By Julie Owsik Ackerman
Donald Trump becomes president next month, I've done no Christmas shopping, the Eagles lost again, but all I can think about this week are fleas. Yes, fleas.
Two months ago, my dog started scratching a lot. Odd. Then one night she was itching so much she woke us up in the middle of the night. My husband took her outside to go to the bathroom. The next night she woke up again. I took her out to pee, but she couldn't calm down.
In my delirium I bathed her, at 3 a.m. She still couldn't settle. I fled to the spare room. In my half-asleep, half-awake insanity, the only solution I could see was putting the dog to sleep, which was devastating. (And ridiculous.) I really don't do well without sleep. I avoided the dog's eyes all morning, as if she knew.
That night she woke up again. I had prepared myself to put her in her crate. When I did that she started barking. I dragged the crate down the hall to the spare room, and shut the door. I felt bad but there was no way we could function at work on three days with no sleep. And her sleeping in another room seemed reasonable compared with my other middle of the night ideas.
The next morning, a sprinkling of brown dirt lay on my comforter where the dog had been. Looking closer I saw a few dead bugs. Stifling the urge to dry-heave, I reached for my phone. Google confirmed my suspicion: Fleas.
And so it began.
We vacuumed every surface in our home, moving the furniture and vacuuming underneath. We treated the carpets with Borax, letting it sit over the weekend when we were away, before vacuuming it up. We sprayed the mattresses and furniture. We washed every sheet, every towel, every blanket, every item of clothing, every pillow. We gave the dog both oral and topical medication. She began sleeping in her crate regularly, without complaining.
Problem solved, right?
Several weeks later, a flea jumped onto my notebook. Then another jumped onto my pajama pants.
First I wanted to scream, punch something or someone. Then I seriously contemplated moving. Just leaving the house behind. Surely that would be easier than dealing with the fleas. Then I thought, no, we could just move into my mom's until the fleas disappeared. But then I realized we couldn't bring a flea-riddled dog with us there. I wanted to put my head under the pillow and cry, but how could I lie down with fleas everywhere?
Being a grown-up sucks sometimes.
With no other good options, I looked online again about how to treat fleas. I called the vet again, for any other ideas. "Just keep vacuuming like a crazy person," they told me. I didn't know if I had it in me, to do it all again. But what was my choice? So I retrieved the vacuum, attached a fresh bag, and started moving furniture.
I didn't plan on spending all day deinfesting my house, but part of me knew that would happen. I think that's why I was so reluctant to start, because I knew it was a huge project. But one step at a time, room by room, I progressed. And at the end of the day I had a much cleaner, better organized house. I wasn't looking for that opportunity, but it found me anyway.
I don't know if they are actually gone. Fleas have a crazy life cycle. They lay eggs - so disgusting! They can lie dormant for up to a year! A freaking year! But that is a worst-case scenario.
The vet told me to keep vacuuming like a crazy person, so that is what I will do. Maybe I didn't need to take the advice literally, shouting at the pug, "It's a good thing you're so darn cute!" as I vacuum. Or standing on the couch, using my upright vacuum because I don't have a handheld one. But I will continue to persistently clean and to faithfully give the dog the new flea medicine.
At Doggie Style, when I went to buy flea killing spray, when I told the saleswoman we had fleas, she said, "You and everyone else." I felt so much better, knowing I wasn't the only person dealing with these little horrors. In fact, the vet and the pet store people said this is the worst flea season they've ever seen.
So, for everyone else out there battling the fleas, know that you are not alone. I feel your pain. Just keep vacuuming.
Julie Owsik Ackerman is a writer and writing coach in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org