I have been tracking this whole tampon recall business very closely. I’ve saved every article, even though they are extremely limited. I have collected any testimony I can find online. It’s an important issue to me for many reasons, the first being I’m a woman and I happen to menstruate every month. The second being I was one of the 60% of women affected by this recall.
I have decided to document my exact experience, in case something even worse starts to happen. I bet a lot of you reading this have had a similar experience with the recall. If so, please let me know. You are not alone. I live in America so I can only speak to my own experience, although I know similar events occurred in the UK, Canada, and other countries.
I was offered large sums of money to keep my story quiet. We all were. But I am not taking their money. Women died because of this. I saw a woman waste away in front of me and they want me to shut up? Never. I don’t care what happens now.
It was last November when I started experiencing symptoms. Now take into account – I’ve been using tampons since I was fifteen. I know all about toxic shock syndrome and basic hygiene. I am no menstruation newbie.
But that month I started experiencing something odd. I got my period near the 1st, like I typically do. About a day into my period I started feeling an intense itching sensation. It wasn’t a normal itch. It felt like someone was dragging a rake down the inside of my vagina. I wasn’t worried it was an STD, since I hadn’t had sex in almost a year. I spent the whole day at work uncomfortable, squirming around in my chair. I couldn’t wait to get home.
When I finally did I drew a bath. I took off my clothes, took out my tampon, and lowered myself into the water. The warm water made everything much better. I breathed a sigh of relief. It must have just been a weird reaction to something. I got out, put in a new tampon, and went to sleep.
I woke up in the middle night in extreme pain. The itching was back but now it was more like razors. I pulled away my covers to see that my lower half was covered in blood. I screamed and tried to get to the bathroom, but my legs were too wobbly from the pain. I ended up crawling there, sobbing. It seriously felt like someone was cutting me up from the inside.
I managed to kneel by my bathtub and fill it with water. I reached down tentatively, afraid that taking out the tampon would cause me even more pain. I slid it out and stared. The tampon looked as if it had been ripped apart while it was inside of me. I got into the bathtub, but the pain didn’t stop. If anything it got worse.
I remember getting lightheaded. I realized that the blood filling up the tub wasn’t just my period. I must have wounds inside my vagina that were bleeding heavily. I was losing too much blood. The water was drawing it all out of me and my mind was getting fuzzy. I blacked out.
Thank god my neighbor heard me screaming and called 911. I woke up in the hospital. My legs were in stirrups. The pain had dulled, although I could still feel an ache from between my legs. I moaned in agony.
My sounds must have alerted the doctor, who shuffled over to me. I looked up at him. “What happened to me?”
He frowned and checked one of the machines I was hooked up to. “You lost a lot of blood. You can’t get into bath if you’ve got a cut that deep. That’s how people kill themselves!” He sighed. “You are the thirteenth woman to be admitted here with these kinds of wounds. Can you tell me what happened?”
“Nothing happened. It just started suddenly.”
“Let me guess – are you menstruating?”
I squinted at him. “Yeah.”
“Did you use a tampon?”
And that’s when he told me about the recall. Apparently it hadn’t gone public yet, but companies had alerted the surgeon general that they were about to announce a world-wide recall of all tampons. The surgeon general had alerted hospitals that they may see an influx of patients with extreme wounds inside their vaginas.
I was too injured to go home so I stayed at the hospital. My wounds were not getting any better. A doctor would stitch me up (thank god for morphine) but within a few hours the stitches would be broken. They ruled out a rash and knew I wasn’t doing it to myself. A nurse told me that by my second day there were forty other women in the same condition. I learned later that two women had already died.
I was terrified. I had no idea what was wrong with me and the pain was horrible. If it weren’t for the drugs they gave me I might not have made it.
It was ten days later that the press conference was held. I watched it from my bed. I was now always hooked up with pints of new blood, since I kept losing so much. By this time I wasn’t menstruating anymore. It was all blood lost from the cuts that kept ripping up my vagina.
The woman who gave the press conference wore a neat pink skirt-suit. She said that something had contaminated the entire stock of tampons. She called it an ‘unfortunate event.’ She recommended that anyone who had used a tampon in the past month report immediately to a hospital. She said that although there were extreme medical concerns associated with the tampon use, there was a cure. It was called Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. I figured it was the technical medical term for some drug. She apologized once (ONLY ONCE!) and then the press conference was over.
After the broadcast, the hospital was filled with women. They didn’t have enough rooms for everyone. Eventually there were two cots brought into my room and I now had two ‘roommates.’ Their names were Mary and Justine. I was honestly grateful for the company.
Mary was in terrible shape. She had used the tampons for her entire period (almost 7 days) and ignored her pain and bleeding. She had no insurance so she didn’t go to a hospital. Justine told me that the ‘infection’ had spread to her uterus and was most likely loose in her body. Mary’s skin was gray and she was always crying. The doctor gave her as much pain meds as possible, but it didn’t help. Justine and I would talk lightly while Mary sobbed in her bed.
They gave us the cure as soon as it arrived to the hospital. It was contained in a pill that we were supposed to put inside our vaginas. The pill would disintegrate and the medicine would be absorbed. Of course, the insertion was incredibly painful. But I just wanted this horror story to be over.
No one told us… no one said what would happen.
No one told us exactly what was going on. That’s why they offered us all a settlement after it was over. If we stay quiet, they can rebuild. But what I saw that night will live with me forever.
Once the suppository was in place, the doctor left our room and closed the door. It was a bit weird that he closed the door, but I didn’t notice it at the time. I made some stupid joke about this being the most action I’ve got in months. Justine laughed, I think. Mary was whimpering. A few hours passed. We watched stupid TV and chatted aimlessly.
Right around 11pm Justine said she felt something weird. I looked over at her and she was twitching. I asked her if I should call the nurse but my mouth went dry. I could see them coming out under her gown. There must have been thousands.
Thousands of tiny ants started crawling out of her. She began to scream. They moved with robotic symmetry. All of them following each other out from between her legs. They crawled up her body onto her face. She tried to swat them off of her but there were too many. They all crawled to the top of her head and sat there. They were covered in blood. They tracked blood on her skin as they crawled. I pushed the nurse button again and again but no one came. Yells were echoing from the other rooms as well.
Then Mary started to scream. I was afraid to look but couldn’t take my eyes away. Ants started crawling out of her as well, but they also seemed to come from other places. Then it donned on me – they were eating through her skin to get to the surface. The ‘infection’ had spread to so much of her body that the ants were everywhere, digging their way up to the top of her head. I watched in horror was one ant borrowed out of her eye. She stopped screaming and started gurgling. I’m ashamed to say I looked away. She was going to die from this.
It happened to me too, but I don’t want to go into detail. Just know it was the worst thing to have ever happened to me. I can’t sleep because I still see them crawling over my skin, leaving marks of red all over me. I can’t go an hour without feeling like they are still crawling on me.
No amount of money will erase those memories.
It turns out Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis is a fungus. It eats ants from the inside and takes a hold of their brains. It makes them go to the highest point they can before killing the ant. The surgeon general must have been forced to use this because the ants were borrowed so deep in our bodies that typical methods couldn’t reach them.
The doctors knew the entire time that we had ants inside of us, but said nothing. The tampon rep said nothing. They allowed us to suffer by ourselves in the unknown. Bastards.
Like most of the women affected, I have lasting damage. My vagina is scarred and sex is nearly impossible. Even worse, I will never be able to carry children. For weeks afterwards a lone ant would climb out of me, finally submitting to the fungus. I used to worry that I would never get rid of them.
We have no idea what effect the fungus itself will have on us. I heard a rumor in my support group that an affected woman climbed to the top of a telephone poll before dying, just like the ants did.
Needless to say, I don’t use tampons anymore.