Imagine getting a call from the police saying they’ve found your adult daughter unresponsive in her home, with a fever of 108 degrees, face down in her own vomit. Paramedics rush her to the hospital, where she suffers a heart attack, her blood pressure keeps plummeting, and her organs start shutting down. And there is no explanation for what’s happening.
An ER doctor notes that your daughter was wearing a tampon when she arrived at the hospital and sends it to a lab. Three days later, as your child lies in a coma on life support, the lab results indicate Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)—a rare, but potentially fatal, bacterial infection primarily associated with the use of highly absorbent tampons.
Lauren Wasser was the daughter in this scenario, which happened in 2012. She was 24 years old at the time. And like most of us, she used tampons without giving TSS more than a passing thought.
Wasser woke up in the hospital after being in a coma for a week and a half, totally disoriented and with no memory of having collapsed. She found herself in a body 80 pounds heavier than it had been, pumped full of pressers and fluids to stabilize her blood pressure.
Those drastic measures saved Wasser’s life, but not without a price. Limited blood flow to the limbs caused her right leg to develop gangrene, and her left leg was heading down the same road. Discussions about amputating both legs ensued, but Wasser was determined to save her left leg.
She lost her right leg from the knee down, as well as the toes of her left foot. She has weekly treatments to manage ongoing issues with her left leg, and the threat of another amputation still looms.
Her body ravaged, her career as a model rocked, her athletic hobbies dramatically and permanently impacted, Wasser fell into a deep depression. It wasn’t until her girlfriend, a photographer, began taking hundreds of photos of her that she began to emerge from the darkness and see herself and her new life in a different light.
Now, Wasser says, she believes her life purpose is to educate women about the risks of TSS and push for greater transparency in regards to tampon use. She’s advocating for legislation to push the National Institutes of Health to more deeply examine the safety of certain elements of feminine hygiene products. She has also given a TED talk on finding role models instead of fashion models, and inspires tens of thousands through her Instagram account.
Though TSS is rare, Lauren’s story highlights the real danger that tampon use can pose. We all need to educate ourselves and our daughters on the risks and how to avoid them.
According to the Mayo Clinic, possible signs of TSS include:
- A sudden high fever
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles
- Muscle aches
- Redness of your eyes, mouth and throat
The condition tends to progress and worsen quickly. If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
To help lower your risk of TSS, read tampon labels and use the lowest absorbency tampon you can. Change tampons at least every four to eight hours, and don’t sleep in them. Alternate between tampons and sanitary napkins, and use pads when your flow is light.
Even if you follow these precautions, watch for signs of TSS. Wasser had been changing her tampon, but brushing off her symptoms almost cost her her life.
Her story also reminds us to trust our mama bear instincts. Wasser thought she just had a bug of some sort, but her mom was worried after talking to her on the phone. When her mother first had the police go check on her, Wasser turned them away. If her mother hadn’t requested a second welfare check, this story would have a whole different ending.
Teach your girls to be smart with tampons and trust your gut, mamas. Toxic Shock Syndrome definitely isn’t something to mess around with.