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Flee From The Fleas!

, , , , , | Working | November 14, 2020

I work at a recreation center — the kind of place that has public rooms for rent for parties and stuff, as well as a billiard room and gym and such. We see a lot of people on any given week.

It’s into spring, and I start to notice bug bites all over my ankles that itch like crazy. It takes me almost two months to figure out what they are and where they came from. One day at work, I go to scratch my legs and come back with a flea between my nails.

I immediately report my findings to our systems and maintenance manager, who is responsible for handling situations like this. He confirms the insect I caught is, indeed, a flea and then has pest control out to spray.

It doesn’t work, as I spend the next two weeks getting eaten alive at work. Now that I know what to look for, I catch several fleas a day trying to drink my blood. [Coworker #1] finds two mysterious bites, and [Coworker #2] and [Coworker #3] each catch a flea themselves. We have ant traps around the building. I check these, and find one or two fleas in each. I also set a water, soap, and light trap at night and catch another three fleas.

We definitely have fleas, although it’s not as if they’re visible by the thousands. However, I am BY FAR the one getting bitten the most. [Coworker #3] and [Coworker #4] haven’t shown a single bite, though they also admit they’re the least likely to get bitten by mosquitoes on family picnics. I tend to always attract mosquitoes.

I again report my findings to the systems and maintenance manager. He refuses to do anything this time because “I already did something” and say that the spray that [Pest Control Company] uses “continues to treat the carpet and kill fleas for weeks.” He also says he “searched everywhere” and couldn’t find a single flea. However, several weeks later, I also heard him say he’s the type to never get bitten by mosquitoes, either.

I start to wear bug spray every day, all day at work, and this does ensure that I no longer get bitten. However, [Coworker #3] voices concerns about me poisoning myself because bug spray is not meant to be worn constantly, and [Coworker #2] and [Coworker #4] say that it’s starting to make them choke on the scent. So I go without bug spray for one day… and walk out with half a dozen new flea bites.

Again, I report these to the systems and maintenance manager. He starts to get sarcastic with me.

Maintenance Manager: “Are you sure you’re not bringing these from home?”

Me: “I am completely certain. I’ve caught dozens of fleas here, and [Coworkers #1-#4] can vouch for it because they’ve seen me do so.”

Maintenance Manager: “You’re the only one with this problem. It all comes back to you. Your cat probably has fleas, and you’re getting bitten by those.”

Me: “I don’t have a cat. I have a chinchilla, and—”

Maintenance Manager: “Then you’re getting fleas from your chinchilla!”

Me: “And she hasn’t been outside since the day I brought her home from the pet store eight years ago. Plus, chinchillas can’t get fleas; their fur is too thick.”

Maintenance Manager: “You’re the only one with the problem. Maybe if you cleaned your house more, you wouldn’t have fleas.”

Me: “Do you want to check the traps around the room? I can prove that the fleas have come from here. [Coworker #1] has also been bitten, and [Coworker #2] and [Coworker #4] are complaining that they don’t want to bring fleas home with them!”

Maintenance Manager: “Well, I can’t do anything for another two weeks because we recently had [Pest Control Company] out.”

Getting sick of having my legs look like raspberries and the manager doing nothing, I decide to take matters into my own hands. I buy a bug bomb, and on Friday, when it’s a holiday weekend and we’re closed through Monday, I set it off, carefully following all directions on it.

Come Tuesday, I get pulled into the office by the director. They write me up for “not following policy.” The policy they produced was one about bed bugs, where we’re supposed to report everything to the systems and maintenance manager and let him deal with the issue. They insist I should have known that the exact same policy applies to fleas as well as bed bugs, despite the policy only naming bed bugs and no other pests. They also insist bug bombs are illegal, which I checked; they are not illegal in my state. Why would a major retailer sell them if they were contraband, anyway?

Director: “Why didn’t you report this to [Maintenance Manager]?”

Me: “I did. Several times. And I showed him all the dead fleas we caught. But he thinks I live in squalor or something and insists I’m getting bitten at home and bringing fleas to work.”

Director: “Did he?”

Me: “Yes, he said I’m the only one with the problem and he refused to do anything more about it.”

Director: “Well, we can’t just keep having [Pest Control Company] come out. They use harsh chemicals, and since we have a lot of children, we don’t want them to get sick.”

Me: “What about bloodborne pathogens? Do you think it’s okay for children to get sick from flea bites and diseases transmitted that way?”

Director: “We’re doing all we can. We’ll have them come out to spray again as soon as it’s feasible.”

Okay, whatever, I get written up. But at least for two weeks, we are flea-free until someone from the public brings them in again. So, once more, I go back to getting eaten alive at work and capturing fleas off of my legs. My coworkers catch two or three, but I’m the one dealing with this issue the most. At the end of the next month, the systems and maintenance manager FINALLY calls in another round of pest control, and I happen to be scheduled that day. So, I start to ask questions.

Me: “Do fleas ever single out one person?”

Pest Control: “Oh, yeah. I see that a lot! Sometimes they’ll only bite the wife and not the husband or vice versa.”

Me: “How do you get rid of them?”

Pest Control: “You have to vacuum everything daily and clean the vacuum out outside.”

It’s worth noting that [Maintenance Manager] cut back on the janitorial budget, and we only get cleaned thoroughly once a week. The daily tasks the janitors have are basically cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash.

Pest Control: “It’s best if you can steam the carpets. Then, you have to spray everything regularly. It’s best to hit it several times so you get the eggs, larva, and adult bugs. And, of course, treat any pets that have fleas so they don’t bring them back in.”

Me: “So what are you using to kill them today?”

Pest Control: “This is a mixture that’s mostly water with about a 33% rubbing-alcohol-like substance and then a third ingredient that helps it store better and disperse from the nozzle evenly.”

Me: “So it doesn’t soak in the carpet and stay there for a while?”

Pest Control: *Proudly* “Nope! [Maintenance Manager] asked for the gentlest stuff we have so that the kids who come here won’t get sick. But don’t worry, I’m spraying it really well today. Though I do recommend follow-up treatments. Like I said, you want to get the eggs and larva and adult bugs.”

Me: “Uh-huh.”

I now have zero hope of being flea-free.

Sure enough, there was no follow-up treatment and I continued to get bitten all summer unless I wore bug spray. One of the staff members outside of my immediate coworkers DID wind up with a flea infestation inside her own — pet-free — home, which they traced back to her car, and by logic, our workplace.

However, [Maintenance Manager] continued to insist that I was “the only one with this problem” and did nothing else.

Only when winter came did the buggers finally die. And then, after four months of bite-free bliss, the suckers came back with the spring! I wound up quitting.

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