The Perils of Double Dipping: Toxic Shock Syndrome in the Modern Age

Written by Rebecca Clarke.

In a discussion with the lovely Kate Menear last week we estimated that a woman will use approx. 6,048 tampons over the course of her menstrual lifetime. That’s calculated at 2 tampons a day over a 6-day period, twelve times a year from the age of 13 to 55. So, by my rough calculation, up until the point where I switched to pads for the foreseeable future I’d managed to master 1,296 encounters with the tricky, fiddly/potentially lethal beasts.

Aim them too short and spend the next few hours in cottony carpet burn hell. Aim too far and run the risk of losing the string up the vaginal equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave. And yet, even knowing all of this, I still for a number of years felt a great deal of embarrassment admitting to one particular tampon misdemeanour, what with it being, of somewhat shocking proportions. I could sense a palpable shame surrounding my great mistake.

The simple fact that if you choose the most commonly advocated form of absorption and manage to insert it correctly (which of course makes it completely undetectable to the wearer) you’ll find yourself on an 8 hr waiting list to becoming a candidate for toxic shock syndrome and potential impending death is, to put it mildly, a little daunting. You spend your early years so vigilant that the tampon has barely absorbed an ounce of blood before you’re switching for a fresher model. Fast forward 8 or 9 years into this monthly plight and the fear of this mythical toxic shock has deadened slightly. You’re now a seasoned pro at monitoring, stemming and serenely masking the sometimes agonising ebb and flow of blood that vacates you monthly.

You’ve had a few mishaps along the way, through which you have acquired the prowess of a period ninja. You may for example have performed a floor routine during a Jazz class that trailed a red smear behind you only to masterfully soak it up with your ballet shoe before making a graceful pirouette exit to the bathroom. (Okay, that one might be personal to me but guaranteed you’ve had the opportunity to act with similar swiftness because fail to do so and fail in your most basic of womanly duties). Which is why when I made my greatest error of all it was that un-communicable sense of humiliation that would lead me into truly dangerous waters.

It started innocently enough on a visit to see friends in Ireland. Whilst working my way through my nightly bathroom ablutions I sat on the loo and removed a tampon within plenty of time and replaced it with a trusty night time pad. I then re-joined the others for a final cup of tea before bed (rock on). On my way back up I thought I’d take one last pit stop and whilst on the loo I removed my tampon … Whilst on the loo I removed my tampon … I removed my tampon?! Horror flooded me from my vagina up. How could this be? I’d been wearing two tampons? How could they even fit? How many hours had it been there????? I hastily cleared away all evidence of my crime against womanity and hoped that a new day would cleanse me of my sin. NOBODY NEED EVER KNOW. The next morning my friend Ciaran and I woke at the crack of dawn to catch the early coach from Derry to Dublin. As the sun rose over the mystical emerald hills another mysterious landscape was arising in me, bringing a little chill to my bones along with a silky sheen of perspiration. Putting this down to exuberant levels of excitement I pushed the sensations to the back of my mind and purchased a shit load of paracetamol on arrival. However, halfway around the Guinness factory I ached so badly that it was all I could do not to break into Celtic song proclaiming this moment to be my very last!

On the coach back Ciaran frantically tried to diagnose this most strange and suddenly debilitating of common colds whilst a little voice at the back of my head whispered what I knew in my weary limbs to be true. But I would not speak it aloud, better to go down a respectful and promising young woman in the eyes of the world.

On our return to Derry we were most fortunate to be driven back to the house by Ciaran’s medically trained friend. A slightly terrifyingly blunt woman from Donegal. “You look like death warmed up” was her opening gambit. Ciaran attempted to brief her on all the potential aliments  of which Google thought I was suffering. Her eyes caught mine in the mirror.

“Is it your time of the month?”


How the hell could she know!! …

Of course she didn’t know, but in my fever riddled state my penchant for drama was wearing thin. I owned up to my tampon trauma and, amazingly for me, she turned out to be Nurse Jackie in training as she fixed me up with a fistful of drugs and sent me upstairs to bed. I woke up hours later feeling remarkably cured from my freak flu-like symptoms (which can found under Toxic Shock in most medical journals).

To use a crap pun, I was really bloody lucky but it is because of my Irish anecdote (that Ciaran forces me to share at any social occasion consisting of more than 3 gins) that I say this to you, my female comrades. Let’s kill the judgement, uncover the legends of our “front bottoms” story by story and promote a never ending “period” of good will, one whose flow we will never stem.

Three cheers for The VaginaLogue and the communication it brings, because silence can be deadly.

Rebecca Clarke is a generally tolerable person who writes, performs and tries to make sense out of the nonsensical lives we lead often through politically charged tap dances, showgirl costumes and beautifully braided pubic hair. She is also a producer for Pigs With Wings Productions. You can read more of her outpourings at

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