A little over a year ago, I was one of the very lucky ones to survive Toxic Shock Syndrome. It all began on Sunday, June 6, 2010 only a week after returning home from college for the summer. Being 20 years old at the time, I never imagined myself getting so sick. In the beginning of my sickness, I thought I had food poisoning or the flu. The symptoms were very similar and I never thought twice about it. Hours went by and I was only getting worse. I continued throwing up for about 8 hours and couldn’t keep any liquids down. I had a fever of 104° and I had trouble walking. I have always been a very healthy person. I’ve been a competition dancer for 17 years and because of that my body is usually very strong when fighting a sickness. So when I got to the point that I couldn’t stand up or walk, I knew something had to be wrong.
That afternoon, my mom and I decided that I should seek help at the local urgent care in my hometown. It was a Sunday so I was not able to go to my primary care doctor. When I arrived at the urgent care they asked my symptoms and I explained them while also informing them that I was menstruating and using tampons. The doctor told me that I had a high fever (102°), my blood pressure was severely low (71/49), and my heart rate was shockingly high (149). A normal 20 year old doesn’t have low blood pressure or a high heart rate. The doctor said I was also very dehydrated so he wanted to give me some fluids through an IV. After two liters of fluid I was told that I was just simply fighting a viral infection similar to the stomach flu. I was sent home and told to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids and my symptoms should go away in a few days.
I went to bed that night thinking I would be okay by morning. My fever spiked all night and when I woke up the next morning I felt even sicker. I stayed in bed because I couldn’t sit up. I also got horribly dizzy whenever I would try and sit up or stand up. Walking was near impossible. Because I continued to get worse, my mom took me to my primary care doctor who immediately sent me to the ER.
When I arrived at the ER the nurses and doctors were baffled at my condition. It had only been 18 hours since first feeling sick. Because of my low blood pressure and high heart rate, they knew something was seriously wrong. They soon concluded that my oxygen levels were also very low. I was given two IV’s to get as much fluid in me as possible while they did tests to determine my illness. A faint rash appeared on my body and I also had conjunctivitis. The doctors worked feverishly trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Every blood test and culture was taken, including a spinal tap to eliminate meningitis. The intensive care unit doctor was called and he inserted a central line in my neck to have the ability to give me more fluids and medications. I had a total of five IV’s to try and bring up my blood pressure, reduce my heart rate, and fight infection. I was given the antibiotic Vancomycin through an IV and I was also put on oxygen in order to keep me breathing. That night, still not knowing exactly what was wrong with me, I was transferred to the intensive care unit in critical condition.
Thankfully, I survived the night and the next day an infectious disease specialist was called in to help determine my illness. Once he reviewed my chart and heard my symptoms, he was sure that I had Toxic Shock Syndrome. I was very fortunate to have a great team of doctors and nurses who did all the right things from the time of my arrival in ER, despite not knowing what I had. I was also very fortunate to be young, healthy, and in great shape when I became ill. I was given intravenous immunoglobulin and my body slowly but surely responded to the Vancomycin antibiotics and blood pressure medications. The diagnosis of my illness was soon confirmed through a vaginal culture that I had the TSS-1 staph infection.
I spent 5 days in ICU and 2 days in the hospital before I was discharged to go home. The 7 days I spent in the hospital were crucial to saving my life. Each day was a struggle but giving up was never an option. I am very grateful to be alive, considering many women die from Toxic Shock Syndrome. Getting to the hospital as soon as possible is crucial to surviving this disease. As time goes on, the infection becomes more deadly as it can harm all of the major organs including the kidneys, liver, and heart ultimately leading to the body shutting down. I don’t know if I would have survived this disease had I not gone to the hospital when I did or if the doctors had not worked so hard to determine my illness and try keep my vitals stable.
I went through the anticipated 4 week recovery, but 4 weeks was not near enough time to recover from TSS. It has taken me over a year to start to feel even close to 100%. I have experienced many health issues related to my illness that have stayed with me due to the toxic infection my body went through. Recovering from this illness is extremely difficult from my experience so far. I have never felt so weak in my life. I was naïve to the fact that my body cannot always be as strong as I need it to be. I am slowly gaining my strength back and beginning to get back to exercising in order to be able to dance again. I wake up every day thankful to be alive and my heart goes out to those who have lost someone due to Toxic Shock Syndrome.