My name is Jennifer Ritter. I am 20 years old and from New Hampshire.
My story begins on March 14, 2013.
At the time, I was in my spring semester of my junior year of nursing school and had just come back from a spring break trip to Virginia Beach to visit my oldest sister. When I was visiting her I ran out of tampons and bought Super Plus tampons at the drug store, the highest absorbency I had ever used but I didn’t think twice about it.
I had gone out with friends the night before my symptoms started and had trouble falling asleep; when I woke up at seven in the morning I immediately started vomiting. I vomited every ten minutes for about an hour before I called my parents to tell them I thought I had the stomach flu and soon after I began having diarrhea.
After about eight hours I stopped vomiting and was only experiencing diarrhea, but I felt more exhausted than I ever had felt in my life. That is when I began fainting, something I had never done before.
I deteriorated quickly, and soon enough I couldn’t stand up for more than five seconds without fainting and even when I sat on the toilet I would faint and wake up on the bathroom floor next to it.
The next day things got even worse, but I thought taking a shower might perk me up a bit. It took me twenty minutes to get from my room to the bathroom next door. I remember getting myself from my bed to my computer chair, then trying to use that chair as a wheelchair to get to the bathroom but not having enough strength to push the chair across the carpet so I began to crawl. I got myself into the shower and laid on the floor for forty five minutes with the water running trying to muster up the strength to get up and back into my room.
It was then that I first thought to myself, “I have never felt this horrific before. I feel like I am dying.” It seemed like a dramatic thought, it never occurred to me that I actually was. I finally got back in bed in my towel and wet hair and tried to sleep.
My breathing was getting shallow and my hands were turning purple, I couldn’t even bend my fingers.
My mom came home from work early with a headache, something that in hindsight might have made the difference between my life and death. She called the doctor and was told to bring me to an urgent care center because I was severely dehydrated. It took me far too long to get from my room upstairs to the car in the garage and I remember thinking it might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I remember lying on the bed at the urgent care center and the nurse starting an IV and taking blood. Within five minutes a doctor was in the room explaining that my kidneys had shut down and an ambulance had been called. In the ambulance, my blood pressure was 50/30 and my temperature was 104. In the ER I was swarmed by doctors and nurses taking my clothes off, asking me questions, and starting IV’s in both arms. They struggled getting the IV in because I was so dehydrated; it took multiple attempts on both arms.
The doctor assessed me and asked me if I had noticed the rash on my back, which I hadn’t. He then asked me if I had a tampon in, when I confirmed he told the nurse to take it out immediately. As soon as he asked me that I remembered that warning label I had seen on tampon boxes about Toxic Shock Syndrome, but it was something I had never taken into serious consideration because I had never heard of anyone having it. After that, they put in a catheter and inserted a central line into my neck.
My entire family rushed to the hospital and I wasn’t scared the entire time until I saw the looks on my parents faces; they tried to put on brave faces for me but I could see how worried they really were.
I was stabilized in the ER and was brought up to the ICU and ended up staying there for a week. During that week I went into septic shock. I received over 18 bags of saline, gained 20 pounds in fluid weight, my kidneys failed, my liver failed, and my heart failed. My Troponin levels were sky high after a bout of chest pain, so they thought I might’ve had a heart attack but after a cardiac catheterization (I was the youngest patient the surgeon had performed it on) it was confirmed that I did not have a heart attack but instead had congestive heart failure.
The nurse told my parents that if I had been brought in even hours later, I would be dead. I only had my tampon in for four hours and it almost killed me, I recently read that the infection can begin within two hours.
I am beyond thankful that the ER doctor recognized my symptoms right away, and that my mom came home early from work, and that I was taken by ambulance instead of waiting for hours in a busy emergency room, and that my dad slept in the waiting room of the ICU and did not eat until I did. The amount of love, support, and prayers I received were beyond anything I could have imagined and I know they are the reason that I am alive.
I hope this story touches enough women to take their tampon habits more seriously and as a nurse, I will advocate for proper use and alternatives to tampons. Although TSS is rare, it is more likely than women think and I am proud to share my story and spread the word.