Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Day my Daughter Nearly Died of Toxic Shock Syndrome

I was just about to get into the shower to go out when the phone rang. My son-in-law Duncan asked: 'Do you think you can come over?'
'Why do you want me to come over?'
'Nic's not well.'
'What's wrong with her?'
He told me that my daughter of twenty-seven had been ill all night with sickness and diarrhoea and that he had to go out. Would I sit with her? 'I'll be up later,' I said and went off to have my shower.

Well you know how it is when something doesn't sound quite right. Duncan never phones me. For him to ring and ask for me to come over was Duncan's shorthand for: 'We need help!' So when I came out of the shower I hurriedly dressed and drove the fifteen miles to their house.

Nic had a temperature, I could see that, but she had taken paracetamol and she felt a little better. 'I think I've got food poisoning,' she said, but she added that she was at the tail end of her menstrual period. She had been taken ill on the Thursday while in London and had made it back to Norfolk later that day. Friday she was still feeling unwell and that night she started the vomiting etc. Today was Saturday, so no doctors except the emergency doctors.

OK, we've all had food poisoning. And we've all recovered. After Duncan had been out and done whatever it was he had to do, I left them. It was lunchtime by now. I phoned at five o'clock to see how she was, expecting Duncan to tell me she was much better. But no! 'She's worse!' he said.

I ordered him to get the emergency doctor, and he came, reluctantly, and pronounced that it was appendicitis. 'I don't think it's appendix,' I said to my husband. 'She's got no stomach ache.' Well, anyway, the doctor ordered an ambulance.

By this time we were in the car and on our way - first to the hospital where there was no sign of Duncan's car, and then to their house (which was not far away from the hospital) where they were still waiting for the ambulance. Now I was shocked to see my daughter. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, and was bright red, so hot with fever. It took the ambulance two hours to come, owing to the fact that it was Guy Fawkes night and half the county was busy getting themselves burned! If we could have got her down the stairs we would have taken her to the hospital ourselves.

At the hospital the doctors said it was definitely not appendix (so I was right there!), but they did not know what it was. They admitted Nic to the ward with a rehydration drip in her arm, and reluctantly at 11.00 pm we left her, still none the wiser, but now extremely worried.

At about midnight, by which time she had seen about eight doctors, they informed my daughter that they would give her an internal examination, for which she demanded a female doctor. Which decision saved her life. The only female doctor they could find turned out to be the gynaecologist who took one look at Nic and said: 'Toxic shock,' and ordered intravenous penicillin.

The eight (male) doctors who were scratching their heads had not added up the facts - the menstrual period including tampon use, the high fever. The vomiting and diarrhoea had everyone thinking it was food poisoning.

So, just what is Toxic Shock Syndrome? What are the symptoms.

From Toxic Shock Syndrome Information Service at we learn:

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but very serious illness that can develop rapidly in anyone From a UK population of around 60 million there were about 40 cases reported each year, half of which are associated with women using tampons [Source: UK Public Health Laboratory Service 1985-1995]

Men, women and children can get toxic shock syndrome, for example following burns, boils, insect bites or infections after surgery. About half of the reported cases are linked to women who use tampons; the other half are not.

With early diagnosis toxic shock syndrome can be successfully treated. Sadly, however, out of the small number of people who fall ill each year, 2-3 people die from TSS. It is important to remember that if TSS is diagnosed and treated early there is a good chance of recovery.

Most doctors will never see a case of toxic shock syndrome. TSS is so rare that most doctors will not come across TSS during their medical careers.

From the last comment, perhaps that is why the doctors did not know what it was. So just what are the symptoms?

The same site tells us:

Some of the symptoms of TSS are much like severe ‘flu’ and usually include some or all of the following:
  • a sudden high fever (temperature)
  • vomiting
  • a sunburn-like rash
  • diarrhoea
  • fainting or feeling faint
  • muscle aches
  • dizziness
  • confusion
What should I do if I have these symptoms?
Consult your doctor at once, if you or anyone you know, has some of these symptoms and suspect TSS. If you are wearing a tampon remove it and tell your doctor that you have been using tampons. Don’t worry about being alarmist – it is important to rule out the possibility of having TSS and if necessary your doctor will then be able to begin treatment early.

Well, you will be pleased to know that that incident was some twelve years ago and Nic recovered well, although it took some six weeks or more for her to be fully over it.

As for me, I will never forget the night my daughter nearly died.

Evelyn Tidman is the author of GENTLEMAN OF FORTUNE the Adventures of Bartholomew Roberts, Pirate and ONE SMALL CANDLE The Story of the Pilgrim Fathers.


  1. What a horrible experience! A sober lesson for all women!

    1. I have to say I went on a 'crusade' to spread the word after it happened. Took me a long while to get over it, I can tell you.