Some garden wildlife is dangerous, for example the tetanus bacterium: Clostridium tetan. The tetanus bacterium is not unlike a bear in your garden: Encountering either can make gardening life threatening.

Could tetanus happen to you?

Tetanus didn’t enter my mind when a darning needle entered my toe. But it should have.

Tetanus is nasty, which is what makes tetanus inoculations vitally important, every ten years!!! I hadn’t had one for about thirty years.

An unbroken darning needle, on the right, is from the same packet as the needle on the left, the top of which broke off in my toe.

The needle fell out of a sewing basket, lodged in an age-damaged Persian rug I got off eBay, and put an abrupt end to my brisk stride as I went from gardening to sewing.

Two days later I was giving myself a B12 shot when the tip of my toe glinted in the sun. Suspicious, I got tweezers and, low and behold, they hit metal.

Pulling the needle out, I wondered, “Does this mean I should give up sewing… or sandals?” I wished my toe would bleed, but it didn’t. I hadn’t felt the broken bit of needle due to numbness. Numbness ~ Read more.

When I put the metal splinter against the needle, I saw it was only half of the needle’s eye. In the picture you can see the smaller bit right above the needle on the left; farther up is the hooked part of the needle’s eye.

I wasn’t keen to prod for the hooked bit even though I knew my peripheral neuropathy made my toes numb. (When my kitty washes my toes, the only way I know is if I see her). But, keen or not, I did it.

When I felt the tweezers again hit metal, I tweezed but the hooked part was stuck.

Perspiring from stress, I thought I’d leave the partially withdrawn eye on the end of my toe and go to my appointment with my therapist and traumatic brain injury case manager, but that weirded me out. Gritting my teeth, I gave a determined, successful pull, then taped the needle bits to the piece of paper, as you see them.

No Rust ~ No Tetanus?

That was it, I thought. There wasn’t any rust, so I didn’t worry about tetanus, though I did soak my foot in Epsom salts, just to be safe, and I took a bit of extra Vitamin C.

Weeks passed.

Then one day I fried and ate cloudy eggs from a box of free food that I was given, as a person in poverty. The next day I offered to carry a box from the car of a helper supplied through the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury resources. All of a sudden intense pain hit in my back, kind of like a cramp but very severe. It made me cry out and I couldn’t move. The helper appeared to think I was faking a problem so I wouldn’t have to carry the box and rather grudgingly took it.

The pain wasn’t ongoing, but I was perspiring profusely and shivering. I thought the fact my house was so cold, since I couldn’t afford much heat, was the problem. Or, there were the cloudy eggs: Perhaps what had happened was a symptom of food poisoning.

Some days later I thought I might feel better if I sat in the sun. But moving my chair into the sun was extremely difficult. The chair seemed so much heavier than it ever had before.

ER visit

I was beginning to have a very peculiar feeling in my stomach muscles. I thought I’d better go to the ER and see what was going on. BOnce there, I waited four hours with everyone who came in after me being seen, but not me. I decided that if they didn’t think it was important, it probably wasn’t. So I left.

I would have waited longer, but all of a sudden, the cramping had stopped. I moved around a bit, to see if it had really stopped, and it had. So I decided to leave. Among other things, I wanted to get some aspirin ~ the hospital refused to give me an aspirin. I’d been nauseated and thought maybe it was associated with heart problems. Bayer commercials on telly said aspirin helps. So I left I to get aspirin and some rest.

Next day I still felt great and I was so happy. I did a lot of things for the first two hours, but then the pain began to come back. Only I thought it was just soreness from how long my muscles had been cramping, so I pushed on. I was thinking the hospital may have been right, that nothing was wrong.

Appendicitis-like pain

My thinking changed when the pain began to feel like an appendicitis attack. It was just soooo intense. It made me sweat, it hurt so much.

Next day the pain was still bad, but not of the intensity of an appendicitis attack. I couldn’t do anything, though, because as soon as I was up for more than a minute or two, the pain’s intensity increased. I prayed that if I stayed in bed, then in a day I might have a reprieve from the pain and be able to try to get the medicine to make the tetanus go away. I was beginning to think it must be tetanus because of how all my muscles were affected. Not “all” but pretty many, like especially those in my mid-section.

Poverty prevents seeing doctor

Although my doctor ordered a tetanus test for me, she wouldn’t see me because I’d admitted I didn’t have any money. It was foolish of me to press her to order the tetanus test because it eventually caused a lot of trouble.

In any case, I thought that if I went in she’d have to see me. So next day I got up early and went to her office. Where, given the waiting room was full, her assistant agreed to see me rather than turn me away because I didn’t have money.

Finally see doctors

I had trouble laying flat on the examination table, but did. When the doctor touched my stomach the pain in my back hit with a fury and was so intense it made me  scream. The doctor called an ambulance and I was taken to the ER.

Now, just to be clear, there’s no test for tetanus, even though I had thought there was and something like that had been ordered.

The doctor who’d called the ambulance thought, having examined me through my clothes, that I was having an appendicitis attack. She didn’t see my appendectomy scar.

I piled these stones to make a new compost enclosure on 9/29/04, the day before the first seizure.
I piled these stones for a compost enclosure on 9/29/04, the day before the first seizure.

I didn’t look sick. I didn’t have a fever. My toe wasn’t swollen. So, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the ER nurse said, “Pretending to have pain is a way of being lazy.”

The ER doctor told me to research fibromyalgia. The closest he got to my toe was to glance at it.

I thought of people on the news who said they thought their dead relative had Hantavirus but the doctors ignored them. I decided I had to get home.

Because I was severely dehydrated, the ER gave me a pain killer in an I.V. Hours later gave me two 250 mg Erythromycin and a prescription for same. I was feeling much better.

A nice hospital nurse showed me a medical book that said antibiotics stop the toxins from forming. “Apparently the toxins attach to nerves or something,” I wrote at the time.

I was angry that my doctor had not seen me early on and had not given me a simple prescription for antibiotics that would have killed the bacteria before it made me so sick.

Tetanus test problems

Finally my test were in and showed .16 from “off the top” but “in range” (whatever that means).  Based on that, Whole Life Clinic said I didn’t have tetanus. Due to my poverty, I wasn’t allowed to talk to a doctor or nurse about the results, so I called the lab. The lady said my reading was high for not having had a tetanus shot in 30 years and she was sorry she couldn’t talk to me about it.

I had been given the idea that there is a tetanus test by a pharmacist when I called asking if there was any natural antibiotic.

After the antibiotic from the hospital ran out and red lines on my toe were still there, I wanted a refill. But, I was told I could not have more antibiotic because the tetanus test showed I did not have tetanus.

The fact that my toe still had the lines ~ apparently from a tiny wound that occurred two months earlier ~ and was tender when pressed at the site of entry, didn’t seem to be able to trump the tetanus test, in the eyes of Whole Life Clinic, or St. Vincent Hospital ER doctors.

Terrified because my voice was faint as if I were 90 years old, my chest and other muscles tight, the lines still apparent on my toe, and I had no strength, I searched the Internet for information about tetanus tests. What I found was conclusive: Tetanus tests can not be used to diagnose tetanus.

There is, in fact, no test for tetanus. But, because I thought there was, I tied myself to the results of a test, when in fact the test tells whether or not a tetanus shot is needed, not whether or not someone has tetanus.

11/14/04 — I found a Mayo Clinic “Implementation Notice” saying that on June 2, 2004, tetanus antibody panel will be obsolete

6/1/2014 ~ Today Mayo Clinic’s site simply says that tests are not helpful in diagnosing tetanus. See page.

Related pages:

Luckily I got help from a forum after the doctors failed me.

My Tetanus Journal

Tetanus Pictures

Things I did which helped me Survive Tetanus.

4 reasons for inadequate medical attention

  1. poverty
  2. tetanus test negligently thought to prove there is no tetanus
  3. foot isn’t swollen and while muscles are tight, jaw isn’t locked
  4. ER refuses to accommodate disability: cognitive dysfunction

Vitamin B12 and Tetanus

Note: I believe the fact I have more B12 in my system than most people my age, accounts for #3, above.

I have more B12 in my system than most people my age because now that I have cognitive dysfunction as a result of undiagnosed and untreated B12 malabsorption, I am devoted to having regular shots. Plus, after I got the puncture wound and red lines appeared, I started having two shots a week, then a shot every other day on the simple theory that this is stressful and B12 helps with stress.

I bet if I had not had so much B12, that I’d be suffering rigor mortis right now!!!

U.S. National Institutes of Health on Tetanus

This information is not as good as that from New Zealand. 


  • Spasms and tightening of the jaw muscle (“lockjaw”)
  • Stiffness and spasms of various muscle groups: neck, chest, abdominal, back ~ often causing arching (opisthotonos)
  • Tetanic seizures (painful, powerful muscle contractions)
  • Irritability
  • Fever

Tetanus information from New Zealand

Who gets tetanus and who is at risk?

People who have not been immunised against tetanus, or those whose last immunisation is no longer current, are at risk of getting tetanus if they’ve suffered an open wound.

In recent years, two thirds of all tetanus cases have been in persons 50 years of age and older.

Having had a tetanus infection in the past does not make you immune to tetanus in the future.

Without treatment, one out of three affected people will die. The mortality rate for newborns with untreated tetanus is even higher — two out of three.

Symptoms and signs of tetanus

  • Stiffness of jaw — usually the first sign of tetanus
  • Stiffness of neck and other muscles
  • Spasms of neck and other muscles
  • Rigidity of chest muscles
  • Rigidity of abdominal muscles
  • Spasms and rigidity of back muscles, often causing arching of back
  • Seizures – painful, powerful bursts of muscle contraction
  • Irritability
  • Fever

Other symptoms may include

  • Excessive sweating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hand or foot spasms
  • Drooling
  • Uncontrolled urination
  • Uncontrolled defecation

Tetanus can develop even from a wound which appears trivial and uninfected.

The incubation period is five days to 15 weeks.

How is tetanus diagnosed?

Diagnosis of tetanus is based on the relevant medical history (Has there been a break in the skin? When was the last tetanus shot received?) and physical findings (common symptoms of tetanus).

Diagnostic tests, such as testing cultures of the wound site, are generally of little value. Two thirds of the time, wounds test negative for the Clostridium bacterium. Other tests that may be performed are tests to rule out meningitis, rabies, strychnine poisoning or other diseases with similar symptoms.

Slow recovery and progress

11/27/04 Each week I have been able to be up one more minute first thing in the morning, which is my best time of the day. After that I have to rest a half hour to get another 3 minutes, or rest an hour if I want more than five minutes.

Today, however my algae eater died and I had to take it out of the fish bowl. This took longer than the 13 minutes I’ve built up to, but I had to do it for the sake of the gold fish. Now I have a very sharp pain in my upper abdominal muscles when I move my torso the least bit. So, it’s probably time to work on this page some more.


Garden Threat ~ Tetanus
Article Name
Garden Threat ~ Tetanus
Some garden wildlife is dangerous, like the tetanus bacterium. It's not unlike a bear in your garden: Encountering either can make gardening life threatening.
Publisher Name
Health Boundaries
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