A student who thought she was feeling ill due to exam stress was actually suffering toxic shock syndrome after accidentally leaving her tampon in for nine days.
Emily Pankhurst, 20, from Maidstone, spent three days in intensive care, where doctors told her she had been hours away from death.
Now, as she struggles to learn to walk again, and battles extreme tiredness, the University of Kent student has spoken out about her experience in a bid to save other young women going through the same trauma she experienced.
Emily’s ordeal began just over a month ago but she put her symptoms down to the stress of completing her final year of a criminology degree.
She said: “I was going through an extremely stressful time, trying to complete deadlines for essays and everything got on top of me. I started complaining of fatigue, high temperature and constant headaches, which I believed were stress-related. However, down below I noticed abnormal discharge appear straight after my regular period ended.”
Emily was embarrassed but after a week she booked a doctor’s appointment. However, the doctor sent Emily home without giving her an internal examination and told her to take a swab herself.
But her mum wasn’t satisfied and suggested Emily had a shower and examined herself to make sure she hadn’t forgotten to remove a tampon.
“I went ahead and showered and to my shock, she was right,” she said. “I found a nasty, smelly, foul tampon that had gotten so far up I couldn’t feel a thing.”
Just half an hour after removing the tampon Emily began to deteriorate, feeling cold and confused and with a pounding headache. Soon she was unable to open her eyes. She was rushed to hospital by ambulance.
She said: “I don’t remember very much. I was taken into the ambulance where my blood pressure continued to drop; they decided my symptoms were major signs of sepsis.
"The doctors said if I had gone to bed that night I wouldn’t have woken up the next day," - toxic shock syndrome sufferer Emily Pankhurst
“The doctors and nurses rushed to my bedside, I was sent straight to x-ray to determine whether the infection had spread to my vital organs. Luckily it hadn’t. I had an internal examination, which I hadn’t received before, and they found major infection. My body had experienced toxic shock syndrome through battling with sepsis.”
Over the next three days Emily was given morphine for a pain she had “never experienced before” and spent a week in hospital.
She is now on the slow road to recovery.
She said: “I was very lucky my mum saw my symptoms as abnormal as the doctors said if I had gone to bed that night I wouldn’t have woken up the next day. The sepsis would have spread all across my body and shut down my vital organs.
"We worked out I left my tampon in for a minimum of nine days without realising – you’re not supposed to keep your tampon in for longer than 8 hours.
“I was preoccupied with my studies. I ignored my body telling me I was unwell and ruled it down to stress. Recovery at home is stressful, the infection caused weakness in my legs and I was unable to walk properly.
"Crutches were given to me to help strengthen my legs and get walking again. It is extremely emotional, tiring and frustrating because your mind wants to get up and do something but your body tells you to sleep. The most basic of tasks is very confusing and stressful.
“Girls my age are not aware of the dangers of using tampons. It is so important to keep an eye on your health, especially during stressful life experiences. I hope my story can help others like myself to take care of their health and not take their life for granted, because you never know what might be around the corner.”
Additional reporting by Josh Coupe.