Katelyn’s Story

When I was 17, I almost lost my life from menstrual toxic shock from a tampon.

My story begins on Sunday October 3, 2004 when I started my period.  Everything felt fine.  It was just my normal time of the month.  Then, on Tuesday October 5th, I began to feel like I was getting sick.  I remember complaining to my mom at dinner that my back was beginning to hurt like it does when I get sick.  That night, I did not sleep well. When my mom came in to check on me in the morning, I had a high fever and a red rash on my body.  We thought it was the flu, so I stayed home from school and rested all day.  That afternoon around 3:30 pm, I began vomiting.  The vomiting got worse as the night went on, and I soon had diarrhea.  I remember that I could not even take a sip of water because my body would react so violently.  If I tried to consume anything, I would immediately have to run to my bathroom to throw it up.  My mom slept in the room next to mine and took care of me all night.  By the time morning came, I was severely dehydrated and suffering from muscle cramps.  My mom called the doctors office and told them that she was bringing me in at 9:30 even though we did not have an appointment.

At this point, both my mother and I thought that I had a really bad case of the flu and would just need some medicine and fluids.  I wasn’t throwing up as much because I had nothing left in my system to get rid of, so I was feeling a little better.  Little did we know things were about to get much worse.  Before we left for the doctor’s office, I threw up one more time.  After this, I tried to walk to my room to change my tampon but collapsed along the way.  My mom helped me up and got me into her car.  I do not remember the car ride to the doctor’s office very well.  My mom said that during that short ride in the car, I crashed on her.  I wasn’t responding to anything she was saying.  She was yelling at me trying to get a response out of me, but I never heard her.

When we were at the doctor’s office, she ran inside and got one of the medical assistants to bring out a wheelchair for me.  Once inside, they tried to get a blood pressure on me.  The woman had to try more then once before she finally got a blood pressure reading that was so low, she immediately called 911.  Within minutes, paramedics and firemen were there.  I remember getting one IV in my arm before we left the office.  I did not even feel it go in. I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital.  I remember arriving and getting a second IV in my other arm before I was moved to the Emergency Room at Community Memorial Hospital (CMH) in Ventura, California.  I arrived at the hospital around 10:00 in the morning.

Now that I was at the hospital, things started happening really fast.  People kept asking me questions about what was happening. Things were much more serious than my mom and I had anticipated.  The medical team did not know what was wrong with me.  They just knew that they had a 17 year-old girl who was dying in front of them.

My mom had been in contact with our neighbor throughout the morning.  My mom began describing what was happening and how the doctors didn’t even understand what going on.  My neighbor told my mom to have the doctor check for menstrual toxic shock syndrome.  She told her that it sounded like what her friend’s daughter went through a year before.  My mom immediately ran to the doctors and blurted out, “Menstrual toxic shock.”  My doctor asked her why she would say that, and she told him that I was on my period and wearing a tampon.  The doctor ran into my room and told the nurse to get my tampon out. Next, they inserted a Foley catheter and no urine came out.  By this time, I had already had more then one 1,000mL bags of Normal Saline. They knew at this point that my kidneys had shut down. I remember getting my central line put into my neck and my arterial line into my left wrist.  My memory of the rest of the day is very choppy.  I do remember complaining throughout the day that my feet were hurting.  I did not know it then, but the pain was caused by lack of circulation.

I was in and out of it for the rest of the day.  I do remember overhearing one of my doctors talking to my mom.  I heard him say that they could not treat me because I was too sick.  I needed to be transported to another hospital.  My mom was given three choices, and she chose to have me go to UCLA Medical Center.  This was when I finally realized that I might die, that I may never live past this day.  I turned to my stepfather and told him I was scared.  He told me that everything was going to be fine.  I had to believe him.

I was awake when my lungs began to collapse.  I remember feeling like I was having an asthma attack.  The nurse that was there began pumping air into an ambu-bag.  She was not pumping the bag in correlation to how I was breathing.  I tried to sit up and hit her hand away.  I thought that if I could just try to breath on my own I could finally catch my breath.  One of my doctors then placed his hand on my head and made me lay back down.  He told me that he was going to have to put me to sleep.  This is the last thing that I remember.

I have been told that the next few hours were very stressful.  It was not possible to transport me to UCLA because there was a dense layer of fog covering the hospital.  My mom was faced with two options and all of them ended with a most probable death for me.  The first option was to keep me at CMH for the night.  The doctor’s did not think that I would live through the night unless I made it to UCLA.  Her second option was to have me flown to Van Nuys Airport and then be taken by ambulance to UCLA.  It was now the start of rush hour and the traffic would have been horrific.  I would not have survived the ambulance ride to the hospital from the airport.  After some waiting, they found out that the fog had lifted.  I was prepped and on my way in a matter of minutes.

While at UCLA, I was on life support and in a drug induced coma for seven days.  During this time, I was intubated, receiving nutrition through my central line, and on at least three different medications to keep my blood pressure in the 70’s.  My mom was told that they were more than likely going to have to amputate my right foot, some toes on my left foot and some fingers.  My mom told them that they could but she was going to rub my extremities to help keep my circulation going until the surgery.  Thanks to her and my other family members who rubbed me for three days, I did not have to have anything amputated. I had suffered kidney failure early on as part of the multi organ failure that my body went though. The doctors were about ready to put me on dialysis, when my kidneys began working again.

When I awoke from my 7-day coma, I was told what happened to me. The doctors then told my mom that when I arrive to UCLA, I had a 5% chance of living. They said that they had not seen anyone that sick, pull through and make it. I still feel blessed to be alive.

I feel that it is imperative that women be educated about the use of tampons. My doctors do not feel that I got menstrual toxic shock from leaving a tampon in for too long.  They feel that I became sick because I changed my tampons too often.  I followed the instructions that came with the tampons, which is why my doctors were perplexed that my life almost came to an end due to normal use of tampons.

The nurses that took care of me inspired me to become a nurse. Currently, I am a Registered Nurse at UCLA. I have met some of the nurses that took care of me, and I have gone back to say hello to some of my doctors. I will forever be grateful for them. If I had not been blessed to have them caring for me, I would not be alive today.

Comments

  1. I came across this website accidentally while I was on Pinterest, and the thoughts of me getting TSS after hearing Amy’s story scared me a lot, but not enough to stop using tampons. I began to do more research on the topic, including multiple websites and news articles. Then, I read your story. It really hit home for me because I’m from Ventura, I live here. My little brother was born in CMH, and I thought “If it could happen to her, it can happen to me.” I also read about other girls getting TSS from tampon fibers even though they changed them regularly and used the right absorbencies, that’s why from this day forward I will not use tampons ever again. They are not worth risking my life for, nothing is. I’d rather choose a less comfortable option for my period than risk putting myself in a dangerous, life threatening situation. I’m only 15, and I have so much that I would like to accomplish and will accomplish in my life. To me, tampons aren’t worth losing that. Thank you for sharing your story, I will definitely pass it on to my friends and those I meet. TSS is a serious disease, and deserves more NEGATIVE press about it so that we can prevent anyone else from contracting it.

    • Wow. This really changed my mind about using tampons. The story was touching but this comment was what changed my mind. Thank you

  2. Wow, how scary! I have always used tampons until recently switching to a menstrual cup. I am the person who has always left tampons in for way too long so I’m lucky to have not gotten TSS! Reading your story tells me that I need to do everything possible to make sure that when I have a daughter, she never uses tampons!

  3. This story really scares me to be honest. Up until recently I had heard of TSS and I knew that you got it from using tampons but that was about it. Now that I’ve read stories like these and understand how understated this issue really is Im going to tell all my friends and family members because no one deserves to have this happen to them. Thank you to everyone who has posted their stories on this website because you really are doing good by bringing awareness to girls and women everywhere.

  4. Lynne Haines says:

    During menses our bodies are releasing “that which has served it’s purpose”. In other words, the ovum nest has reached it’s expiration date, and our bodies release it and replace it with a more vital ovum. In countries where female genital mutilation reduces the exit from the vagina’s to the size of a match head, or it heals shut completely – women die from peritonitis. We are meant to release our womb’s blood once a month; plugging up the channel with a wick, of sorts, isn’t a good idea. It retards the flow, which isn’t just a physical experience. During our periods we let go of all levels of our experience to date. The effects of our experiences, the thoughts and feelings that we have outgrown, slip away. We keep the kernel of wisdom and release the hubris during menses. We do it consciously if we pay attention to what we are thinking and feeling during the days immediately prior to bleeding. Try it. Conscious menstruation causes self actualization and individuation. Its a good thing.

  5. There is a 1 in 2,500,000 chance of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome. I know of a friend who got it once, and you got it as well. So TSS is a very real thing and in some cases such as yours, life-threatening. More research and awareness needs to be made to younger generations because very few girls know about it. In fact, the only reason I found out about TSS was from my friend who came down with it. It doesn’t mean everyone has to stop wearing tampons. I might start wearing a pad to bed from being reminded about this particular condition. Here’s the important thing: If you come down with these symptoms while using tampons, seek medical attention immediately. TSS is so rare that pulling tampons out of stores is unnecessary. But way more girls need to be aware that this isn’t a wives tale and could potential kill them or destroy limbs. So thank you for sharing your story!

  6. Thanks for publishing Katelyn

  7. I hardly ever used tampons but one morning that’s all I had I had just put one in by the middle of the day my back had really started to hurt (tabs this was by the end of my second class so I still had two classes and lunch to make it through). While sitting in my third class things began to get sooo much worse it hurt to sit, stand, and about killed me to walk. Luckily I got signed out (cause my dad was coming home). It took me nearly five minutes to go down the stairs. The worst part was the car ride to get my dad because no matter what I did the discomfort just got worse. We ended up stopping and I thought maybe if I took my tampon out things would be better. Turns out I was right within two hours the discomfort had tramendouh dropped and I was able to sit and walk without pain. I don’t know why it happened but it completely scared me. I hope your nursing profession is going well.

  8. Angel wateska says:

    Wow,I was going to switch to tampons but now i’m not.I barely get time to change my pad during school!

  9. Donella A. says:

    I had experience the tocix shock syndrome myself. However, the toxic shock syndrome occurred within 30 minutes (around 10:30pm) and not 2 to 3 days. I remembered feeling nauseated and my skin was getting warm, I decided to sleep it off. While I was on my bed for 5 minutes, I had to throw up. Theionsn I changed positions to having diarrhea. I put a cold wet wash cloth on my forehead, but it didn’t work. I was burning up. My sister was sleeping right next to me and she said that I was so hot that she moved further away from me. This went on for 3 hours and remembered always reading the tampon box for educational purposes about tss and “remembered” that I had felt a discomfort putting it in earlier. I immediately pulled ou the tampon

  10. For a more elegant and enlightened approach to periods read Miranda Gray’s book “Red Moon – Understanding and using the creative, sexual and spiritual gifts of the menstrual cycle”. I recommend it highly.

  11. experienced this symptoms early this morning and in the back of my mind I considered tss and I also thought it was because I had been drinking water from the tap. I felt like I was dying…I told myself I was dying. I took my tampon out for awhile and just laid in bed beside my daughter and I kept calling my Lords name. I wasn’t sure I was going to wake up this morning but by His grace I did, and I’m just so grateful for his mercy!!

  12. I was near death because I lost a tampon for 7 months. I lost my job because i took days off, even though I had 30 hours pto. They said my educational background wasn’t high enough for the job. I lost my tampon during an overnight shift at my job of 5 years. The hospital I went to made being so sick worse. They put me in the physc ward. I won’t see a doctor because I am scared. I went in there more than once because of sever constipation and after I found the tampon I went back. My pigment was weird my skin was peeling off and makeup wouldn’t stay on. I’d sob as it would just peel off. I wss dizzy I was dioriented. I had a seizures and was always tired.. I am a single mom of three, with no help… my boys just hoped to see xmas with me. I found a clinic to give me antibiotics. It helped.. I feel it saved my life. I still am tired, I still have peeling skin. My skin is still weird oily at times. But I am alive… just want to know if the peeling ever stops? Thanks

  13. Wow that’s really scarry :(

  14. I’ve never heard of anybody getting Toxic Shock from changing her tampons too often! I’ve mostly only heard of women getting it from leaving tampons in too long or using a bigger tampon than they actually need

  15. People werevery aware of this kat 19 I am 47 Tkank you for telling your storybwomen need yo know the danger gnat tnis is not just a made up story You are Bfave I was a medical tech. In military I once an Iinfected tspon that got stuck when string broke and it was a bad infection eveneith a mmask for surgery I amost vomited frkm smell I amost ran in hally way and vomitted So I asked should I satay in room or str possibility out in hall they said hall I tried again andcbreathed with mouth so a fried real hard to keep healping I was so proud I met her state side and she had health 8 year old ske was brvae yo come in and dkme people would have stsyed away from pure embarrsment dp. You are brave and a ggod womam & should be told!

  16. I am never using tampons!!!

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