When a Fever Is Not Just a Fever

14 Oct 2007

Towards the end of September, on one particularly nice Friday afternoon, I suddenly came with a fever. I went home to get some more sleep.

fever

Photo by DooogwoooD on Flickr

My wife got home and proceeded to freak out. To the Chinese, a fever is serious, much more so than a cold. Somewhere in the Chinese psyche there’s a line about “fevers kill people” and modern medicine has yet to edit that line. My wife wanted to take me to the hospital that night.

I didn’t see what the big deal was. Our honeymoon to Turkey was coming up the following week, but I felt confident I would quickly get over whatever little bug I had caught. I didn’t remember ever going to the hospital for a fever growing up, and I had a few fevers back in the day. My mom also never seemed overly concerned when it happened. To me, fevers just meant temporary discomfort. I even thought they were kind of cool, the human body’s rather “creative” way of trying to burn its invaders.

From Wikipedia:

> Theoretically, fever has been conserved during evolution because of its advantage for host defense. There are certainly some important immunological reactions that are sped up by temperature, and some pathogens with strict temperature preferences could be hindered. The overall conclusion seems to be that both aggressive treatment of fever and too little fever control can be detrimental. This depends on the clinical situation, so careful assessment is needed.

> Fevers may be useful to some extent since they allow the body to reach high temperatures. This causes an unbearable environment for some pathogens. White blood cells also rapidly proliferate due to the suitable environment and can also help fight off the harmful pathogens and microbes that invaded the body.

fever

Photo by Tinn Tian on Flickr

But when my fever didn’t go down, my wife called her mom and they started group worrying. I was afraid my mother-in-law might even come over. So to spare the womenfolk their worrying, I agreed to go to the hospital that night. Unsurprisingly, I was given an antibiotic IV, and also a shot in the butt (just below the waist, really) to make the fever go down. Over the weekend I started feeling better. I went back to work on Monday feeling like I had a normal cold.

Then Tuesday I woke up with another fever. I called in sick. My fever went back down by that evening. I felt OK Wednesday.

Thursday was the day we left for Turkey. Over the night I came down with a fever again, and had horrible fever nightmares all night. They were horrible not because they were scary, but because they were maddening, like a kind of unsolvable logic puzzle that nevertheless had to be solved. It was something about building an ever-changing machine out of steel and fur that contained all the functions necessary to allow me to get to Turkey. Every time I thought I had my furry device complete, it would change, thwarting my departure to Turkey over and over and over again.

When my wife found out I had a fever of 39.2°C/103°F (again), she flipped out. She was upset not because she was afraid we couldn’t go to Turkey that night, but because I had a fever for the third time, and it was so “high.” She thought I was dying of some mysterious disease.

I explained to her that I actually felt OK, that I had had higher fevers before and never even went to the hospital, but she wasn’t having it. Secretly, I was wondering if those heat detectors at the airport set up during the SARS scare would detect my fever. Reason told me I had better not try to get on an international flight with a fever. Curiosity wanted to just try it (yeah, curiosity can be kind of dumb sometimes).

So that afternoon I was back at the hospital, luggage in tow and plane tickets in hand, for another IV and another shot in the butt. My wife had the hilarious idea of getting my IV “to go” and doing the drip in a taxi on the way to the airport, then ditching the bag at the terminal. Unsurprisingly, the doctor didn’t go for that scheme.

My first five days in Turkey involved dutifully taking my medicine three times a day and my wife frequently feeling my skin for signs of a fever (that got interesting after I got a sunburn in Cappadocia). Still, it was an amazing trip to Turkey.

More on Turkey next post.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. The habit of immediately going to the hospital seems quite prevalent in China. And the hospitals even semm to support this by taking rather severe measures (high doses of antibiotica keeping you, applying a drip, etc.) + coming with exreme diagnoses (a small indisposition quicky becomes a pneumonia). It is their business model I suppose.

    But wait until you get kids. Small kids are in general prone to get higher temperatures. And believe me, a kid with fever drives Chinese women to the state of ultimate hysteria (saw several cases of this). Here in Germany this becomes especially bothering as there is an old law of nature that says: “kids only get sick on weekends”. And that is when there are is just an overcrowded emergency service at the hospital.

    I also observed in several instances that as soon as the kids arrived, attention totoally shifted away the husbands. Then you can get happily get sick and nobody will get worried…

  2. I was afraid my mother-in-law might even come over.

    I believe this is the most effective treatment for a fever known to man.

  3. […] in Shanghai…John Pasden talks about his (Chinese) wife freaking out over his fever.Swiss James of ISpyShanghai recommends the Ganzhi Blindman Massage on the corner of Beijing Lu and […]

  4. Over the night I came down with a fever again, and had horrible fever nightmares all night. They were horrible not because they were scary, but because they were maddening, like a kind of unsolvable logic puzzle that nevertheless had to be solved. It was something about building an ever-changing machine out of steel and fur that contained all the functions necessary to allow me to get to Turkey. Every time I thought I had my furry device complete, it would change, thwarting my departure to Turkey over and over and over again.

    I get similar maddening puzzle dreams. I wonder if other people get them.

    • Oh, man. I did an internet search for “fever nightmares” and found this post and reply. YES, the reason I am up NOW (3:14am) is because I would rather not sleep than have fever nightmares. “Having to solve a logic problem” is a pretty good description to start. Mine all involve some sort of maddening problem-solving that seems to last for hours, with a problem that still exists once I wake, and a task so deeply rooted and inescapable that is recurs even after waking to go pee and going back to sleep. Last night it was something as fruitlessly simple as making travel plans for my brother-in-law while navigating an obstacle course…futile since concentrating on completing one of the tasks meant slacking on the other. The only way I’ve learned to deal with fever nightmares is to sleep with the lights on, which seems to help pull me out of that half-asleep, half-awake purgatory. (And the lights being on gets rid of that “pressure” to be asleep. Being awake with the lights off is insomnia, but being asleep with the lights on is somehow a triumph). Side note: my yelp review of the “Museum of Jurassic Technology” in Culver City, I reference it being like a fever nightmare, which is very fitting, and I recommend it if you’re in the LA area.

    • I recently had a fever (last night actually) and I had a nightmare similar to building a machine. The difference was that mine wasn’t from steel or fur but pvc tubing. It was a puzzle that was able to be completed but never entirely finished because after you were done, it would change shape.

    • I actually get them too! They are terrifying, but they don’t involve creatures like monsters or ghosts or other things like that. My fever nightmares are usually something very uncomfortable like watching a ball grow larger, but not really growing, and two lines trying to meet, but not even moving in front of a shaky background and hearing whispering in my ears growing louder until it sounds like a football field. I always wake up sweaty like I just came out of a swimming pool and crying like crazy…. It always takes at least 2 hours to calm me down again.

  5. I don’t suppose that you remember back in ’79 being submerged into an ice-filled tub of water? No, it’s probably better that you don’t . . .

  6. maybe you have bird flu

  7. “Secretly, I was wondering if those heat detectors at the airport set up during the SARS scare would detect my fever.”
    Yeah – in the days of bird-flu craze, I travelled from Hong Kong to Jakarta with a nasty flu (not bird-induced) and a fever. Going through these infrared camera zone, I actually did keep my head down and my arms behind my back. On the screen, I appeared normal, though. Probably these machines are bollocks and can detect extraterrestrials if anything.

  8. There don’t seem to be any drop-in clinics or Western-style doctors’ offices here (Shanghai), so that may explain some of the reason for people always going to the hospital.

    That or there’s heroin in the IV. People here love their drips.

  9. When I have a fever (no trips to the hospital here either), I also experiencing that maddening dream phenomenon – there’s always a sense of urgency to the dreams that I can’t shake even when awake. I remember once I fell into a fevered sleep when the movie Firefox was on TV, for the next 8 hours I was in a panic that THEY were stealing the plane.

  10. Sounds exactly the one I got on my trip to visit my in-laws:

    Nailed in the ass – a shitty day in bed

    I even had my wife take a snapshot while the nurse gave me the sting.

  11. 2funnynot2saythis Says: October 15, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Yellow fever?! LOL

  12. the maddening puzzle dreams are hell itself. my last one consisted of me continually climbing mount lebanon in search of bottles of water that never seemed to quench my thirst. i was pretty dehydrated from being sick as you might have guessed.

    glad you enjoyed turkey.

  13. Tonight I was with a friend at a cafe when an extremely drunk man wandered down the stairs, and then (aided by friends) proceeded to audibly vomit in the bathroom. She said that he HAD to go to the hospital, while I said that he’d feel better as soon as he threw up. She looked at me as if I were being reckless with the suggestion…funny how going to the hospital becomes the default “responsible solution” even when it’s wholly unnecessary.

  14. I think I can solve your mystery.

    So you had a fever on Saturday night? I believe that is called Johntravoltaitis, although I thought they cured that back in the ’70s

  15. Actually fever can be quite serious, and left unattended it can cause a whole variety of problems. In children it can lead to a seizure, so imagine the panic and the longevity of such an incident on the social psyche. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fever/DS00077/DSECTION=9

    I think in a country where one can’t really rely on quality thermometers, access to ice, children’s Tylenol or a close by emergency room, it makes sense to be pro-active. I think you had a good mom that took care of you better than you realized! She probably gave you popsicles didn’t she!

    I doubt the IV did anything more than some good Gatorade would have done to replenish your fluids and probably just helped to propagate some heartier bacteria in your body.

    I’d say, however, that you erred in your rest, fluids and use of Tylenol. At 103 you were borderline on being high, so I’d say you have a good wife. You should have managed your fever down to the low 100s at the get go, with Tylenol, cool pacs, soaks in the tub, drinking fluids and rest, and with a good two solid days of feeling well before hoofing it over to work.

    I’m no doc, but that’s my prescription.

  16. Tks Lantian, now I know what to do next time I get a fever.

    John, glad you’re feeling better!

    heh he. Enjoy it. In two years she’ll just be hoping that you die. 😉

  17. Greg Pasden Says: October 18, 2007 at 6:06 am

    I was going thru the same thing at the same time while in the PI. I ended up alternating tylenol & Ibuprofin every 2 hours. It kept me cool as long as I limited my activity level.

  18. Did your wife have you “sweat it out”? Mine did, and made me go to a hospital too. Me telling the doctor that their medical theories hailed from cave-man eras didn’t help much either. Never get an IV though, how can shots in China be trusted??

  19. trevelyan Says: October 22, 2007 at 8:06 am

    “…. and also a shot in the butt (just below the waist, really) to make the fever go down.”

    Sort of defeats the purpose of having an immune system if the hospitals try to actively suppress it without reason.

  20. I done sameas Chip when at the chinese hospital, I tell them what the problem is and they tell me they want to do a load of test to tell me what the problem really is after which they tell me i have the same problem I originally told them I had.

    One of the biggest problems I have being married to a chinese woman is when our child gets sick, everytime she wants to get him to the hospital and everytime I tell her its ony a cold, he will get better by himself. She cant understand how someone thats sick can get better without medicine, and whats up with the chinese love of the drip and the idea that the wind canmake you sick.

  21. It amazes me how people are so scared of a fever when fevers are meant to help you. The reason people are so afraid of fevers is because in the old days there were illnesses like Malaria, Yellow Fever, Typhoid where fevers would kill you.

    A fever from the flu or cold is not going to kill you. I wish people would stop being so damn afraid of a fever. Ice baths? What are we in the caveman days? Wake up you idiots. Even a febrile seizure is not normally dangerous. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

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