words: Allie Wilson Images: courtesy Allie Wilson, engagement photo Kim Singer Photography
TSS, or Toxic Shock Syndrome, is a dangerous bacterial infection in which two different types of bacteria are often the root cause: staph or strep. Although women are more prone to this disease through the use of tampons, it’s also seen in men and those with minor injuries. I never thought I’d be part of the statistics since TSS is considered a rare condition. My name is Allie Wilson, and this is my story.
It’s 8:30 a.m. on June 27, 2017, and I’ve woken up sick. I’m weak and shivering as I hang over the toilet in desperation. I begin to question what went wrong; just twelve hours prior, I had played the best two softball games in my Church League career. I hesitate calling my mom because I know she’ll go into complete panic mode, but I also know something’s wrong. I tell myself to be tough; it’ll be okay. I push myself off the floor and attempt to get back in bed to stop the shivers. Halfway there, I turn around and barely hit the target. Dizzy and unstable, I clean myself up and reach for my phone to call Mom, who’s two-and-a-half-hours away from where I live in Little Rock. She’s my superhero, and within minutes she’s made me an appointment with my doctor in Greenwood, my hometown.
My boyfriend, Adam, is my next call. He races to me, and in the twenty minutes it takes him to arrive, I lie on the cold bathroom floor where I sweat profusely. He quickly packs the car with every possible thing a sick person would need: trash can, blanket, pillow, water, and crackers.
With all my strength, I get myself to the car, holding on to any object I can find between the bathroom and the car. Adam wraps me in blankets, and for the next two hours, I drift in and out of sleep, which seems to help my nausea. When I wake, I’m outside my doctor’s office, and my mom is with me, her soft voice comforting me. I try to walk inside, but I can’t, using a wheelchair instead. The doctor runs tests, gives me two shots, and tells me to call if things get worse.
Two hours later, my mother realizes I am indeed getting worse. She has a hard time convincing me to go to the hospital since I’m disoriented, but she doesn’t give up and soon we’re at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith.
I arrive at the ER and stagger through the front doors. Mom is holding me up, and my teeth chatter. My body feels frozen despite the Arkansas summer heat. Soon, I’m in an exam room where my vitals are being tracked, and my blood is taken. My vision is going in and out, as is my awareness. The frantic nurses and doctors are talking a hundred miles an hour, getting IVs ready, asking me if I know where I am. I look at my mom, who’s trying to be positive. Her solemn face tells me everything I need to know. My sweet grandfather is there as well, holding my hand and praying.
Mom tells me later that my temperature was 104.7, and my blood pressure a frightening 60/20. Test results show I have a severe urinary tract infection that will respond to medicine, but I am dangerously dehydrated and need to be admitted.
I’m put in a regular room in the yellow hall with young, hip nurses who ensure I’ll receive great care. I don’t get much sleep overnight because a nurse wakes me every thirty minutes to track the progress they hope to see, but don’t. My body begins to hurt worse overnight, and I feel hopeless; I can barely lift my arm in the air.
At 6:00 the next morning, I’m undergoing an MRI to see why I’m not improving. The test helps the doctors diagnose me with Toxic Shock Syndrome and Sepsis.
I’m immediately moved to ICU where I meet a new nurse-friend, Ella, my angel who never leaves my side. I meet Manuel Vilchez-Diaz who becomes my infectious disease doctor and hero the next couple of days. He’s consulted with a doctor at Dartmouth University, and they agree on my diagnosis. Our relationship doesn’t start well because he orders a painful central line to be put into my neck to administer a drug that will raise my blood pressure. I now have a line in each arm and one in the neck.
In the next few days, I’m hopeful the central line is working; however, my blood pressure still reads 90/30, and my temperature is 103 degrees. By this time, Adam has reurned from Little Rock, and word is spreading about my illness.
Despite the incredible support from my family and friends, I reach my breaking point. My pain turns excruciating due to lactic acid buildup in my body. I’ve gained twenty-five pounds due to the fluids I’m getting through IVs, and I pray with much emotion to be healed. The strong, energizing, positive Allie that everyone knew is gone.
Dr. Vilchez tells my family that if I’m not better overnight, they’ll do a spinal tap the following day. I cannot tell you how that night reconfirms my belief in the power of prayer. Although I ask for no more visitors, a constant stream comes in and out of the waiting area praying for me and asking God to bring me back to health.
During alone-time with Adam, he prays, and I feel humbled. Together we watch a miracle happen. Around 3:30 in the morning, my temperature begins to decrease to ninety-nine, and my blood pressure holds steady at 95/50. That next day, working hard to regain my strength, I wink at Dr. Vilchez as I walk by his office, all by myself.
My plan works, and I’m moved to a lower level of ICU, and the next day moved to a regular room. Thankfully, God continues to answer the many prayers, and on July 3, I’m heading home!
On July 4, I celebrate our country’s freedom as well as my own! What I don’t know is that this type of illness won’t allow a quick return to normal life. Within the next three months, I’m in the hospital two more times. My immune system is low and can’t ward off attacks. Every time I try to exercise, I pay for it, feeling like I have the flu the following day. Every time I have my period, I relapse.
It takes me six months to feel like myself again.
There are good things that happen during this time as well. A week after I’m released from the hospital, Adam asks me to marry him. He had that date set for two months and thankfully he didn’t have to postpone the proposal. We’re planning our wedding in May and look forward to a happy, healthy life together. I’m so thankful for God’s power to heal me, and for the many doctors, nurses, friends, and family members who prayed and worked fervently to get me through.
My message is simple: be informed of what you are putting into your body, be vigilant and listen to your instincts when things are not right, believe in God’s power and always give Him the glory!
Top Ways to Prevent TSS
If possible, use 100% cotton feminine hygiene products and don’t use super absorbent tampons, which are often linked to TSS.
Don’t wear tampons for extended periods of time.
Although I suggest not wearing them at all, this is the least you can do. The longer you keep a tampon in your system, the more prone you are to infection! Change your tampon every 2 to 3 hours and of course, avoid sleeping in them.
Be alert to staph in locker rooms.
Be careful in atmospheres that carry a lot of bacteria from sweat and where injuries/open wounds may be present.
Wash your hands frequently.
Wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon to reduce bacteria. In addition, washing your hands helps prevent exposure to additional germs and infections, which can be transferred to your system.
Add a probiotic to your daily diet.
Probiotics boost your immune system and are one of the main ways to guard the body from all kinds of problems, including symptoms of TSS.
Don’t assume you have the flu.
If you’re using tampons and exhibit symptoms of fever, nausea, body aches, sunburn rash on the body, and low blood pressure, have your doctor evaluate you for TSS.