A makeup artist who went on a natural health kick needed emergency surgery when she felt her “body shutting down” after using an organic tampon.
Waking up with a pounding headache and feeling like she had been hit by a truck on 15 January, 2018, Kristina Makris visited a walk-in clinic on the advice of her mum Diane, 63.
The 33-year-old was sent home to rest with suspected flu, but woke up in her home in Massachusetts, USA shivering and “looking like death”.
Diane drove Kristina – by then vomiting bile non-stop into a bin bag – straight to Lahey Hospital where she endured a “torture” like 30 minute wait in the emergency room.
She said: “I could feel my body shutting down, it was my worst nightmare.
“Doctors pumped me with four different antibiotics and fluids to raise my blood pressure, making me gain 30lb in fluids.
“I still had no idea what was wrong with me, and it seemed that the doctors weren’t sure either.”
Kristina had recently switched to using organic tampons, but began feeling ‘under the weather’ two weeks after her period ended.
The Monday before she had been very sick, also noticing she had a swollen lump on her groin.
Having assumed she was suffering from a gym injury or temporary illness after switching to a vegan diet, Kristina became increasingly concerned as her condition got worse.
She said: “I could feel it in my soul that something was terribly wrong.
“I was so weak I had to text my mum downstairs. I couldn’t even shout for her.
“Once she had run upstairs and seen me, she looked terrified, and immediately took me to the car.”
After being given the blood pressure medication and antibiotics at hospital she was still no better, feeling as though her organs were in agony.
“I begged the nurses for painkillers and even threatened to find some and take them myself,” she said.
“I was so angry and terrified, I didn’t know how to react.”
With the rash on her leg spreading fast and her vital signs getting weaker, at around 1am the next morning Kristina was moved to the intensive care unit.
She said: “I just remember the surgical team running towards me and telling me I had 45 minutes to make a decision about whether or not to have surgery.
“I was so confused, I didn’t know what to say, or why I even needed surgery, until I was told I needed the procedure immediately or I would lose my left leg.”
When Kristina woke following surgery a day later she instantly saw the surgeon and, as she couldn’t speak, because of a breathing tube, wrote him a note on a white board saying: “Thank you for saving my life.”
Her mum and dad, Milton, 66, were also there when she woke up – delighted to see Kristina with her eyes open again.
Three days later doctors told Kristina the rash on her leg had gone septic and that she had suffered from toxic shock.
Working back through everything she had used in the days leading up to the ordeal Kristina and the doctors realised the organic tampons she recently bought were likely the cause.
Kristina added: “Because they were incredibly dry, as I pulled one out after use, I’d managed to scratch the wall inside my vagina, leaving it open to infection.
“It never once occurred to me that I could have lost my life due to something so simple.”
After spending two weeks in hospital Kristina was discharged, but then spent another three months getting her strength back at home.
She was forced to wear a wound vac – a small hand-held device fitted with a plastic tube, used to clear the infection on her thigh – and had a nurse visit her home to clean the wound every other day.
Kristina lost more than three stone in six weeks and suffered from emotional lows following the adrenalin boost her body triggered as it fought to stay alive.
She added: “Meanwhile, all the bile I threw up has ruined my teeth and enamel and I don’t think they’ll ever feel the same again.”
Since the shocking incident, doctors have advised Kristina to never use tampons again – and, too terrified to anyway, she has moved on to sanitary pads.
She said: “I hardly knew anything about toxic shock, apart from that when I was 12 and began my period, I was told to never leave a tampon in for too long.
“I followed all the rules but this still happened to me. Now I feel trauma when I see a tampon.”
Emma Soos, a registered nurse and MD of the Women’s Health Clinic, says that organic or not, all tampons can be dangerous.
She said: “The main reason women get toxic shock is the fact that they leave tampons in for too long.
“Organic or not, the risks are the same, but if you have changed the brand of tampon you use, it could cause a reaction if you an unfamiliar to anything different used in that product.
“In Kristina’s case, it could be down to how absorbent the product was – but we likely cannot pin it to down to one particular cause in this case.”