It Happened to Me: I Got Toxic Shock Syndrome

I obsessively change my tampons now. I tell women to SLEEP IN A GODDAMNED DIAPER IF YOU HAVE TO. I never want any woman to have to go through that.
Publish date:
September 16, 2011
healthy, periods, tampons, menstruation, toxic shock syndrome, M

HEY LISTEN UP. Suck it up and put on one of those big, stupid nighttime pads that reaches all the way up to your bellybutton (personally, I’m at the point where I’m like, “Fuck it, might as well buy Depends”).

Stop wearing your goddamned tampons to bed, okay? I know that like, half of you do it, and it’s time to stop with the bullshit because, dun dun dunnnn… it happened to me: I got Toxic Shock Syndrome.

It was at the end of October in 2006, my senior year of high school. I woke up on a Sunday morning feeling woozy as hell. I brushed it off, because at that point in my life I often took a few hits of the herbal medicine (heh heh heh) before going to bed because I was AWFUL at falling asleep. Sometimes it made me feel a bit fuzzy in the morning, so I ignored the feeling and hopped into the shower.

After about five minutes in the shower, I was hit with a serious bout of nausea and the wooziness significantly intensified. I practically fell out of the shower and immediately vomited on the floor. Somehow I managed to clean it up, then vomited in the small trash bin I had in my room. My mama must have heard the retching (yay, moms!) so she came upstairs with our household’s Barf Bin: a plastic bucket from the hardware store with damp paper towels lining the bottom (For Quick, Easy Clean-up!).

I threw up about every 20 minutes for the rest of the day. Later that evening I tried to get out of bed to use the bathroom but I couldn’t walk. I set one foot on the floor and collapsed; I ended up crawling into the bathroom. My legs literally could not support me.

Throughout the night and into the next day I began hallucinating. The hallucinations have since faded from my memory (rather, I forced them out), but for at least a year after I could vividly recall them. It was really, really, really messed-up and horrifying. Actually, despite all of the hallucinogenic drugs I did in high school, since I was sick I haven’t done them. I’m too scared.

So, to recap: 1. I couldn’t walk; 2. I was hallucinating; 3. I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to tell my parents that I couldn’t walk and was hallucinating. Tuesday was really scary. My fever hit a high point. In the morning my mom made a doctor’s appointment for 3 p.m.; a few weeks later she said that she knew something was wrong with me because I cried when she almost left for work that day. I was in absolute pain but I couldn’t find a way to tell her that I wanted to get to the doctor, immediately.

In fact, I could not communicate. I remember not really being able to form coherent thoughts. I was helpless and confused. I remember sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and watching the clock, still hallucinating. I wanted to go to the hospital. I felt like I was going to die but I was completely trapped because I could not express it. We finally got to my doctor’s office. He had me take a urine sample but I barely made it down the hallway to the bathroom. He looked at my mother and said, “Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars – take her to the emergency room.” He knew something was wrong.

From what I remember, we made it to the emergency room just in time. My vital signs were not good; my blood pressure was dangerously low and my heart rate was jacked way up. My body had gone into septic shock. To be frank, septic shock has a very high death rate. Toxic shock syndrome is deadly in up to 50 percent of its cases. It was not looking good.

But I had no idea – those ER nurses, damn. Those nurses made me feel like I just had a broken finger: they kept their shit calm. They were incredible. I would do anything for a nurse now. Yay, nurses!

I have absolutely no idea what the course of events were at the hospital. Most of this stuff was told to me. I was pumped with antibiotics and saline. At some point the doctors were like, “Hey, we should give her some Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP) because that might help the fact that her blood vessels are leaking,” which they were. They had me sign a consent form (I’d love to see the signature. It’s probably, like, half a squiggle) and then they put SOMEONE ELSE’S BLOOD PLASMA IN ME! I had a blood transfusion! Nuts.

Unfortunately, I started to have an allergic reaction and began tingling and itching wildly. The nurses had to pretty much pin me down. So then they gave me Benadryl and… I don’t remember much else. I spent a few days in critical care and finally the very official doctors came in and said that they had made a diagnosis – I had Toxic Shock Syndrome, and I couldn’t wear tampons for at least the next three years.

I realized I had slept with my tampon in that Saturday night! And what’s more, is that I NEVER DID THAT. It was probably only the fourth or fifth time that I had slept with one in. The doctors also told me that while there’s no test for TSS, if in the next week my fingers and toes started to peel like I had a sunburn, I definitely had gotten TSS.

Guess what? A few days after I got out of the hospital, they started to peel like crazy. My fingers, palms, toes -- all shed skin like I had a third-degree burn. I had bruises on my hands and arms from the eight IVs I had (on the upside, my skin was positively glowing because of the ginormous amount of saline they dumped into me). I had to take giant horse pills for about three weeks, three times a day. I was the kid who got called out of class to take medicine, and my classmates and I laughed about it when I would forget and they’d have to call me to the nurse over the PA.

But actually, it all sucked. The night I came home from the hospital, I sobbed into my mama’s arms on the couch. I couldn’t fall asleep; all I kept thinking was, “I almost died.” The day I went back to school I broke down at my locker. For months afterward, I kept replaying everything over in my head. I passed out multiple times when something even remotely related to hospitals or needles was brought up. Even now, I get sick ridiculously easily (what up, three colds this summer?).

Fortunately, my extremely amazing parents were like, “Yo, you need to see a counselor,” so I did. We talked. It helped. I cried less, and when I did cry, it was healthy. I fell asleep at night. I stopped replaying events in my head. I mostly reconciled with the fact that yes, I did come close to some really bad stuff occurring. But we can move on, and we can pay our respects to the women who have died from TSS.

I obsessively change my tampons now. I tell women to SLEEP IN A GODDAMNED DIAPER IF YOU HAVE TO. I never want any woman to have to go through that. We need to take care of our bodies.

Oh, and to the kid who said, “Gross! I didn’t know she was that dirty!” when he heard secondhand about what happened to me: Fuck you.