by door: Hi
(Other three nurses stare at me.)
Me: Do any of you drive a black Nissan with Michigan plates XXX-XXX?
(All four look at each other without saying anything then stare at me.)
Me: It's blocking our garage.
Nurse by door: Well, I don't know whose it is. I mean, it's not mine. (Looks at the other nurses, who shrug.)
Me: OK, I just wanted to check before the towing service gets here. Sorry to both--
Nurse in dining room, cutting me off: What kind of car did you say?
Me: A black Nissan with Michigan plates XXX-XXX.
Nurse in dining room: Oh, that's mine.
Me: It's parked in front of our garage, and you need to move it right now. I'd hate to see it get towed.
(Dining room nurse gets her keys, and I follow her out of the building.)

Punks. I could not believe she was just going to lie and leave her car blocking our garage. Please, like I'm going to take that.

As an epilogue, they have not parked in front of our garage again, even when the disability services van is parked in front of theirs (though obviously it's not "theirs," because they just work in that apartment). They do, however, give me the staredown if they are in front of the building, smoking, when I get home.

[Thursday, May 21, 2009]

Katherine Mary Hasting, B.S.


My baby sister graduated summa cum laude from Towson University today, with a bachelor's in Deaf Studies. I am so proud of her! Katie's path to this point has been long, windy, and mostly uphill. She has finally been able to show what a truly bright person she is, and that she is capable of achieving great things. Way to go, Kate!

[Tuesday, May 19, 2009]

Star Trek


I really liked the new Star Trek movie!

The theater was nearly empty (hello, Tuesday night), which was nice. And it wasn't the kind of movie that yell-at-the-screen people attend... you know the type. There were a few chuckles at original Star Trek references, though. I don't remember much about the original series, but I guess my dad's hours of viewing somehow made an impression, because I "got" many of the jokes. For example, when Bones crooked his eyebrows and said, "Good god man!" for the first time, I cracked up. Same with his many DAMMITs. Of course, there was Chekov's accent. I love the /w/ for /v/ substitutions. Those two characters were pretty campy, actually. The Bones actor was a little too into it when he yelled, "Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" 

The Kirk and Spock characters were GREAT. And Uhura was actually interesting, which either wasn't the case before, or I never noticed. Probably the latter. I don't know if I would have picked up on it on my own, but because someone on the radio pointed it out, I noticed how Kirk sat like a girl in the captain's chair. Legs crossed, knees together. That was like the original Kirk. But I like this Kirk waaaaaaaaay better.

Anyway, it was a good movie, and I'll definitely watch the next one.

OH, I should say that I'm impressed at how well Laynie handled the movie. She used to be so sensitive, but she didn't complain about sudden noises or anything. Luckily it was loud but not painfully loud, like movies often are. Laynie even described the bad guy's voice appropriately... wow, she noticed voice quality. She's really doing great. And she enjoyed the movie. I'm going to Netflix Star Trek IV, because I remember it being funny and interesting. But it's been at least 15 years since I've seen that movie, so hopefully it holds up.

[Monday, May 18, 2009]

What We Hear


Hi, Laynie. I'll try to explain what we hear by likening hearing to seeing. Picture a day at a a large county fair. 

There are lots of visual details. Can you sort it all out? Imagine you just got your sight... it would be tough to figure out what everything is. It would be too overwhelming to start with figuring out a fair, with all the colors and lights and people... You would want to begin with something simpler.

Take this plate, for example. Its shape is a circle. Focusing on the shape is like the traditional timing-based strategy, which gives you the "envelope" of a sound. It would not be possible to identify a plate without its shape. But if all you saw were a circular outline, you would need practice to know that THIS circle is a plate, other circles are DVDs, balls, coins, etc.

Does it matter what color the plate is? If you are a doctor and you just want someone to be able to recognize objects, wouldn't you choose to have them see shapes rather than colors? So does the it matter what color the plate is? I suppose that the person who made the plate would argue that its color is important. 

The color is like the frequency. As a matter of fact, color is very much like frequency... red is low and purple is high. But that's another story. Do you think you could figure out what the plate was based on shape alone? Yes. But would you enjoy looking at it more if you could see the beautiful design on it? I suspect that you would.

Your FSP processing strategy gives you timing and frequency information, which is like visual shape and color information. But you can't hear the fine gradations of frequency, which is like not being able to see slight differences in color. Suppose we see millions of colors. Suppose that you see hundreds. 

Do you remember old 8-bit computer monitors, which could produce up to 256 colors? They were limited, but they were a lot better than black and white monitors. Having some color definitely makes the viewing experience more enjoyable. Here are two images from games with 8-bit color:

Certainly, you could play those games if they had black and white graphics. It doesn't matter that the bus is green. It doesn't matter that the little spaceman is blue. It doesn't matter, but it makes it more interesting. However, could you imagine looking at these and figuring out what everything is if you had NEVER seen anything before? Take the second game, for example. You would certainly need a lot of practice to process it, especially when the little eyes start moving around and you have to control the spaceman to avoid them or shoot them. You would have to figure out what the important images were (the eyes, the spaceman, the platforms) and what the unimportant images were (the background). If you were just learning to see, you would probably find it difficult to ignore the red thing in the background. It's just always there! And it's red! That's like background noise. It's always there, and it can seem like it really stands out, but it's not important.

Here are some games with 256-bit graphics, which means millions of colors. 

Although these do not equal real vision, they are pretty darn good. Now try to imagine THESE images but with only the colors from the last images (the bus and spaceman games). That's more like what you are trying to do. Comprehend normal images with limited colors. The first one would be pretty tough. The greens might all blend together. The horse might blend in with the bridge. And the mist might make it impossible to distinguish the far-off castle. If you saw the second image but all the yellows looked the same and the reds all looks the same, etc., you might have trouble making matches and winning the game. You'd probably say to yourself, "These look the same! How do people tell them apart? They must be sighted geniuses!" But would you give up colors and go for black and white? Or shapes only? I doubt it.

Now go back to the day at the fair. It would be overwhelming if you were just learning to see and you only had the shapes plus a limited amount of colors. 100 barely-different shades of red would all look like the same red. Things might blur together. It would be exhausting to try to make sense of it all. But if you had practiced looking at different colors and shapes, when you were able to say that the horse on the carousel was definitely blue, wouldn't you be excited?

It's hard to learn to use a sense you have never really had. I guess you could say that using a hearing aid was like seeing several shades of dark red and some VERY dark orange. True, you had some color knowledge from that, but the 8-bit graphics you see now are different and probably better, when you get used to them and learn to distinguish them. If you saw something blue, you would really clue into it, because you had never seen blue before... like how you really clue into /s/.

I hope this makes sense.

[Sunday, May 17, 2009]



Our sacrament meeting was sooooo good today! A nervous youth speaker, who was dutifully praised by all who came after her, was followed by a High Council speaker, Brother Steven Towne. He gave an excellent talk about temple and missionary work. Our stake's main focus this year is on missionary work, so every High Council speaker's talk is tied to that topic. Then Summer Hill, our former Gospel Doctrine teacher sang a song that I am familiar with but cannot think of what it is called. She did a great job, and even Laynie was touched. If you know the song, please tell me the title! I'll probably try to Google the lyrics. Something about seeing him face to face... "if the world could [?] devotion..." Lots of "if..." Darn.

After Sister Hill, the bishop asked Brother Edwin Mulitalo, who was a member of the ward for eight years while he played for the Ravens but now lives in Michigan and plays for the Lions, to share his testimony. He was in town for yesterday's Faith and Football event. He briefly shared his testimony, because it was 10:00 when he stood up, and that meeting is supposed to end at 10:05. He told the story of when he proposed to his wife, traditional Samoan style, with a pile of hams, turkeys, and lava lavas in the O'Brien family living room in Atlanta, GA, to impress the family as he detailed his bloodline and qualifications as a husband. His pride in his Samoan heritage and culture was likened to his pride in his heavenly heritage and culture. I wonder if he has a book or video out. I would love to hear more from him.

Finally, one of the counselors in the Baltimore mission presidency, President McGinn, spoke. His talk was also brief, and I honestly don't remember a great deal of it. It was on missionary work, and he tried to impress upon us the importance of member missionary work, because 60% of the mission's baptisms every year for the past five years have been from member missionary work. I can't remember anything else he said. I did interpret that talk as best I could, but the noisy children around us were quite distracting. That makes it harder for me to retain what I hear, I guess. Or maybe I was still thinking about Brother Mulitalo's talk. Anyway, our sacrament meeting was great.

What Is It Like?


This is what Laynie has in the left side of her head. And she wants one for the right.

What does Laynie hear? It's not what I hear. I have 30,000 input points in my cochlea, all feeding the auditory nerve with information. Laynie has 22. No wonder people need to learn to listen with a cochlear implant.

I read a blog by a man who became deaf as a young adult, who received a cochlear implant one year later. After getting used to the implant, he said that his dog's bark was different, and the phone no longer says, "briiiiing!" It now says, "brack!" Hmm. That's what started my thinking about this topic.

A girl who seems to have been deaf all her life but was a successful hearing aid user described the sound of rain through her cochlear implant. She said it sounded like on a Sonic the Hedgehog game, when Sonic picked up a bunch of gold rings. I imagine it might be like when you walk through a casino and hear the slot machines. I can see why that might not be enjoyable, and why Laynie might hate running water. She doesn't complain about rain, though.

There are cochlear implant simulations online, including this one, this one, this one, and this one. The last three demos don't say what they are, so I'll explain: they have the same audio clip repeated five times. First is a simulated 4-channel implant, then 8 channels, 16 channels, 32 channels, and finally the actual audio clip. So the last one on each clip sounds great because it's not through a cochlear implant.

 But what you heard in those clips is not what Laynie hears. If you are hearing, you already know how to process sound. Without the auditory memory of spoken English, the speech clips would be harder to understand... whew, aren't they hard enough as it is? And the music ones are just awful; I can't imagine that auditory memory could help those. I can see why so many implantees are disinterested in or hate music.

However, Laynie's implant is not like most. All implants from the Cochlear and Advanced Bionics brands, as well as older Med-El implants, were inserted about 2/3 of the way into the cochlea. Laynie has a newer model Med-El implant, which is inserted nearly all the way through the cochlea. This translates into improved pitch perception and more realistic lower tones.

Implants have traditionally used timing-based processing strategies for sound. Cochlear still uses this (Cochlear is very focused on speech comprehension, not so much on enjoying what is heard). I think Advanced Bionics uses timing-based strategies, as well. Med-El offers a choice between two very different processing strategies: one timing based (HDCIS) and one frequency based (FSP). Although it is technically not indicated for prelingually deaf people (i.e. those who became deaf before learning spoken language, like Laynie), Laynie's processor is running FSP, the frequency-based program. It does contain timing information, as well, but it also contains frequency information. Timing is important for speech comprehension, but frequency is important for music, tonal languages, and more general enjoyment of sound. I'm glad Laynie's audiologist put the FSP program on her processor at activation. It should allow her to enjoy music and movies at least as much as she did with her hearing aid... hopefully more.

BUT the fact that Laynie uses a nontraditional sound processing strategy means that the cochlear implant example clips I linked above may be totally different than what she actually hears. And what you hear is secondary to what your brain processes, anyway. So I'm back to my original question: What does Laynie hear?

[Saturday, May 16, 2009]

Listening Therapy


Laynie's implant has been activated for about three months now. We do a variety of activities for 
listening practice, and I think we both enjoy reading books and playing guessing games with the
pictures. By the way, I love Piggies.

This was the first time we tried playing Guess Who. I gave her the category of what I was 
asking (animals, colors), because she's not ready for completely open-set words just yet.

Laynie did a nice job listening for a word in the carrier phrase "Do you have..."

The Ling sounds (s, sh, m, ee, oo, ah) are used to check hearing aids and cochlear implants. These six sounds cover all of the speech frequencies. It isn't terribly functional to practice them, but Laynie wants to impress her audiologist.

Things That Are Cool


1. Saying something and having Laynie turn to look at me (if it's relatively quiet at home).

2. The look of wonder on Laynie's face when she realizes that heard something quiet or far away. Yesterday, our back door was open, and she heard a basketball bouncing in a parking lot a good 100 yards away. She regularly hears birds outside while the doors and windows are closed.

3. When Laynie can figure out a word by listening. Yesterday, I had a Netflix envelope in my hands and I spoke without signing, "Let's see what we got." Laynie got most of it by lipreading. But she was confused about one word... "hot?"

-No, got.
-D? Dot?
-Almost. G-, got.
-Almost. Got.
-Got! What we got!

4. That annoying sounds annoy her! I was tapping the remote control on the piano bench (our sometimes coffee table), and she told me to stop. I told her she's becoming too hearing.

5. When she responds to environmental sounds like a hearing person. This situation has happened several times: I'll be chatting with Laynie, and she'll be saying something, and the kitchen timer will go off. Immediately, she'll say, "Go ahead and get that." Or if she was the one cooking, she'll hear the timer and say, "Hold on..."

[Thursday, May 14, 2009]

Vermin Update


I haven't gotten any bed bug bites in a week. Laynie has gotten about 8-10. We've only found 3 or 4 live bugs.

I hope they will be completely exterminated! Never to return! We're getting kind of complacent about it, though. I should probably call the office and get more poison in here. There's just so much to take care of at any given time.

Enough Already


Laynie has a few students in her ASL 3 class at McDaniel who are out to get her. They are spoiled, entitled brats who think they should get everything they want in life, regardless of their performance. They have complained to the department chair so much that he is now down on her, saying that she has made a "mess" of this class. They have complained about things like teaching too many signs for foreign countries and requiring attendance at three deaf events (a department requirement). These students have not brought any problems to Laynie, or to her boss, who is also deaf. They went straight to the [hearing] department head. After subbing in this class before, I would guess that's because their signing STINKS. I had to repeat myself many times and ended up mainly relying on gestures and facial expressions to communicate with them.

This is bull.

That's what's on my mind today.

[Saturday, May 9, 2009]



One day this past week, I was working with a preschooler outside on the playground (this happens a lot now, yay for good weather!). When I was ready to go, I said good-bye to him and left the play yard. He pressed his face between the slats of the wooden fence and said, "Kiss!" So I bent down and tried to kiss him on the cheek, but he would have none of it and kept trying for my lips. So not appropriate (for me, not him) but sweet! I ended up kissing his chin. He asked, "Where you goin'?" I said, "Dayton," which is my home school. "Date? OK, byyyyyyye!" You'd never know that this same child has just destroyed the sand creations of several classmates and smacked someone with a flag. They do have their winsome moments, though, which I try to remember when they're pummeling peers!



These chips are delicious, especially the Sweet Chili flavor. Laynie likes the Parmesan ones the best.

[Thursday, May 7, 2009]

NOT Comcastic


I hate Comcast. Maybe every cable company plays games with the bill, maybe Comcast is worse. It bothered me. However, I had agreed to a two-year contract last May, when we moved to Maryland, so I was stuck with them. They told me that I would have cable, internet, and landline phone for a certain price, which of course ended up being a lot more when you add in taxes and fees. I had many battles with them: won some, lost some. Every month, I got agita before I opened the bill, knowing that there was a good chance I'd be speaking to an idiot shortly.

A few months ago, Laynie and I talked about getting rid of phone and cable. I never use the landline phone, and we only watch four shows on TV, which are all online, even with captions, so there's no reason to have cable. We can't get rid of the internet, because Laynie's videophone requires high speed internet. Besides, how could you live without the internet? Our work and school stuff is all online, and it's usually the best way to buy stuff. But I decided not to downgrade the services, because then I'd have to pay a fee.

We moved last month, and I had Comcast come out and move services to the new place (for a fee, naturally). Then I got the bill. The monthly fee is $20 higher than it was! Funny, there was no mention of a fee change when I called to have the services moved (rolling my eyes). Of course, I called them right up. I let them know that there was a mistake on the bill, and they let me know that there was no mistake. Hm. Think fast.

"If you're breaking the contract, that's excellent, because I wanted to downgrade anyway."

"We're not breaking the contract. Your contract said that if you move, you start a new contract."

"Then why did the guy who signed me up specify that the price would be constant for two years? It was his main selling point, that the price wouldn't go up as long as I lived in a place that Comcast serviced."

"I don't know what he said. The contract you signed says that if you move, you start a new contract at whatever the current price is."

"I will pay [old amount] for the bundle. That's what I agreed to, and that's what your representative told me it would be. I will not pay more."

"Well [new amount] is what it is. I mean, I don't know what they told you. I guess I could try to get a supervisor to look up your conversation and see who signed you up, and then they could talk to his supervisor, who could talk to him and see what he said..."

"No, thank you. Now that I don't have a two-year contract, I'd like to downgrade. How much is it for internet only?"

"[Amount that is still unreasonable but is less than half the current price of the bundle]."

"OK, let's do it."

"Um, OK..."

Typing. Explanation of when the technician can come out. Assurances that I do NOT now have a contract, so I can cancel at any time without a fee.

"Um, you know, there is a possibility that someone could call you and find out what happened, why you're downgrading. Maybe that person could get your bundle back to [old price]."

"I'm happy to have internet only, but I would love to talk to someone about my experiences with Comcast. They can call me."

So you see, they are smart, but they are not so smart.

[Tuesday, May 5, 2009]

I Wanna Be in Goshen


This is what started it all...

Actually, a "rash" started it all.

Two weeks ago, Laynie got this red, puffy rash that looked pretty nasty but wasn't terribly itchy. It was on her arms, legs, neck, and back. After a few days, she decided to go to the doctor to have it checked out. Her family doctor referred her to a dermatologist, who took one look and said, "Anyone could tell those are bug bites. Probably fleas." He gave her a prescription for a cream but warned that we would have to figure out what was biting her and get rid of it. Easier said than done! I knew it wasn't fleas, because my family's dog got fleas once and I remembered that you could see them jumping around on the rug. Plus, I didn't have any bites... oh, wait, upon further inspection, I had two. One on my leg, and a very itchy one on my elbow. They looked totally different from Laynie's (small bumps), but the dermatologist thought they were likely from the same culprit.

That dermatologist visit was on Friday, April 24. That night, we started tearing apart the apartment, looking for bugs. We did not have much luck until Laynie pulled up a couch cushion and we found a red bug with blood smears around it (she probably smashed it when she pulled up the couch cushion). After some Googling, we identified it as a cimex lectularius. Bed bugs. Bad. Very, very bad.

I am becoming a veritable expert on the subject of bed bugs. And they suck. Literally.

We ended up finding 5 or 6 bed bugs that night, in the living room and the green bedroom. We did not find any in our bedroom, although obviously the bites were evidence that they had been there. I think neither of us slept much that night.

Saturday morning, we were waiting at the apartment office, with our little baggie of bugs, when they opened. The girl working that day, Jenn, took it pretty seriously and called the emergency line for the exterminators. Laynie and I went home and started cleaning and looking for more bugs. We didn't last long before we packed a few things and checked into a nearby hotel. Bed bugs do something to you psychologically.

We had developed dozens of bite marks by this time. Mine were INSANELY itchy, and some of Laynie's were getting itchy, as well. Funny that our reactions were so different. Hers show up right away and are big and red. Mine seem to show up a few days after the bite, only a few have gotten big, and almost all of them have been tear-your-skin-off itchy. However, bed bug bites are known to cause scars, so I have been careful about not scratching them.

So we stayed in the hotel all weekend (not this past weekend but the one before). When I called the apartment manager on Sunday, she tried to give me crap about paying for the hotel. "We'll have to find our where exactly the bugs are and where they came from before we make any decisions." The bed bugs I found didn't have their passports on them. But it did get me thinking... Where DID the bed bugs come from? I was thinking that they came from the Indian people who lived here before us. India is lousy with bed bugs (many of their babies are anemic because of it), and these people went back and forth from India. But who would live with bed bugs without telling the apartment complex? It's miserable. Unless they did tell the apartment complex, and that's why the carpets in this apartment were replaced. But Jenn looked surprised to hear that we had found bed bugs, and she didn't recognize them... she took our word for it. The office staff was tentative until pest control confirmed that they were bed bugs. Laynie might have seen one in the apartment before we moved in, but she isn't totally sure. I remember seeing a couple of bugs in the apartment before we moved in, but they were different... they had wings. 

Another explanation could be the moving van. They had blankets in there, which they wrapped around our stuff. That might explain why we didn't have any bites for the first week and a half we lived here. I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if that truck were infested... read my post on the move and you'll see what I mean.

Pest control did not call back the apartment managers until Monday, and they came out and treated the place that day. They used a powder and a liquid apparently (we were at work), and they put "glue boards" under the wheels of the beds. Glue boards are pieces of cardboard and have toxic, gluey stuff on the top side. They are placed under bed legs and allegedly stop the little buggers in their tracks. When we returned Tuesday morning (we missed check out time on Monday and were glad to have one more night feeling safe), there were bed bugs on the blue boards of both of our beds. There was also one crawling on my bed. Sigh.

We were both busy with work last week; plus it was Laynie's last week of school, and she had papers and projects due. So we didn't get a lot of cleaning done, although we did try to keep laundry going. Every piece of fabric in the apartment had to be washed, and I decided to wash clothing after each wearing. Usually I use pajamas a few times before washing them, but I didn't want to take any chances.

We continued to find live and dead bed bugs all week. On Saturday and Sunday, I was finally able to focus on really cleaning this place. Laynie had a lot of grading to catch up on, so she did that. Keep in mind that we just most a few weeks ago, so we still had plenty of unpacking to do. I worked a lot in the green bedroom, which had the most to do. My goal was to get that room completely unpacked and move the boxes from the blue bedroom (ours), which were mostly books. We were planning to get shelves for them to put in our bedroom, but I wanted that room as bare as possible. Pest control had told me that bed bugs can live in paper products. My other goal for the weekend was to get through the large bags of clothing, bedding, blankets, towels, etc., which were in the living room and dining room. On Saturday, I got the green bedroom mostly finished. Also, we went out and bought some battle gear: carpet tape to put on the bed legs, "Space Bags" to store cleaned fabric items in, etc. 

On Sunday, I finished the green bedroom, got the book boxes from the blue bedroom into the green bedroom, and finally got into the laundry. We did not go to church, because we did not have any "safe" clothes. Our only safe clothes were a couple of t-shirts, jeans, and pajamas. We finally found the church clothes yesterday, so we should be able to go this week. I know that they think we're apostates, because we didn't go for two Sundays, and we had missed a few before Conference for other reasons... oh, well.

Pest control had told me they would come back in a week, so I called the office yesterday to see when they would be coming. Naturally, they had not spoken with pest control, but they got in touch with them and set an appointment for today. For some reason, it has now been put off until tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to getting new glue boards under the bed legs and more poison powder put down. Any little devils that have hatched in the past week need to be killed. And my goodness, they are tiny little devils!

I had packed my stereo (CD player with separate speakers) in an insulated Giant bag to move it. The bag has a fabricky exterior and a shiny silver sort-of-like-foil interior. I took the stereo out on Saturday and set it up on a bookshelf in the green bedroom. I noticed some junk in the bottom of the bag... dead bugs? They turned out to be dead adult bed bugs, which are about the size and shape of apple seeds. What I thought were little poopies or shed exoskeletons turned out to be bed bug nymphs (babies). They were so small! And translucent. I found 4 live bugs in that bag, all nymphs, and 24 dead bugs. I had been feeling pretty decent (slept more than 45 minutes in a stretch on Friday night for the first time since this all began), but that just destroyed me. How would we ever find bugs so tiny and translucent? We might not even notice them if they were on us. I decided to check the stereo itself and found two under it. I put it back in the bag, sealed it, and threw it away.

Who knows how many other hiding spots (clutches?) the bed bugs have established here. They can live in cracks in walls, under baseboards and carpets, in electrical outlets, and in light fixtures. When I cleaned the apartment over the weekend, I found none in the blue bedroom or the living room. However, I found one crawling on my bed last night, and we still get a couple every night on the glue boards. Since returning from the hotel a week ago, we have found 36 live and 31 dead bed bugs. 

We have had less new bites in the past few days than before, but we are both totally paranoid. We are jumpy, always thinking we see or feel a bug on us, and we have nightmares about it. Actually, we pushed our beds together Sunday night... I guess it somehow feels like we're "united" against the marauders. Honestly, the psychological impact is the worst. These creatures suck your blood while you are at your most vulnerable: while you're sleeping. You can't feel them crawl on you, and their saliva has a numbing effect, so you don't feel the bites while they are happening. Clean houses are as likely to get them as dirty houses, because they don't eat junk that is lying around. They eat people.

I don't need horror stories. I know that they are extremely difficult to get rid of, etc., etc., etc. Please do include us in your prayers, however. Bed bugs have to obey God, right? We are learning a lot from this experience and are seeing the hidden blessings. We now have an extremely clean apartment and got unpacked much faster than we otherwise would have. I will forever be grateful for the simple blessing of having as much blood when I wake up as I had when I fell asleep. I'll certainly never complain about ants again! It's probably time for this trial to be over.

Laundry calls. 

The first group of offenders. 
Good thing we saved them in these baggies, because 
pest control found nothing when they checked our apartment. 
This evidence got our apartment treated.