I didn't panic at first. I'd only put the tampon in the night before, at around 9 pm. And I didn't even have sex with the guy. All we did was fool around, so surely it only got pushed up inside me a little bit and I just had to do some minor excavating to get it out. No big deal.
With the bathroom door closed, I sat on the toilet and keeled over slightly. I spread my legs, stuck two fingers inside my vagina and wiggled them around to search for the string, thinking about how silly I was to assume for even a second that the tampon would not be easily accessible. I've accidentally left tampons in for a long time before. Hell, I've even hooked up with guys with a tampon in before. This was just another day in the life of a girl who likes boys and also gets a period.
But then I didn't feel a string.
I furrowed my brows, confused. I got up and perched one foot on the rim of the toilet and the other on the floor. Inhaling sharply, I stuck two fingers in, scrunching my face and looking up at the ceiling deep in concentration. Again, I didn't feel a string.
Shit. Shit shit shit.
"Chantal!" I screamed for my roommate, who was doing homework in the bedroom across the hall. She was studying to be a doctor, and I desperately needed the presence of an almost-medical professional. "Chantal!"
The door to the bathroom was still closed, so I only saw the shadow of her feet scrambling out of her bedroom from under the door. "What? What's wrong?" she asked.
I kept digging inside of me. To the left. To the right. Both me and my vagina were tense now. The pain was becoming unbearable.
"I had a tampon in last night," I began, feeling the panicked tears well up, "and I was hanging with Kevin*, and we hooked up, and now I ... I can't find the tampon."
"OK," she very calmly replied. "And you're sure it was in?"
"Did you stick your fingers in as far as they can go?"
I stuck them back in, but immediately retreated. "It hurts, Chantal."
"Just keep going. You can do it."
Whining in agony, I kept going. For another ten minutes, I pried and poked and jabbed around inside of me like I was rummaging through a messy purse. I even grabbed a handheld mirror from the sink counter to try to look, but I saw nothing. This endeavor was fruitless. I would have found it by now.
Suddenly, my eyes widened. "What if it's not inside me at all?"
"What?" Chantal asked. "But you said you put it in."
"What if it fell out? What if it's ..."
"IN HIS BED?"
I burst open the door. Chantal was standing in front of her bedroom and giving me a concerned look, but I tried to ignore it. I was already freaking out enough.
"Why don't you text him and ask?" she asked.
"And say what, Chantal?" I cried, tears flowing freely. " 'Hey, have you seen something that resembles a dead rabbit foot in your bed? LMK!' "
I began pacing. I really liked this guy. We met a while ago at a mutual friend's birthday party, and I landed myself an invitation to a party he and his roommates were throwing last weekend. One thing led to another, and soon we were making out in his bedroom and holding hands while listening to someone play guitar. We'd been texting all week, and we hung out again last night. It was all new and exciting and filled with possibility.
Yet any chances of this turning into something real were going to be squashed the second he found my bloody tampon in his bed this morning.
Then again, what if it wasn't in his sheets at all? What if it was still stuck somewhere inside of me, just out of reach of my hand? And which option was WORSE?
I needed to know where this fucking tampon was. But I sure as hell was not texting him first to find out.
"I have to go to the hospital," I said, wiping my tears. "I have to go."
"I'll come with you."
Fifteen minutes later, Chantal and I pulled up in an Uber in front of St. Elizabeth's Medical Center hospital in Boston. There were lots of options in Boston, but we chose St. E's because Chantal knew her way around; as a pre-med student, she'd worked there before. I was very comforted by this.
I sat in a waiting room while Chantal talked to a receptionist, and she led the two of us into a white-walled exam room.
"The doctor will see you soon," the receptionist said, shutting the door behind her.
Chantal washed her hands. I sat on the exam table and sighed. I hadn't been in a hospital room since my grandma passed away back in 2010, but this one looked exactly the same: off-white linoleum tiles, stethoscopes and IV pumps lining the walls above the sink, that box of blue rubber gloves on the counter, the overly sterile bathroom.
My phone started buzzing. Mom Cell.
"Fuck," I said. "I forgot my parents were visiting me today."
"What?!" Chantal said.
I answered the phone through gritted teeth. "Hi, Mom."
"Hi, Alexia," my mom said. "We should be there in a half-hour."
I cringed into the phone. I had a very open relationship with my mother. She soothed me after I had sex for the first time and cried because I thought I was pregnant, even though I used a condom and he didn't finish. She even made fun of a guy I was once seeing who didn't try to sleep with me after several dates ("Is there something wrong with him?"). But this was just next-level news.
"I'm at the hospital," I said, looking up at the ceiling and closing my eyes tightly.
"Why?" my mom asked. Her tone was even. Not angry, anxious or amused. Just waiting.
"I got a tampon stuck in my vagina."
"Oh God, Alexia!" she cried, the "God" emphasized by her thick New York accent. "How did THAT happen?"
"A ... guy."
I glanced at the door, anxiously waiting for a doctor to come in and interrupt my horrific phone call.
"How much is this gonna cost us?" she pressed. I could hear her roll her eyes.
"I have no idea," I replied. "I'm really, really sorry."
She took a deep breath. "Nothing we can do about it now, I guess!" she said, her voice in a shrill. "So am I supposed to meet you at the hospital now or what? Where are you?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen a doctor yet, so probably. I'm at St. Elizabeth's."
"Fine!" she barked. "G'bye!" Click.
I got up to put my phone back in my purse and then sat back down on the exam chair.
"Is she mad?" Chantal asked.
I shrugged. "I don't think so."
I was still debating if I actually wanted the doctor to find a tampon lodged inside me. If he did, that meant TSS could develop, and every woman has been afraid of TSS since she first learned what a period was. But if he didn't find a tampon inside of me, that meant it was definitely, no doubt, in my crush's bed.
I envisioned a nightmare-ish scene of my crush unknowingly tidying up his light grey sheets as a blood-soaked tampon moved about and stained everything in its path, like a tornado destroying a small town. I imagined him finally uncovering a mysteriously moist ball of red cotton and yelping in confusion and horror. Then, his roommates, whom I knew from various friend groups and clubs around campus, would run in and lose their shit at the scene, laughing maniacally and accusing my crush of having some kind of gross period blood fetish. My crush would grow more nauseated and embarrassed by the second and never, ever want to see me again. Ever.
I decided right then and there that I'd rather have TSS.
Moments later, my mother barged into the exam room. I immediately started laughing. Nervous, jittery laughter. The kind that happens when your mouth reacts faster than your brain.
"Daddy's gonna kill you, Alexia," she said, sitting her Louis Vuitton bag down and flicking her perfectly manicured blonde hair over her shoulders. "Hi, Chantal. I remember you."
"Yes! Hi, Mrs. LaFata," Chantal said.
"You don't have to stay," my mom said. "I can take care of it from here."
"Oh no, it's OK. I don't want to go back to doing homework."
My mom shot me a disapproving look. "Look what you did! You made this poor girl stop doing work because of your stupidity!"
"I didn't make her! She volunteered to come! And I needed her! She's basically a doctor," I said.
My mom squinted her eyes and looked around carefully. "I hate hospitals. Have you been seen yet?"
Just then, a doctor emerged from behind the curtains. He was young, maybe mid-30s, with salt and pepper hair and a stethoscope around his neck, and smiling way too brightly.
"Hello! Sorry for the wait!" he said, putting his clipboard down on the sink counter and washing his hands. "What's going on today?"
I looked at my mother, as if requiring her permission first before I told the story. Then, I started rambling, in one giant, self-conscious breath: "Well, I put in a tampon last night at, like, 9 pm? And then I hooked up with this guy, and I guess he was going really hard with his fingers, so now I think he shoved it really far up in my vagina because I tried to get it out but I can't. I can't even see it. So it could REALLY be in there."
My mother slapped her had to her forehead. "You knew the tampon was in before you saw the guy?"
I flailed my arms. "This is not my fault! It's HIS!"
"Well," the doctor said, clearly trying to ease the tension in the room. "Let's have a look."
He instructed me to take my pants off and put on one of those paper gowns. I went into the bathroom to do what I was told while eavesdropping on a conversation my mother seemed to be having with the doctor about how "stupid" I was. I heard him chuckle. "I've seen worse," he said.
I came back out to sit back on the exam chair. The doctor put on rubber gloves, grabbed some metal tools and turned on a blindingly bright mirror as he sat down on another stool at the foot of the chair.
"All right! Let's see."
He spread my legs and peered inside me. I looked for any changes his expression that may have indicated that he found something, but he was putting on his best poker face, so I leaned back and tried to calm my nerves.
He started pushing at my inner thighs. "A little more. A liiiittle more," he instructed, spreading them uncomfortably and maneuvering himself to get a better angle.
Finally, I felt something cold, and then a light tug.
"Did you find something?" I asked nervously.
"Yup!" he said, holding up the mummified tampon. It looked exactly like I pictured: a dead rabbit's foot.
He chuckled again and put it in a plastic bag to throw out.
"How far up was it?" I asked.
"Oh, you were never going to get that yourself," he said, pulling his rubber gloves off. "It was all the way at your cervix, and the string was pretty tightly wrapped around the cotton. You must have been going at it really vigorously."
I glanced at my mom. She was shaking her head.
"For the next couple of days, just watch for any signs of bacterial infection. Dizziness, nausea, aches or pains," the doctor said. "Just want to be careful. If you see any, come back and we'll get you on antibiotics."
"Thanks!" my mom said in her sarcastic happy voice. Then, she looked at me. "You know you're paying for this, right?"
I exhaled heavily.
"Nine hundred dollars, Alexia."
A week later, I was doing some work in my dorm room when I got a phone call from my mom. The hospital bill had arrived.
"Are you SERIOUS?" I asked. That hookup was not worth anywhere near 900 dollars. I didn't even orgasm, for fuck's sake.
"Daddy is furious. Completely furious. You NEED to be more careful."
"I'm sorry, mom," I said. "Really. I am."
We said our goodbyes. There was nothing more that needed to be discussed.
I sat back in my chair. In hindsight, I really should have just freaking texted him first. It would have saved me a lot of trouble. And money. And disapproving sighs from my mom. And money.
But I'm also not new to getting myself into dumb shit with guys. Once, I almost got caught having sex in a religious building. And I had to buy Plan B during my semester abroad in Spain after having sex with a foreigner, and pharmacists lectured me, in Spanish, about how I should be ashamed of myself.
THIS situation, however, takes the cake. Lesson learned: Don't ever be embarrassed of your period.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I never saw my crush again.
*Name has been changed.