You know that pesky package insert you encounter every time you open a new box of tampons? We toss it because all it contains is “useless instructions” and a warning of a extremely rare infection called TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) that you have a 0.002% chance of getting. Well, as usual when it comes to weird health issues, 11 years ago last month I almost lost my life to this rare, aggressive infection.
I was at work on a Friday afternoon and remember feeling sick and thought I was probably getting strep throat. I laid down when I got home that night after telling my husband I just didn’t feel right. A few hours later I got up to go to the bathroom and was so dizzy I had to ask him to come help me. Oddly enough, I remember pulling that tampon package insert out and looking at the symptoms of TSS…weird, I know. But, naturally, I promptly ignored them. #cool.
The next morning my husband had to go to work. Right before he left, he took my temperature and it was 102. For some reason, I believe it was God, he took me to my mom’s so she could just keep an eye on me. I rested on her couch most of the morning but decided to ride along with her to drop my sister off at a softball game. And then as we were riding along, I completely lost my vision. It was absolutely terrifying – I remember thinking I’d never be able to see again, picturing my life blind, and realizing how different my life would be. I didn’t want to scare my sister so I didn’t say anything until she got out of the car but as soon as she did, I told my mom to take me to the emergency room or call an ambulance.
We went to the ER and when I got there, my blood pressure was 60/40. That is VERY low. At this point things get really fuzzy. They ran every test imaginable. I was 24, I was very young to be that sick. I had medication to lower my heart rate, medication to raise my blood pressure, crazy strong IV antibiotics, a spinal tap, and so much blood work. They stuck me 17 time trying to get an IV. I was soon admitted to the ICU and the cardiologist did another procedure involving a blood vessel in my neck (so scary) and to everyone’s horror said:
“She’s in septic shock, we need to transfer her before she’s intubated (on life support).”
I was transferred to a hospital in downtown Louisville and admitted to their ICU. I barely remember it. I was so sick. Delirious.
Doctors ran test after test trying to determine what was wrong with me. The entire time the ICU waiting room was full of people praying for me. I really think that’s what saved my life because one day, I was barely hanging on, and the next day I was showing so much improvement even though they still had no idea what happened to me. I was able to be transferred to a regular room and then finally able to go home. It wasn’t until days later we received a diagnosis that we were not expecting at all. The sickness that caused loss of sight and landed me in the ICU on the verge of needing life support?! Toxic Shock Syndrome. A lab test that was sent off special lab finally came back in with the results. We were floored that an infection that affects only .0002% of women found its way to me and just so thankful I made such a miraculous recovery.
So, my advice to you: TSS IS REAL. And it can have extremely grave consequences. A few good things to remember about TSS:
- Toxic Shock Syndrome is a serious bacterial infection most commonly caused by bacteria that live on the skin (or in the nose and throat) and can come from something as small as an insect bite.
- TSS is not always caused by tampon use. Even men can be diagnosed with this infection!
- Symptoms of TSS include: a sudden high fever, low blood pressure, vomiting or diarrhea, a rash that looks like a sunburn (lots of times on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet), confusion, muscle aches, redness of your eyes, mouth and throat, seizures, and headaches.
- While it is most commonly attributed to prolonged tampon use, it can also be associated with recent surgery, having cuts or burns on your skin, having a viral infection such as the flu or chickenpox, and use of contraceptive sponges or diaphragms.
This infection can progress rapidly, so if you have signs or symptoms of TSS, you should call your doctor immediately. The best measure you can take is to arm yourself with knowledge of the symptoms (+ use those tampons correctly!).
I hope my experience makes you a little more aware of this rare but serious condition. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.