Fever – Otis Blackwell
A short biology lesson about fever. Our bodies regulate their temperature to keep it at a level set by our brains – in our hypothalamus, which effectively acts like a thermostat. If our actual temperature is different from the thermostat, we feel hot or cold, and our bodies do things to cool or heat themselves. When we get an infection, our brain turns up the thermostat, our body responds and our temperature increases. This helps our immune system function. In the process, our actual temperature is below the thermostat – so we feel cold (not hot). If our fever is high, it may trigger shivering, where muscles twitch in an attempt to warm rapidly. Fever is part of our response to infection – not part of the infection itself – and not normally dangerous. The only reason to treat fever is because it is not a very pleasant experience. Paracetamol and ibuprofen effectively turn down the brain’s thermostat.
If your immune system is not working properly, this can all go a bit awry. The brain turns up the heat, but this doesn’t enable the immune system to be effective, so the brain turns the heat up some more. You get extreme chills – feeling cold and shivering/shaking.
I’ve just had 24 hours of this. My temperature spiked and I took paracetamol to bring it down. Each time the paracetamol wore off, my temperature spiked again, higher each time. At 1am it reached 39.6C (over 103F, for our older readers). It was a little frightening because even as they wired me up to the paracetamol drip, I was wondering how high it would spike next time. Fortunately, when I woke up this morning, my immune system had finally got to grips with the situation. My temperature was raised a little, but not alarmingly. By lunchtime it is almost back to normal.
In absolute quantity, my immune system is well on the way to recovery. But unfortunately, it will take a while for the quality to come through – all the antibodies acquired through 40 years of fighting infections. Until it does, I’m going to be susceptible to bugs. Nice.
The docs say, as long as I don’t have any more fevers, they’ll let me go home again on Friday.