A scratchy ski season
May 4, 2006
AVON – Itching can drive a person half mad. Scratching until it bleeds, pain is almost preferable to the itching. In the Vail Valley for the ski season, Sweden native Sanna Bjorkebaum spotted her sheets with blood as she scratched month after month in her Rivers Edge apartment. Coming from a country with no bed bugs, Bjorkebaum said she never realized the itchy culprits were bed bugs. Bjorkebaum, her boyfriend Thomas Rahm and his brother Anders Rahm scored jobs with Vail Resorts and traveled to Denver from Sweden in November. After spending one night at the Pine’s Lodge in Vail, they moved into a Rivers Edge seasonal apartment in Avon. “It was a pretty dirty apartment, but it was OK,” Thomas Rahm said. “People said Rivers Edge was the best employee housing. There were lots of little things wrong, but we weren’t expecting a lot.”Vail life turns uglyThe three settled into Vail life, working as wait staff for the Inn at Beaver Creek. With breakfast and lunch shifts, the trio was able to ski and snowboard most afternoons. It was mid-December when Bjorkebaum first discovered itchy red bumps on her body. When they failed to disappear after a few weeks, she went to see a doctor early in January. The doctor diagnosed Bjorkebaum with chicken pox. She’d had them as a child, but obediently missed four days of work to avoid getting other people sick.
“I asked him, ‘Are you sure it’s not a bite?’ Because I’d heard from people that it looked like bites,” Bjorkebaum said. “But he said no, it wasn’t anything from the outside. It was definitely something from inside the body.”The bumps spreadWhen the red bumps began springing up on Thomas Rahm, Bjorkebaum dismissed her chicken pox diagnosis and returned to her doctor. He then told her the bumps were some sort of allergic reaction.”In Sweden, a doctor would have taken off my clothes and looked at all the bites, but he just looked at my hand and said, ‘It’s allergies,'” she said. “At home, I know a doctor is a really high educated man, so I know if you’re a doctor, I trust you. I really trusted him; I thought it was the same in this country, they’re really high educated, but now we’re just wondering.”Allergy medicines failed to alleviate the itching. And their lives – sleeping and awake – began to suffer. Scratching, tossing and turning at night, Thomas Rahm and Bjorkebaum suffered through work and often headed straight home after their shifts, too tired to do anything else. Corresponding with family in Sweden, their hometown doctors thought it could be scabies, so they took medicine for that as well – to no avail. Thinking it might be bugs, they set off three bug bombs in their apartment. The bumps and itching persisted.At the Inn at Beaver Creek, their boss suggested they wear gloves so guests wouldn’t see the sores on their hands. “When you work as a waitress at a really small hotel, you talk a lot to the guests, and the guests asked what I had on my hands,” Bjorkebaum said. “That was really embarrassing, because I had to tell them I don’t know. Some guests reacted badly.”
Bugs discoveredWith nowhere else to turn, the pair finally thought of going to Rivers Edge’s management on March 31. They were weary because when they had a mouse problem when they first moved in, management had been slow to help. But describing their symptoms to Rivers Edge’s Jonathan Katz, Katz immediately diagnosed bed bugs, Thomas Rahm said. “The first thing you think of is never to complain to the front desk. That’s not the way in Sweden. We always try to get a solution for ourselves,” he said. Chris Farrington, with Rivers Edge’s management company, Corum Real Estate, told them to move out of the apartment, but with less than a month left in their lease, they opted to move into another room instead. After all, no one else in their four-bedroom apartment had been bitten. “We tried to get them out of there as soon as possible,” said Farrington, adding bed bugs have been very rare at Rivers Edge. “We told them to wash everything, but they chose to stay with the situation, so we treated it while they were in there.”Pest control company, Orkin, wouldn’t eradicate the bed bugs while people were still in the unit, so Katz picked up some milder insecticide and sprayed Bjorkebaum and Thomas Rahm’s room. “We watched them crawl out of our bed,” Bjorkebaum said. “It was so disgusting that we were sharing a bed with those things.”The bugs don’t die
But the itching didn’t end there. The bed bugs that survived went in search of more food and found Anders Rahm in the next room. Bjorkebaum and Thomas Rahm said they meticulously cleaned and laundered everything before moving into another bedroom. But Farrington said he heard differently from a forth roommate, who said infested linens were left in the living room, allowing the bugs to spread. “The unfortunate part is the doctor they went to diagnosed everything but bed bugs,” Farrington said. “We just couldn’t get them to move out of the unit. We had another one available for them. Our first concern is definitely the health and safety of these people, but what do you do if they won’t move out?”Still haunted by bed bugs, everyone eventually cleared out of the apartment with less than a week left in their lease. But with the months of sleepless, itchy nights still fresh in their minds, Bjorkebaum and Thomas Rahm are demanding restitution. Farrington didn’t charge them for rent on one bedroom after they notified Corum about bed bugs, but Bjorkebaum and Thomas Rahm are saying it’s not enough.”If they make the choice to not warn people, they should take responsibility when people get bitten,” Bjorkebaum said. Leaving Vail to tour the United States and head back to Sweden, Bjorkebaum and Thomas Rahm said despite itching through their time in the Vail Valley, they’d like to return, perhaps as ski instructors next time. “We had a pretty good time here, while we were scratching,” Bjorkebaum said. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927, or firstname.lastname@example.org.