One afternoon a few years ago, as Kat Carney sat watching TV, she became overwhelmed by chills and a sudden fever that quickly reached 102 degrees. She had her period at the time and worried that her symptoms could be a sign of toxic shock syndrome, a rare but potentially deadly ailment often associated with tampon use. Carney called a friend to take her to the hospital; by the time they reached the emergency room, her temperature had climbed to 104 degrees.
"I asked my doctor right away if he thought I could have TSS," says Carney. "He dismissed me."
The doctor, who had been in practice for many years, kept Carney in the ER for hours, running a battery of tests and eventually diagnosing her with a respiratory illness. "I didn't think his diagnosis made sense," she says. "I asked him again if he thought it could be TSS, and he said 'Lady, women come in here all the time thinking they have TSS, and in all my years of practice, I haven't seen one case.'" The doctor sent her home.
Over the next few weeks, Carney's conditioned deteriorated. She was weak, experiencing pain throughout her body, and the skin was peeling off the palms of her hands. Unsure of what to do next, she made an appointment with a dermatologist.
"He was a young doctor," Carney recalls. "He took one look at my hands and said, 'Have you had toxic shock syndrome recently?'"
Carney has since been successfully treated for her TSS, but says she learned an important lesson from her experience. "I know now to look for doctors who stay up on current research and who aren't so stuck in their ways that they won't consider a variety of reasons for their patients' symptoms," she says. "After I was diagnosed with TSS I called the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ask if there was a test the ER doctor could have done for toxic shock, and discovered that there is. He just wasn't willing to perform that test."