I hadn’t felt very well for a few days but one morning I woke up and could barely move. Every muscle in my body was screaming on fire. I had a fever. About 104 degrees F. I wasn’t going anywhere that day, I felt terrible but I was excited. My cat, Hickory, came to lay on the bed with me while I sweated there. He was new to the family and looked at me as if to say, “now you get it human, hang out and relax. You don’t need to work so hard.”
My fever was so high I was not thinking clearly. I knew there was a homeopathic remedy that would help me but I couldn’t remember which one in my state. I thought of something Dr. Thom said one day in class. “An acute illness is one that you either recover from on your own or you die.” I felt as if the latter would happen at any moment.
Eventually my fever broke and I not only started feeling better, I started feeling the best I had felt in my life. It wasn’t just the juxtaposition of the illness though. I felt as if something deeper had cleared within my body and soul. I knew that something had shifted in me.
How to Stay Healthy?
Many people with a fever that high would have called the doctor, or taken something to bring the fever down. But fevers aren’t necessarily a bad thing and it seems as if the wrong lessons may have been learned about fevers. And aspirin may have had something to do with it. Let me explain.
World War I from 1914-1918 became the bloodiest conflict to that point in human history. The combination of modern technology with battle tactics from the 18th century proved to be extremely deadly and indecisive. Soldiers would charge positions with machine guns only to be slaughtered senselessly in moments. At the first Battle of the Marne, over 10,000 French and British soldiers were killed in approximately 30 minutes. During the retreat, the German soldiers didn’t even fire upon the enemy they were so sickened by the slaughter.
Needless to say, when the armistice came on November 11th there was much celebration. People would go out and see their friends and family. Soldiers started returning home too. But as the soldiers returned some carried with them influenza. People started feeling feverish and achy. Aspirin had two different names on either side of the Atlantic Ocean and two different uses. In the US it was mostly used for pain. In Europe it was used to lower fevers. The soldiers learned the fever reducing usage from being at war in Europe and told family members to take some to reduce their fever. Of course, when they did that they felt better but they were still sick. Not only that, they were still contagious. They would increase infection rates during the celebration as they were seeing people exposing them to the virus.
Now this strain of influenza was particularly virulent and probably would have killed a lot of people. At that time, however, aspirin was considered a wonder drug and the dosage rate of aspirin was extremely high. When aspirin is combined with a viral infection it can cause a very deadly side illness called Reye’s Syndrome. Many people are believed to have died from that. The aspirin was given to lower the fever but with Reye’s syndrome it doesn’t work and people can hemorrhage as a result. Of course, doctors didn’t learn that fact until many years later. They thought that the cause of death was the high fever. The lesson was that high fevers are deadly and we should lower them as quickly as possible. This was standard practice in medicine up until recently and paranoia of fevers continues to this day.
Fevers, though, allow our bodies to tune up. Fevers help the body fight off infections. The fever is caused by an immune response in the body and allows it to discover and fight invaders appropriately. Immune cells work more efficiently and make the viruses and bacteria less efficient. Our bodies clean out cells that have been taken over by viruses. The fever redistributes metals in the body so that two things happen. One, bacteria can’t feed on the metals to make themselves stronger and two, the excess metals can be eliminated by the liver. Not only does this help fight infection, it helps with mental health too as we will see in later blog posts. Fever is a good thing for the body.
Fortunately this lesson is slowly being unlearned. In fact, many medical schools are now teaching otherwise. The Yale School of Medicine recommendation for children is that you can wait out a fever up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s high! But our bodies are designed to do that although it is generally not a very comfortable experience. As I lay there that day, Hickory next to me, with the 104-degree temperature, I felt I would die at any moment. But I didn’t and I was stronger for it.
Note: As a general rule, I ask patients to call me if the fever goes over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I like to have a plan in place with them in case it spikes quickly but I’ve not had to intervene in over 10 years of practice.