Medical Microfiction: Cimex Lectularius

The Locals Know

Whenever I move, I like to visit the local grocery stores to get a feel for the culture. Shoes side-by-side with the produce in Italy. Chocolate genitalia in Belgium. Whole aisles of spaetzle in Germany.

And then my job took me to an isolated logging town in Idaho. The local convenience store stocked an unusually large selection of pesticides and woodcutting gear.

“What’s the deal? Roaches? Wasps?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“Bedbug outbreak,” he said. “You’ll want some spray and a chainsaw, just in case.”

He sounded crazy; I laughed. So I was unprepared that night when my bed attacked.


Fruit and berries in a grocery store, Paris, F...
Fruit and berries in a grocery store in Paris, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My story “Alien” and the conversation it provoked on home and travel has got me feeling nostalgic about the itinerant life. I have a travel ritual where I hit the local grocery store as soon as possible when I go to a different country. It’s fun to see the similarities and the differences between what I normally experience and what my counterparts abroad experience when they sit down for a meal.

 I was in a grocery store when I first learned the meaning of the term “culture shock.” Shortly after my family moved from Italy to Georgia, I visited a Super Wal-Mart for the first time. If you live in an area without these suckers, let me just say they’re huge and they sell almost anything you can imagine, from groceries to furniture to garden supplies. The visit happened just a couple of days after we’d moved. I remember standing in the toothpaste aisle, heart racing and in complete shock because there was a whole aisle devoted to different kinds of toothpaste.

Crest toothpaste Purchased Feb. 2005 in Atlant...

What did it mean? Did these people just stand around all day brushing their teeth nonstop? How was I supposed to decide which type to buy? Toothpaste is toothpaste, and yet each box on the shelf bragged about being better than everything around it. My heart raced, and I realized I was hyperventilating. I wanted to go somewhere quiet and pretend like I was back in Italy, and this was all just a bad dream.

Visiting the local grocery store can be fun or terrifying, but it’s always worth your time.

English: Cimex lectularius the Bed-bug
A bed bug outside of its normal habitat: your bed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cimex Lectularius is the scientific name for those most unwanted of sleeping companions, the bed bugs. Medically, bed bugs cause some mild problems for their human hosts. They can cause allergic reactions with their nasty little bites, anemia from the blood-sucking, and psychological distress because, well, you’ve got bugs crawling all over you at night.

Bedbugs have been making a comeback over the last decade here in the United States because of a combination of factors. Firstly, they’ve developed resistance to many of the insecticides that used to kill them. Other pesticides used historically have been found to be harmful to humans and/or the environment, which further narrows our options. Add to that increased world travel, and like any pest or illness, bed bugs seize the opportunity to colonize new places.

The important thing is to be prepared to deal with local issues when you travel, be they bed bugs or, um, bed bugs. Just pay attention to the grocery stores, and you’ll know what to do.

What are your traveling rituals? Do you like to hit the grocery stores too? Have you ever experienced culture shock?


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