Toxic Shock Syndrome

Posted on October 30, 2010


There was a sweet potato laying at the end of my hospital bed. I was sick, but I wasn’t delirious. I’d only had a few visitors. The last one, I think, had to have been the gifter. I don’t remember any other gifts during my stay in the University of Utah hospital. Maybe my mom’d sent flowers? But the sweet potato was my only good memory.

50/40. That was what I heard the emergency room doctors say my blood pressure reading was. A friend of my college roomate had carried me to her VW Beetle and drove to the hospital that I could see from my dorm room. I’d been sick for a few days, but I’d thought it was just the flu.  I only wanted to lay in bed and drag myself out every now and again to use the bathroom. I couldn’t eat or drink. My tongue was sore and swollen. I overheard the girls who came to rescue me say, “It  smells like death in here.” What does death smell like?  All I knew was that I didn’t have the energy to fight the strong arms being wrapped around my 85lb body. All I wanted to do was sleep.

The next thing I knew I was laying on a hard exam table in a small emergency room cubicle with about four doctors whispering as they assessed my condition. A few of them were cute and I was very self concious being so exposed. I gathered pretty quickly that they had no idea what was wrong with me. So, I was whisked up to Intensive Care where I couldn’t see friends or family. No friends because they weren’t family, and no family because they were in Massachusetts. And I was in Utah doing what most kids my age were doing. I was going to college until Toxic Shock  intruded into my already out of control life.

I remember the nurse telling me she’d talked to my mom. I think I talked to her, too. I just don’t remember. When I finally got “home” I called her. She told me that the doctors told her that even if she rushed she wouldn’t make it in time. She’d get there to “pick up the body.”

I woke up in the ICU to see a young woman holding a camera. “Don’t mind if I take a few pictures? Do you?” She said that since mine was the first known case of Toxic Shock in the state she was taking pictures for the medical journals, etc. “Stick out your tongue”, she said as she took pictures standing on my bed, her feet straddling mine. “Now take off shirt so I can get a picture of the rash.” Was she serious? She was. And I did. All I could think of was those cute doctors who were going to see pictures of me at the worst possible time of my life! How vain!!  But that wasn’t the worst of it.

 After a few days and some really strong medicine that eventually made my hair fall out, I was moved to a 4-person room where I could have visitors. One day an older doctor walked in with about six very good-looking interns. I figured something was up when they circled my bed, the old one at my head. They were all smiling at me. And then, very matter-of-factly, he said, “Let’s take a look at that rash.” I’d been through this before, so to avoid any more embarrassment I pulled the neckline of the hospital gown down just enough to show the rash and nothing more.  I was shocked and humiliated when he decided to pull it off completely! So, I lay there, an anorexic bag of bones with a red, blotchy rash, exposed for all to see.  The disease, anorexia, had warped my perception of my body. I thought I looked completely normal. And I didn’t need any guys staring at me uninvited! What does someone do with that? I was way to young to get that doctors are detached from their patients. I was 18. And a girl!!! I really can’t imagine how bad I really looked.

The night before I was released to go home I had a black dream. The color black was all that I saw. There were some sparkly floaties once in a while, the kind you get when you stand up too fast. I remember hearing someone speaking to me. When I woke up I remembered clearly the essence of what I was told. I was being given a second chance. There was no explanation why. I know for sure it wasn’t because I had some great mission to fulfill. There really was no reason. I didn’t feel grateful or sorry for anything or inspired to do anything special with my life. It was going to always be something I knew had happened between me and God. For no other reason than to let me know He’d been thinking about me. That was my first real experience with God. I knew He was in control. He’d opened the minds of the doctor’s to the medication that would save me, the medicine that’d been produced by men and women who’d been recipients of the same gift. It was made very clear to me. He didn’t feel the need to tell me why. He’d decided to leave me instead of take me. And I don’t think I really cared. That’s just the way it was.

It was sort of like the sweet potato on the end of my bed. A nurse saw it and asked,”Do you want me to cook it for you?” I laughed and said, “No. That’s ok.” I don’t know what I did with that potato. But I knew it was mine. I could do whatever I wanted with it. It was a gift.

Betsy Cross

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