It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m panicking.

I woke up with the worst pain in my abdomen.

To be more specific, it feels as though someone has reached inside me and is squeezing my innards as they attempt to rip them from my body.

I’ve already woken Tony up twice.

The first time was to ask him where it would hurt if I were about to die from appendicitis. He assured me it would be in my side.

He has a scar where I would approximate the appendix to be, so I’m pretty sure he knows about these things.

OK then, it’s not appendicitis.

The second time was to tell him I think I need to go to the hospital because I think I’m about to die of Toxic Shock Syndrome. And to apologize for being such a bitch last night.

If you’re about to die, it’s always best to apologize for things like that. Especially if you’re me because I’ve always wronged somebody in some way.

Tony assured me that I’m not going to die and I don’t need to go to the hospital.


And so I took some Advil and continued to lie in bed awaiting my imminent death.

“It’s probably just indigestion. Maybe you ate something bad,” he said.

Yeah, maybe he’s right.

But, oh God this hurts!

No, no, why isn’t the Advil working? Advil always works when I have cramps.

No, surely this is Toxic Shock Syndrome. Or something much worse.

Should I get out of bed and look for the information pamphlet? I’ve read that information pamphlet 600 times. How do I not remember the symptoms of Toxic Shock?


I try to stay calm.

I try yoga positions.

I try lying on my stomach and massaging my ab muscles.

I try lying on my back.

I lie in the fetal position.

Nothing is making this go away.

And all I can think about is the plight of 20-somethings and middle-income workers in today’s world. There are hospitals all over the city. There are firefighters, doctors, policemen, paramedics, all waiting for a call for help.

And yet. And yet, we can’t call. We can’t call because all we can think about is: What if I’m wrong? What if I’m not dying of TSS? I’ll have wasted all that money. I’ll never be able to pay the bills. I’ll be in financial ruin, especially here in France where I have no Social Security to reimburse me.

No, it’s better to risk death.

If there’s no fire, no blood, no mangled limbs, then there’s no reason to call 911.

Oh God, I don’t even know the number for 911 in France! Jesus, how do I not know this? What if this is serious?

OK. OK. Calm down.

Let’s go get that pamphlet on Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Here it is.

I look at the pamphlet. It’s in at least 10 different languages, none of them English.


Wait. What?! This is an American brand!* I’ve been using this since I was 16!** They have to have this information in English somewhere.

Surely this can’t be right. Calm down and check the languages again.

See there, there’s an “E” over that one.

Phew! OK.

Shit. No, I was wrong. “E” is for “Espagne.” What you need is “GB” for “Great Britain.”

Yep, that’s not here.

OK. OK. All is not lost. You speak French. Do you remember you speak French? You’ve been speaking French for 10 years! You can figure this out. And even if you can’t, remember that you have that giant English/French dictionary next to the bed.


Whoever thought of using a universal language for scientific words is a genius! Hm. I never knew Toxic Shock Syndrome was caused by Staphylococcus. No wonder it’s fatal.

Rebecca? Rebecca! Did you forget what you were looking for?

Oh yes. OK, here we are: symptoms.

I don’t have any of the symptoms, although I’m pretty sure I am blanched, but maybe that’s because it’s 3 a.m. But no vomiting so far, although I’m suddenly feeling nauseous. Um, nope, no diarrhea, no sore muscles, no feeling like I’ve been sunburned, no dizzy spells when I stand up.

So I take some Midol. I hate Midol because it has caffeine in it and it gives me the jitters.

I lie back in bed and try to concentrate on anything but the pain.

As I’m lying there I begin to be more logical. I rethink my original self-diagnosis, and I’m pretty sure this is actually just a really bad case of menstrual cramps brought on by having started taking the pill again this month. They say that can be a side effect, even though the commercials always promise less cramping and lighter periods.

Ah yes, the Midol is taking effect. Thank goodness Tony wasn’t easily talked into going to the hospital this morning. I’d hate to be in financial ruin for nothing but paranoia.

*Side note for you doubters: Tampax is indeed an American brand. It was started in Denver, CO, according to their Web site.

**Since the age of 16, I have been freaking out at least two or three times a year about Toxic Shock Syndrome. In fact, TSS is the reason it took me five years to start using tampons in the first place. I would have never changed over if it hadn’t been for joining the water polo team in high school.

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REBECCA ADLER is from Sacramento, CA, where she is a grad student in applied linguistics and works as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Jane & Jane, Sacramento Business Journal, and Comstock's Business Magazine, among others. She also keeps a book review blog and can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

2 responses to “Paranoia About Toxic Shock Syndrome and Fear of Calling For Help in the 21st Century”

  1. Original Comment Thread Below:


    Comment by jennifer white
    2007-12-01 04:52:02

    Very funny read.
    I actually had TSS when I was 3 years old–one of 10 cases in children that year, I’m told (and obviously, unrelated to tampons).
    I’m glad the Midol worked.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Christopher Pimental
    2007-12-01 04:53:38

    My gut was literally clenched as I read this (not due to the topic, but that the writing put me into that bed right beside you (no offense to Tony), watching it all happen.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Onze Cinquante-neuf
    2007-12-01 11:29:28

    Don’t we all hate night terrors, is anything more terrifying than all the possiblities of pain and loss in the middle of the endless night? All the what ifs and what thens?

    So glad you weren’t shocked toxic.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2007-12-01 12:12:01

    JW: I can’t believe you had toxic shock when you were a kid! How did your parents know? I never even knew that was possible. I seriously have a million questions for you right now.

    CP: Thanks for reading and cringing with me. 🙂
    59: I hate, hate, hate all the terrible things that come creeping into my mind in the middle of the night. I wish there was an off switch for thoughts like that.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by N.L. Belardes
    2007-12-02 09:27:53

    I’ve always had my share of nightmares, but only had night terrors once. That was the day I woke up with Meningitis.

    I think if I were a female and had to put things in my body that some strange corporation made in a factory, I would feel pretty weird a lot too.

    I will say this: we writers have beyond active imaginations. It takes special people to understand why we freak out about the things we do.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Richard Ferguson
    2007-12-02 13:06:19

    Woof. Scary stuff here. Getting sick in one’s own country is bad enough. But having it happen when you’re far, far from home is quite chilling.

    All the best.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Emma R
    2007-12-03 02:11:41

    Scary and funny. A very engrossing piece of writing.

    But Tampax ARE scary. They are bleached and have a nasty filler that encourages bleeding.

    Buy organic tampons from now on. It might make you feel a bit better when you wake in the night!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore
    2007-12-03 12:46:35

    i constantly worry about TSS! but i kind of want it. i mean, no one gets it anymore. it’s sorta retro-hip.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2007-12-03 14:28:23

    Emma: You really use organic ones? I don’t know if I can find them here, but maybe I’ll check them out when I get back to the states. I know they have them there but I’ve always been a bit weary…

    Lenore: I knew you’d understand. Your my WebMD, self-diagnosing, soul sister.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lara Hopwood
    2007-12-04 01:20:06

    When I was in high school in the 80s, one of the girls on the drill team got TSS. Had a raging fever and passed out. I’ve never heard of anyone getting it since, so it was surprising to be reminded that it’s still a possibility when using tampons.

    I can’t imagine how stressful it is being ill in a foreign country, and trying to assess how life threatening your pain could be using a translation dictionary. Although your story gives me a pretty good idea.

    Glad to know you’re ok.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by rk
    2007-12-04 02:38:16


    Well, there’s something I never thought of writing about while in Paris…

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kaytie M. Lee
    2007-12-04 13:36:19

    OMG Lenore! Made me lol all over the comments section.

    Bex – by the end I thought you were going to tell us you had a kidney stone. Now that is pain that makes you think you’re dying. I’m glad the Midol kicked in for you.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2007-12-06 05:01:30

    RK: See, I try to come up with original views on Paris. At least I know the women’s POV hasn’t been overdone here.

    Kaytie: Oh God. I’m so glad it wasn’t a kidney stone. It really was quite painful though. If I ever get a kidney stone I’ll try to do a comparison.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Chason
    2008-01-02 20:38:57

    I’m glad you are okay. I watched “Sicko” and I was under the impression that medical care received in France, even for people just visiting the country, was cost-free. I realize that maybe you don’t pay taxes or whatever, but the guy who broke his wrist walking on his hands across Abbey Road (yes, pretty silly thing to do) got his wrist fixed up at a British hospital and didn’t have to pay anything. Why wouldn’t it be the same for you in Paris? If you don’t mind, send me a reply to [email protected]. If you do mind, remember this so we can talk about it next time I see you.
    Reply to this comment

  2. Anxiety girl says:

    Oh my. I relate so much! That terrible fear in the middle of the night when you feel like you’re the only person in the whole world… I can easily give myself panic attacks when I wake up to any kind of abdominal pain or discomfort and how ironic it is that freaking out only makes those sensations worse! I haven’t used tampons since something similar happened to me, pads are awful but that paranoid, crippling fear tampons give me isn’t worth it. But I’m relieved I’m not the only one prone to freaking out because of tampons!

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