I first notice the smell at work. I work at a hospital, so I’m used to all kinds of funky odors, but this one is particularly pungent. It smells – fishy? I move away from the area, trying to escape the fishiness. I’m unsuccessful – the fish follows me. It’s not until I go to the bathroom half an hour later that I realize to my horror that the smell is coming from me! From down below, if you know what I mean. I’m mortified. Has anybody else noticed? For the rest of the day, I try to keep my distance from my co-workers, creating an invisible cone of protection around me to keep their noses as far away from me as possible.

It’s not until I’m home that I get worried. What is going on down there? There is no itchiness, no stinging or pain, just the unpleasant odor. I try to convince myself that it’s nothing, but the evidence to the contrary is literally wafting up my nose. I have to figure this out.

I wrack my brain for an explanation, and eventually, something dawns on me: I had my period last week. Could I have forgotten …? No, that’s impossible. Or is it?

Unable to come up with another explanation, I reluctantly decide to go to the hospital to have it checked out.

One trip to the emergency room, a cringe-worthy exam, successful extraction and prescription of heavy-duty antibiotics later, I am back home, embarrassed yet relieved. Instead of forgetting all about it as quickly as possible, I do what I usually do: I blog about it.

Blogging about what makes me feel alone, vulnerable or different is my jam. It helped me transform from an insecure girl into a confident woman, who learnt an important lesson: we are way more alike than we think we are. Those dark thoughts you have about yourself? The thing you think nobody else has? That feeling that everybody around you has shit figured out, and you are the only one who hasn’t? You are not alone. We all feel like that, most of the time. But we think we are the only ones because not enough people talk about it openly.

Long story short: I decide to share my forgotten tampon-story, because even though I’m the only one I know who that has happened to, I’m fairly sure that this is not the case (the nice nurse in the ER assured me that “this happens all the time”).

I begin to write, and then that thing happens that sometimes happens: my fingers take on a life of their own and start typing words I didn’t intend to share. I feel like I’m an observer, just watching what unfolds on the screen in front of me, not in control any longer.

The story that unfolds is something I haven’t talked about much to anybody, because I’m afraid. I’m terrified. And when I start talking about it it will become real, and I won’t be able to hold up the shaky facade any longer, and I will crumble into a thousand sobbing, useless pieces, and I can’t afford to right now. I have to be the strong one.

Because my husband is sick.

He has been sick for months, and he is getting worse, and the doctors don’t know what’s wrong with him.

He is disappearing in front of my eyes, getting thinner and gaunter with every passing day, taking pain killers by the handful, and nothing is working.

He is in constant pain. He screams when he has to get up off the bed to go to the bathroom. It’s tearing me apart. I don’t know how to help him, and I’m desperate. Because if he continues to deteriorate at this rate, where will it end?

At work I pretend everything is normal. I don’t talk about it, and I even manage to forget about it, if only minutes at a time. But as soon as I’m alone with my thoughts, or back at home, it’s all I can think about. So I blog about it. Or rather, my fingers do, and I simply watch them form the words about my husband’s mystery illness. And then I watch them press Publish. I have an almost out-of-body experience, mildly curious to what will happen next, but not really caring. So what if the entire world knows that I forgot a tampon in my vagina? I have bigger worries. I have a husband who uttered the words no wife should ever have to hear: “If I don’t get better, I don’t want to live any longer.”

How do you react to that? How can you convince the love of your life, the man who means more to you than anybody else in the world, that life is worth living? That you can’t bear the thought of life without him, but you also can’t bear the sight of him being in so much agony? His life has shrunk to a world of pain. All he can focus on is somehow getting through the day, which is followed by sleepless, terrible nights. It’s a nightmare he can’t seem to wake up from.

But then, something happens.

Remember my blog post? Despite my attempt to keep it light and amusing, downplaying the severity of my husband’s condition, one of my readers sees right through it, and leaves a comment that is about to change our lives. She mentions a disease I know nothing about: Lyme Disease.

Not holding my breath, but checking out everything at this point, I google it and start reading the (very long) list of symptoms: bone pain, joint pain and swelling, tennis elbow, stiff neck, muscle pain. My eyes widen, and I start to read more slowly. All of these apply!
The list continues: night sweats, unexplained chills, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath.
Then there are mood swings, unusual depression, insomnia, sleep apnea, memory loss.
And the clinchers: “pain migrates to different body parts”, “continual infections”, “increased effect from alcohol and possible worse hangover”. Check, check and CHECK!

My heart is beating fast now. This is it! This must be it! My husband has every single one of these symptoms! After an emergency appointment with the doctor and a positive blood test, he is put on antibiotics.

That was four months ago. My husband’s condition has improved immensely. Gone is the haunted look, the pain in his eyes. His love for life is back. He is still far from being healed completely, but he is on the road to recovery.

He told me that he believes that reader saved his life.

I believe my forgotten tampon did.

One thing I know for sure: writing about that embarrassing event saved him. So here is my plea to you: talk about what’s going on in your life. Ask for help. Share your fears and concerns.

It may just save your life.