20-year-old, Emily Pankhurst, from Canterbury, forgot about her tampon for nine days, resulting in her near death.
Last year, when her stomach became engorged, the criminology student blamed the bloat on stress provoked by her university finals. The uncomfortable mass that was expanding in her belly, combined with bloody discharge, didn’t concern the student who simply thought she was a little under the weather.
“I was stressed about my exams and really wanted to do well on my degree, it didn’t register that I was ill,” the 20-year-old explains.
“I was feeling really ill by that stage. I was hot and dizzy and felt really strange,” the student said. “I was bleeding more and my mom suggested I feel about and see if there was anything there.”
After the discomfort continued for several days, she followed her mother’s advice and jumped in the shower where she discovered the lost tampon. Immediately, Pankhurst removed the offending object, but it was a little too late.
“When I finally realized, I pulled it out it was pure black. I wouldn’t have known what it was apart from the string. It was horrible. I immediately chucked it in the loo, I felt sick.”
While she was on her period in November, she had originally inserted the tampon. However, the stress of her university exams caused her to forget about it, so she inserted another one absentmindedly, unaware of the danger this mistake would put her in.
“I thought it was disgusting to be honest,” she said. “But I also thought once I’d removed it, I would feel better.” But, that wasn’t to be the case…
Later, after few hours she began to slur her words and feel extremely faint, prompting her mother to call an ambulance as Pankhurst’s mottled skin turned ghostly pale. “I was sat in the dark. I can’t remember much, but mom said I kept repeating, ‘I feel ill – my stomach’,” Pankhurst recalls.
“My speech slurred and my skin became mottled. I started to feel faint and I was rushed to hospital by ambulance. During the journey they said I was displaying all the symptoms of sepsis [blood poisoning] and so the blue lights were put on. I became an emergency case. I know now that was the poison entering my blood stream.”
She was rushed immediately to intensive care, as she was in a serious condition after contracting blood poisoning as a result of toxic shock syndrome, caused by the tampon which had started the infection.
Toxic shock syndrome, which is incredibly rare, is a bacterial infection caused by bacteria which usually lives harmlessly on the skin, nose or mouth. This bacteria has the power to invade the body’s bloodstream, where they then release poisonous toxins. These toxins can then damage internal organs and their function. Something that Pankhurst is still learning as she recovers.
She was pumped with full of antibiotics to stable her condition, but even now she is still experiencing slight mobility problems. “I was also fed through a tube,” she said. “My bladder was full – I had two litres of urine in me – but I couldn’t go to the toilet naturally and was given a catheter. I’ve never been in pain like it so was given morphine and doctors said if I had left it any longer I would be dead.”
“I put my illness down to stress and ignored the symptoms. But mum knew it was something more and pushed me to feel better. She saved my life,” the student said. “I blamed deadlines, returning to uni after the New Year and exams. Actually I was seriously ill.”
However, her exams will have to wait for Pankhurst is not yet back to full health. “I need time to let my body recover. I want to get on but I end up sleeping for 13 hours a night and then in the day too,” she says of her current condition.
Now, Pankhurst hopes that by sharing her story, she can raise awareness for TSS. “It’s amazing a tampon could have such an impact. I will never ever wear a tampon again,” she says. “Girls my age are not aware of the dangers of using tampons.”