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What Are “Flash Periods” and Why Worry About Them?

On a new "And Just Like That..." episode a common peri-menopause symptom gets a name. Here, one woman's super-bad menstrual timing.

When it happened to me, I didn’t call it a “flash period,” the name used on a recent episode of And Just Like That… for the completely out-of-the-blue period that can hit during peri-menopause.  I called it a “bus buster.” My sons called it…well, my sons didn’t call it anything. It’s an episode they never, ever want to remember.

I was taking my sons and two nieces on a day-long bus tour from London to Windsor and then on to Stonehenge and Bath. I was 54 at the time and hadn’t had a period in about eight months. I thought I was probably done with the whole mess, since this was the age my mother and sister finished their periods.

My underwear looked like they’d been used to mop up a crime scene.

After finishing our tour of Windsor, we stopped at the bathroom in the bus depot. While in the stall, I was shocked to find my undies were bloody, and not just a wee spot of red. They looked like they’d been used to mop up a crime scene.

My first thought was: Whose underwear are these?

My second thought: Am I so out of practice, I couldn’t feel the wetness?

My third thought: Holy crap! I’ve got a long bus ride to Stonehenge and I need a tampon. NOW.

Read More: Does the Age of Menopause Matter? 

The Tampon Hunt

On the And Just Like That… episode, Charlotte is wearing a white jump suit when she gets ambushed by Flo. There’s a shot of her from behind with a big red bloom between her legs. Ugh, this is the nightmare of women everywhere from ages 12 to 55ish. But you certainly don’t expect to look that clueless after years and years of experience with period hygiene.

Don’t wear white and carry a tampon,’because you just never know.

“I always say during pre-menopause, ‘Don’t wear white and carry a tampon,’ because you just never know,” Dr. Lauren Streicher, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause, told the Today Show when they did a story about so-called flash periods. “(Patients) will just call me up and say, ‘Oh my God, I got my period. What was that? I haven’t had a period for six months.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, this is peri-menopause.’”

“When you have regular periods and you get premenstrual, your hormones shift and you feel PMS, that generally does not happen with peri-menopause,” Streicher added. “It literally comes out of nowhere.”

In my defense, I wasn’t wearing white and I did keep a tampon in my purse for the longest time. But when the tampon got nasty and shredded from spending day after unused day mixing in with my hair brush, keys, and makeup, I finally threw it out. In the stall at the Windsor bus depot, I dug through my purse just in case I’d had the foresight to put a new tampon in. Ha ha! I only came up with an earring I thought I’d lost months ago.

My nieces, I thought! I rushed from the stall and found them calmly washing their hands at the sink. What teenage girl doesn’t carry a tampon? My nieces, that’s who. I asked strangers in the queue for the toilets for a pad or tampon. Again, no luck.

Imagining bleeding through to the bus seat, I sprinted down the street to find a pharmacy. As I ran, I recalled the bus driver’s admonishment earlier in the day to not be late for the bus. I think there had been a time limit of how long the bus would wait.

On the Streets

flash periods

At least what happened to Charlotte on “And Just Like That…” didn’t happen to the author.

I love quaint English villages with winding streets–except when I’m in a hurry and don’t really know where I’m going. I tried calling one of my boys or the nieces to tell them about my emergency, but I realized they didn’t have the international calling plan. Only I did.

I kept looking for the green cross that marks pharmacies in England. This is when I would have done anything for a big old 7-11, eyesore and all. Finally, I found a Boots Pharmacy, asked for the feminine hygiene department, bought the tampons and was out in a snap.

I dared not look at my watch, because I couldn’t risk hyperventilating any more than I was. I was the caretaker of my sons and my nieces on this trip. The bus simply could not leave without me.

When I got back to the bus depot–after taking the wrong street twice–I still wasn’t done. I had to go into the bathroom, put in the tampon and at that point I just ripped off the bloody undies (in both the literal and the British sense) and threw them away. I was jubilant to see that our bus was still there, but the door was closed, which meant I had to knock and call attention to myself.

Flash Periods: Don’t Ask

The bus driver grimaced at me when I entered the bus. “I wanted to leave, but your sons wouldn’t let me,” he said as I made my way down the aisle. Of course, the kids were sitting in the very back so that I would have to see all the impatient faces of other travelers on my way there.

Both boys were shooting me eye arrows. “Where were you?” my oldest asked. “Don’t you remember they told us not to be late.” He was 17 but sounded so parental I wanted to have a tantrum right then and there just to complete the role reversal.

Instead, I lifted my chin and said, “I had a personal emergency.”

On the bus, both boys were shooting me eye arrows.

“A personal emergency,” the oldest repeated, each word dripping with disbelief and disdain. I would have welcomed the support of my nieces at this point, but they were busy playing something on their phones. So much for female solidarity.

I plopped down, determined to say no more about it. The bus began moving, and now it was the 15-year-old’s turn.

“Really, mom, what kind of personal emergency? I mean, it was really embarrassing, everyone wondering where you were.”

“You don’t want to know,” I said.

“No, I do.”

Finally, I turned to him and said loud enough that his brother could hear too (and maybe the rest of the bus, I don’t know). “So, I thought I was done with my periods, but when I was in the bathroom I found out I had started and I was bleeding like I’d been shot. I had to rush to buy tampons or you’d be swimming in blood right now. That was my personal emergency. OK?”

The 17-year-old looked away quickly. The 15-year-old got that Kermit-the-Frog, gonna-be-sick look. “I could have gone my whole life without knowing that,” he whispered fiercely.

“OK, then. When I say personal emergency, do not question me,” I said, reasserting my role as the parent and boss.

We have never, ever spoken of this again, but I like to think I’ve prepared them for the vagaries of menstruation their girlfriends or wives may someday experience. Or at least to know when not to challenge us.

Epilogue: That was actually my last period ever. And the tampon I carried in my purse for more than a year afterward eventually lost its wrapper and began to unfurl till it looked like a mini-mop. Perfect.

Read More: Why Some Women Breeze Through Menopause. And Others Don’t

By Jeannie Ralston


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