This Is What Happens If You Leave A Tampon In For 9 Days

During menstruation, women are given a choice between using a sanitary napkin, a tampon, or a cup to saturate or collect the blood flowing from our bodies. Each has their benefits and their issues. What a woman chooses is an entirely personal choice; but with all of the options, the one that comes with a deadly warning are tampons.

When given the option of wearing a tampon, we are warned about menstruation related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Symptoms can include high fever that is “sometimes accompanied by chills,” confusion, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and organ failure. The possible complications can lead to organ damage, shock, and even death.

If we are not told this by the person who educates us about menstruation, we discover TSS by reading the labeling on the box and/or on the instruction insert in the package. Unfortunately, some girls, like 20-year-old Emily Pankhurst, learn the hard way about what can happen if we do not timely change our tampons, and experience TSS first hand.

Emily Pankhurst’s Story

Pankhurst is a 20-year-old college student from Kent in South East England. In the middle of finals, she got her period. She was so stressed and anxious about making high grades that she forgot she had a tampon inside of her. Her flow must have bypassed the full tampon, because she inserted a new one with the other tampon still there.

Pankhurst only discovered the tampon after experiencing bloody discharge and a bloated stomach, nine days later. Pankhurst stated,

When I finally realised the tampon was in me and I pulled it out it was pure black. It was obviously coated in bacteria. I wouldn’t have known what it was apart from the string. It was horrible.”

Soon after Pankhurst took out the tampon, her mother rushed her to Maidstone Hospital because “she became faint and her speech slurred.

Thankfully, the intervention by her mother saved her life. As Pankhurst stated,

I put my illness down to stress and ignored the symptoms. But mum knew it was something more and pushed me to feel better. She saved my life.

Many women are ridiculing Pankhurst, not understanding how she forgot the tampon. There are others who are coming to her defense since leaving a tampon inside is unfortunately something many women have experienced.

A Common Experience

According to Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, menstruation related TSS is rare. It is rare for three reasons: (1) tampon manufacturers decreased the tampon absorbency; (2) labeling must include TSS warnings; and (3) women have a “heightened awareness” about TSS.

The heightened awareness roughly began around the early 1980s after a dramatic increase in TSS occurring in otherwise healthy young women. Women began understanding that TSS is preventable by by using lower absorbency tampons, changing tampons frequently, and using them in conjunction with sanitary napkins. Unfortunately, the cases that do happen, usually occur in women between the ages of 13 to 19-years-old.

Despite the heightened awareness about TSS, forgetting a tampon inside is a common experience among menstruating women, including how it occurred to Pankhurst.

Forgetting a tampon often occurs at the end of a woman’s cycle when the blood flow has dramatically decreased. Tampons can easily be pushed high into the vaginal canal, including getting the string caught in there. Some women may smell a foul discharge or begin cramping before realizing the tampon is still inside.

If it’s still early in the cycle, the blood will continue flowing once the tampon is full prompting a woman to forget that there is already a tampon inside, and they insert a new one.

Usually a woman can take it out on her own by simply inserting her fingers inside and looking for the string. But, many women still cannot find it or have a difficult time getting it out that they need a medical provider to take it out for them.

Understandably, this is an embarrassing experience.

Women’s Response to Pankhurst’s Story

Despite how common forgetting a tampon is, many women did not understand how Pankhurst could leave her tampon in for so long. When BuzzFeed retold Pankhurst’s story, their readers went off in the comments section, mostly confused how any woman can forget that a tampon is inside.

Here are some of the comments (names purposely withdrawn):

“Maybe it’s just me, but I have never been that unaware of my vagina in my life! Esp [sic] during my period. It goes into overdrive when I’m on my period.”

“I’m getting the feeling she isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. There would be the smell of rot after just a few days. Stress doesn’t make you ignore that room-clearing scent.”

“I facepalmed so hard. How do you simply forget? If I leave one in for more than 4 hours I get irritated.

[S]he’s up there with the ‘[I] didn’t know [I] was preggo until [I] shat a baby’ women. [I]’m sure we’ve all had killer exams, but none so bad that [I] forgot there was an object in my vagina!”

How a woman gets so busy she doesn’t realize she still has a tampon in is kinda unbelieveable. Mainly because you should be able to feel the tampon in you. I do. Sometimes I wanna be mean and say this is natural selection at work in real life. Hard to have much sympathy for her. People can be so dumb. Lastly, if you’re going to respond and say I should be nicer or yadda, yadda. I honestly don’t care. I stand by my comments. She was dumb.

Some readers came to Pankhurst’s defense:

“If you’re extremely stressed, you tend to miss a lot of things you’d normally pick up on. Not to mention the fact that stress itself can really mess with your body so you might assume that any weirdness was caused by that.”

“Extreme anxiety can do that to a person. And stressors differ from person to person. What stresses on person does not bother another person.”

Really shocked at all the comments bashing this woman. Like you all haven’t made mistakes before and forgotten the most obvious things?…go on being so ‘perfect’. It’s not like you’ve ever messed up.”

I had one in for 6 weeks before without noticing…I put one in at the very end of period just for safety and forgot about it because it didn’t get full or heavy feeling…Just because you find it hard to believe it happens .. doesn’t mean it never happens. I find it hard to believe that racism still exists and there are child molesters in the world .. but it happens.”

Then there was this comment:

“[W]hile shes sitting there worried about graduation, I wouldnt [sic] even have allowed this article to be written around me. Nobody would fucking know if it was me lol. ‘Why were you in the hospital?’ ‘Appendicitis. Prove me wrong’ Now when a future employer googles her name, first thing that will pop up is a article where she left a tampon in 9 days. What a nightmare.”

Point of Story: It Can Happen to Anyone

When I first heard Parkhurst’s story, I was among those confused. I simply do not understand how a woman can leave a tampon inside of her for that long. I too have been greatly stressed with exams along with all the busyness of life; but so stressed that I would forget a tampon for nine days? I simply cannot understand.

In retelling Pankhurst’s story, I first did not want to be objective. But then I had second thoughts for the following two reasons: (1) all women’s bodies and experiences are different — including our menstrual cycles; and (2) no one is perfect. After doing the research on how common forgetting a tampon is, I now applaud Pankhurst for coming forward with her experience.

Though it will be embarrassing when a future employer, or even a boyfriend, researches her name online and this story pops up, this is a story that needed to be told because it reminds all women about the dangers of using tampons. It also educates us on how common forgetting a tampon is, that hopefully when it happens to the next woman, she will not be as embarrassed by her experience.

Featured image is a screengrab from BuzzFeed.