Lost Tampon Chronicles

See, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, so is this column going to be all-Haiti, all the time?

Well, no. After all, health and wellth wait for no human. When the tides of symptoms start to rise, you have to grab whatever life preserver might help.

And so, while I’m in the stage of Haiti-trip-preparation that I’d call “suitcase triage” [def: where I literally stand in my overflowing dining room – which, BTW, looks like Hagrid vomited medical supplies all over it – and, chin in hand, try to decide whether, in the last 6 inches of space, antibiotics, baby formula, or IV fluids will save more lives], I am posting a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT topic. One that is near and dear to the hearts, minds and all other internal, moist organs of women everywhere – let’s go on real-life wilderness safari:

Author’s photo. Yes, I did draw on the tampon

Hunting the Lost Tampon

Set up: This message arrived chez doc gurley email –

Gentle doctor, I am seeking tampon advice,

I am an uninsured writer in New York and the author of this recent post about buying a speculum and also, this original Jezebel essay — 82,000 page views and counting! — about lost tampons. Here is the question I have: since getting my tampon (extravagantly) extracted on December 31 I still have a faint smell, sometimes, that seems to derive from a white fluid. Do you think the ER did not get the whole thing out? Do you think it’s possible that I put another tampon in in my sleep or something and did it AGAIN, like some crazed psychopath? Your video is an utter masterwork. [author’s note: and my video is FREE] The ER charged more than $700.

I generally write about business and finance. Please, oh PLEASE, respond. I am supposed to be researching this AIG cover-up, but I’m deathly afraid of this (very faint, but *there*) odor.

Dear Gentle Sufferer,

My heart goes out to you! I only wish my stethoscope and gloved hands could go out to you too – but, sadly, I cannot practice medicine, render medical services, or give individual medical advice over the internet (even as I type those words, teams of lawyers in nun-habits are standing by with a ruler in each hand, eager to rap a straying knuckle).

HOWEVER, all that being said (and mutually agreed upon, including Article 9, subsection ii, re: involuntary commitment), here are some general health tidbits that MIGHT or MIGHT NOT apply to your situation (you be the judge):

1) If a tampon is lost, it tends, over time, to disintegrate. Not into a total mush – just enough to become what we in medicine call “friable” (oh, if only the odor were also KFC-like “friable”). What “friable” means is that, when it is dislodged by a speculum/gloved finger or ill-advised home-implement, bits and pieces can break off. I shudder to think precisely what your having your tampon extracted “extravagantly” might mean, but it sounds like the opposite of, say, “competently” or “smoothly.” There is always a good chance that some portion of the tampon still resides inside a fold, nook or cranny.

2) Tampons, while lost, also try to compost themselves – which means that an amazing overgrowth of bacteria can occur. Philosophically, you might legitimately say that each of us humans is merely a sophisticated bacteria transportation device. We cannot, in fact, even digest our food or provide a warm, cuddly and safe vaginal environment for sperm (and, consequently, for the reproduction of ourselves) without the little tyrannical suckers. When it comes to germs, we walk around carrying virtual villages, cities, nay, entire (har) cultures of bacteria. We swim in a soup of them – thankfully almost every last one is a as law-abiding and staid as an Amish farmer. Only a microscopically few, for most of us, turn out to be stalking psychopaths with terrorist tendencies. But when one of those communities of hard-working bacteria (translation: your vagina) is massively disrupted by, say, a lost tampon, it’s like the fall of the Roman Empire (when being Goth had a whole different meaning). That smell, ultimately, is germs run amok. Warning: desperately bad smells can provoke desperate reactions – none of which are advisable. Douching, “bleach baths” and other word-of-mouth tricks will only disrupt your wonderful yogurty vagina cultures even more. Destroying what’s trying to be rebuilt will NOT help recovery. So what will? Sometimes, in order to get stinky foreign bacterial overgrowths under control, you need a good evaluation to make sure that’s TRULY what’s going on, some tests, and possibly (if bacterial vaginosis is actually the diagnosis) the right kind of disaster-relief antibiotics so your normal civilization can get back on its basement membranes.

3) Lost tampons can be a red herring (and no, I’m not talking about the smell).A red-herring, in medicine, is when something is so overwhelmingly obvious (like a lost tampon), that it means a doctor misses another, important diagnosis. So what ELSE could be going on? For many women, lost tampons CAN occur after a particularly, say, distracted time-(har)-period. “Distracted” to one person may mean finals are coming up. “Distracted” to another person may mean a six-day mind-blowing binge. Under these circumstance, (so much studying and/or so many lines of coke) many of us are not at our best when it comes to consistently using safer sex practices. Just because a lost tampon was removed, that doesn’t mean a person doesn’t ALSO need or deserve an excellent “checking under the hood” for other potential infections/issues (and no, “hood” is not a euphemism – but hey, it could be!). While focused on removing a lost tampon, many doctors could neglect to test you for STDs/STIs, and those can certainly cause on-going smells +/- discharge.

Bottom line: Any gal with a persistent smell for more than 3-4 days after a lost tampon removal needs a good re-evaluation. You may ask – is that 3-4 days a hard and fast number? Like most things in medicine – nope. For some women, the smell goes away essentially immediately. For others, the smell decreases rapidly and keeps decreasing over about 4 days. But for anyone who’s made it a week later and has still got a pretty obvious smell – that’s definitely NOT OKAY. Which leads us to the real question:

How does a girl get excellent medical care if she’s living on a shoe-string (or would that be tampon-string?). Here are some general tips:
1) STD clinics are one of our most under-recognized national treasures. Especially in large cities (where they often go by very vague names – the one in San Francisco is called The City Clinic), these are healthcare providers who do nothing but orifices, smells, sores, and drips all day, every day (kind of mind-blowing when you really think about it – these people are so amazing, they can STILL eat tuna sandwiches!). They know their stuff. Their services are generally cheap, and they won’t bat an eye, no matter how extravagant or esoteric your sexual peccadilloes are (unless, perhaps, you use the word “peccadilloes”). They are extremely competent at discussing any topic sensitively, no matter how taboo – including that most closeted of medical topics- MONEY. They are mega-efficient too – if you have an infection that needs treating, they (of all healthcare providers) are the most likely to hand you as many “partner packs” as you need, so that everyone can get treated for the cost of one person’s visit. And hey, you can go home afterward with your own freebie souvenir – they usually have, sitting on a counter, a giant candy-bowl of Take One! condoms.

2) Planned Parenthood ranks right up there with the STD clinics. The only reason I list them second is that I find it hard to list them simultaneously. And, granted, in some more rural areas, you may find a bit of unease (not exactly discomfort, merely unease) when discussing the more graphic details of sexual exotica. And, finally, these clinics are (unlike most STD clinics) fairly one-gendered in their client populations. Otherwise, Planned Parenthood gets the same four-out-of-four stethoscopes up for cost, expertise, availability and basic human kindness.

3) Shop around – some states even have laws requiring hospitals to provide potential cost information upfront to patients. Unfortunately, government’s enforcement of those laws has been about as effective as their reigning in of executive bonuses (and for probably similar reasons…). But more and more hospitals and clinics are moving towards providing cost estimates for prospective patients. And you may be surprised at what you find – some private, chi-chi hospitals are BETTER at disclosure, price and accommodating payment plans than, say, university or non-profit hospitals.

4) Is there a DIY class, say at Home Depot, you could take? Unfortunately, no. As someone who’s gone hunting to take down the rabid Lost Tampon on many occasions, I can tell you honestly – this is one safari you don’t want to undertake without a decent guide. Some things, however painfully expensive, are just worth the price (professionally done highlights, an OCD electrician to re-wire your home, and a warmed, experienced speculum-driver for your vagina, to name a few).

Here’s hoping you receive all the best health and healthcare you so richly deserve,

Best regards,

Doc Gurley

P.S. Thank you for the kind words about my Lost Tampon video. Clearly the Oscars are a corrupt hotbed of seething politics – otherwise Johnnie Depp would have long since placed an statue on his mantle shelf, and I would have been at least NOMINATED in the category of Technical Achievement in a Documentary Featuring a Doctor Crawling In A Sleeping-Bag Vagina.

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