My first motherly experience with fever was with 5-month-old Sammy. He had a cold at the time and had a fever around 102º. We were scared. We desperately wanted to ease his suffering and restore his stable temperature. A good friend (also an ER physician) told us to give him Tylenol and checked his little book for the correct dosage. We followed his recommendation, and sure enough, the fever came right down. His temperature spiked three days in a row, but each time we gave him Tylenol and felt great relief that he was himself again.
In the three years since that first fever, my convictions regarding natural healing have deepened, though in my mind, a high fever was still to be avoided at all costs. Fever = worry, suffering, discomfort, infection, seizure, brain damage. Bad.
Last June, I had the luck to attend a brief class with a Master Herbalist. During the class, my husband asked if she had any recommendations for bringing down a fever naturally. Expecting some herbal spectacular, we were surprised when all she said was, "If you give the child plenty of fluids and put him in a warm bath, that fever will break." We approached her afterward to talk about it, and she told us without hesitation:
Wet Fever Heals
Dry Fever Kills
According to her, it's not necessary to bring the fever down at all! When treated properly, she said a fever is not dangerous. On the contrary, it is healing. Another mother in earshot of the conversation told us she never even takes temperatures, that this fluid thing really works.
I had a chance to ruminate over this for several months before being faced with a trial run. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a horrible bout of teething, 11-month-old Daniel came down with a fever, hotter than your typical teething fever. I really wanted to know if this woman was right, but was worried about trying it out on my sweet little sufferer.
I looked up Fever in my bible of healing, Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, and read some reassuring words:
Since viruses and bacteria do not survive as well in a body with an elevated temperature, fever is actually an ally in fighting infection. It is one of the ways in which the body defends and heals itself. An elevated temperature also increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and even increases their speed of response and enhances their killing capacity.
The authors add, "To prevent dehydration, encourage a feverish child to drink plenty of fluids. The increased metabolic rate that results from a fever causes the body to lose fluids rapidly." They also recommend letting the child soak in a tepid herbal bath. Armed with this second witness, I was ready to try out the maxim.
I would never have thought that a fever would turn into a spiritual experience for me, full of believing, trusting, hoping, and praying. Because of our diet and lifestyle, I believe Daniel's immune system to be very strong. My boys rarely get sick. Throughout the experience, I felt convinced that if left alone, Daniel could beat the ailment and would grow stronger as a result. And he did.
While he was feverish, I kept Daniel with me almost constantly: he napped in his carrier and slept by me at night. I kept the fever wet by giving him plenty of fluids and bath time. Aside from swollen lymph nodes behind his ears (also a sign of infection), he had no other symptoms. Just in case, I took an overabundance of natural antibacterial and antiviral remedies, hoping he might benefit from them through my milk. I was tempted at least once to give in to Tylenol, but signs of progress helped me resist. At times hotter than others, his body maintained the fever for a couple long days. Then it was gone.
Through this, I learned to give the body a chance! There might be a time when I'll resort to Tylenol again, but it will be harder now. I am happy to have confirmed that "wet fever heals."