Jennifer’s Story

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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.

Comments

  1. Wow! I’m so glad they found it was TSS! Have you tried cloth pads and menstrual cups? They are wonderful! I use them. You try them if you haven’t :) I will be sharing this with my mom. She’s a huge tampon user. I used to be too. Once I found out cloth and cups I switched as soon as could!! I hope you too. :)

  2. Wow! I’m so glad they found it was TSS! Have you tried cloth pads and menstrual cups? They are wonderful! I use them. You try them if you haven’t :) I will be sharing this with my mom. She’s a huge tampon user. I used to be too. Once I found out cloth and cups I switched as soon as could!! I hope you do too. :)

  3. DitaVonCrunch says:

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this, Jennifer. What have you been using since this experience? I’ve fallen in LOVE with reusable cloth pads. Seriously, who would love their period? Well, I and many other enlightened ladies do. There are a lot of reviews of WAHM-made brands on YouTube, by the way.

  4. Im glad that u shared your story, this is the reason i dont let my kids wear tampons ….

  5. I went to school with this woman, and let me tell you my jaw dropped. Wow. God was on her side!!

  6. Leanne Strong says:

    Why did you even use super plus tampons anyway? They say to only use the size you really need.

    • Leanne, my period was especially heavy that month and I thought I was using the size that I really needed. Please be sure to spread the word and tell others to “only use the size they really need” to prevent them from making the same mistake I did. Thank you for your input!

      • Leanne Strong says:

        You’re welcome! I’ve never had Toxic Shock Syndrome, but I used to be SO afraid of getting it that I would NOT use tampons AT ALL!!!! I talked with a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office when I was about 14 (which is a long time to wait considering I got my period when I was 10 and 3 mos.), and she said that tampons are very safe if used properly, and that TSS is very rare (which I already knew). I would be lying to say that the fear did not stay with me, but I do use tampons when I’m on my period now (even when I’m not swimming). I do make sure I take the suggested measures (changing my tampon every 4 hours or so, using pads at night when I go to bed, only using the size I really need for that day, etc.). And even though I do what I should, I still watch for any symptoms of TSS (and yes, I do know what they are), and I know that if I have any of the symptoms, to remove my tampon immediately, stop using tampons, and go to the doctor (or another place where I can get checked out) right away!

      • Leanne Strong says:

        And I’ve recently started using organic tampons.

  7. Hi,
    so sorry to hear about your experience. That is so scary!
    My 16year old daughter just went through toxic shock syndrome. Luckily, we caught it early enough that although she was in ICU for 4days, she did not have organ failure.
    It has been almost two months, and she is having a very difficult recovery. She has a constant severe headache, and has panic attack type symptoms. She is also unable to attend school, as iit is very difficult ansd stressful for her to concentrate. am just wondering if you experienced some of the same symptoms during your recovery?
    Thanks for your thoughts and for sharing your story!

    • Wow, I am so glad that she is ok! I feel like I am constantly telling people that the recovery is as much emotional as it is physical, maybe even more so. I did not get headaches, but I still get very high anxiety when I think about having my central line put in or if something is brushing or rubbing against my neck. I went back to school after 2 weeks which was probably too soon but I had just started nursing school and did not want to risk having to put it off. I do remember that I had a very hard time concentrating and retaining knowledge when I went back. Everyone’s recovery is different, and a year later I am still dealing with some things that I was hoping would be resolved by now, such as my heart medications and the side effects of them. Tell your daughter that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Recovery from TSS takes a long time and it is frustrating as hell. Take each day as it comes and express those emotions even if others may not understand them. My email is jritter@ksc.keene.edu if you have any other questions or if you would like to put her in contact with me.

    • Leanne Strong says:

      What were her symptoms?

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, my cousin died from TSS about 4 years ago! She was my best friend and meant the world to so many people, it is stories like yours that makes a difference, I know I never read the warning label on any tampon box until she was diagnosed. Please continue to share your stories and help spread the word. I never want to know or see anyone go through the pain she went through nor do I want anyone to go through a funeral for a 21 year old all because you were not aware. Don’t let the lives that TSS has taken go in vain!

    • Brit, that message alone makes me feel like sharing my story is worth it. I am so sorry about your cousin who passed. As you said, no one should go through that. I am glad that you are aware of the risks of tampons and are able to spread your story as well. Education is SO important for prevention!

  9. My cousin (I was not close to her, but knew about her) died suddenly of TSS in the mid-1980s. I was just starting college and she had finished college and was starting her life and career. I had not used tampons…just because. At that time, TSS was in the news a bit, as the tampon connection seemed to be a new discovery. After my cousin’s death, I continued not to use tampons. I did try them a bit in college–due to social events, swimming, etc. I never liked them and my mother always reminded me of my cousin’s death. I’ll admit, I thought of my cousin each time I used them. I stopped using them shortly after college and still don’t. Now, I am a mother. My 12-year-old daughter just started her period. I bought her pads (cute tween and teen versions that were not available “back in the day”). I don’t want her to wear tampons. I have read so many sites that say they are fine. Then, I found this one. Thanks for putting this information out there! She is fine with pads However, she does want to swim. I am scared for her to wear tampons, but don’t want to keep her from swimming. Maybe I will get up the nerve to try organic cotton. Anyway, I wish that TSS was in the news more! All of the stories here are recent, but we don’t ever hear about them. Anyway, thanks again for an informative site!

    • Leanne Strong says:

      My mom lets me use tampons. And I do know how to use them properly. I also know the symptoms of TSS: Sudden high fever (I think they say it’s usually 102 or higher), diarrhea, sore throat, vomiting, sunburn like rash (particularly on palms of hands or soles of feet, dizziness, low blood pressure (which can cause fainting or near fainting), high heart rate or pulse, muscle aches, among others. I also know, if I ever experience any of the symptoms while I’m wearing a tampon, to take the tampon out, and go to the doctor (or somewhere else where I can be checked out). If I had a daughter, I would let her use tampons if she wanted to, as long as she knew proper use of tampons, the symptoms of TSS, and what to do if she experiences any of the symptoms.

    • Thanks for writing! Have you considered Instead Softcups or reusable menstrual cups like Lunette, Diva, MoonCup?

    • V,
      What about menstrual cups? Have you heard about them? They’re worn internally like tampons but carry no health risks. It’s entirely possible to swim in them as well as do everything else while wearing them. Please Google them to find out more if you’re not already familiar; I’m sure you and your daughter would both be so relieved to have a solution whereby she could swim on her period with no health worries whatsoever!! <3 <3 <3

    • Leanne Strong says:

      I use organic tampons, which are thought to carry less risk of TSS. That is the reason I switched from conventional (Tampax, Playtex, Kotex) to organic (Natracare, Seventh Generation, Emerita).

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