Whenever my kids fall sick with a fever, I think about my paternal grandmother. In my life, I have only met her a handful of times but my few memories of her are filled with a sunny warmth and images of her small, cluttered house in Kyoto.
When I first visited, it was mid-winter and miserably cold. Unprepared for that sort of winter, I fell ill with a fever. And so, among other treatments, my grandmother ordered me to bed and then proceeded to cover me with layer upon layer of heavy winter blankets. At the time I was puzzled, and I remember thinking, “Why all the covers? I have a fever, not a cold…”
She explained to me that I had to “sweat it out.” This seemed to me counter to what I had known until that time (which was, in fact, very little) but with my poor Japanese vocabulary, I had little recourse. I spent the night fevered and weighted down by all those blankets. But in the morning, I had definitely sweated it out and seemed to have returned to normal.
Fast forward twenty or so years to my first daughter’s first fever: my husband and I had a disagreement on the treatment. He thought we should bring down the fever with medicine or a cool bath, but I disagreed – I wanted to do what my grandmother had done for me. After some research of the pros and cons, and careful monitoring of her temperature with a children’s fever reducer on hand (just in case), we decided to see how the “sweat it out” method would go.
The next morning, our daughter’s fever had gone down, and thus a general method of treatment was set for all of our kids since.
It wasn’t until I heard a medical doctor on a podcast describe the developmental importance of fevers that I started to consider that there was something a little profound in my grandmother’s prescription. And for me, it was also yet another discovery of God’s wise and loving design of His children.
Fevers, however they come by, spark an immunological response and the body counters the foreign invaders by raising the body temperature to eliminate the outside threat. When we reduce the fever, we inadvertently work against the immune system. While we need to know that there is a threat should the fever go too high or too long, for the most part the fever is the body’s immune system working. When the immune system has mostly eliminated the threat, it works to then “break” the fever through inducing sweat production.
Interestingly, even plants have fevers following infection. Cold-blooded animals have been noted to do the same in studies on fevers.
What’s more, there is some evidence that the immunological response to these foreign threats actually leads to “both innate and adaptive immunity”. So even if the infection may be taxing on the body, the process of fighting it makes the body more capable of warding off future infections. It inevitably brings to mind the old saying, “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
How wonderful is it to think that God, in His infinite love and wisdom, gave us an immune system that not only protects us but is constantly learning and growing to do things better and better every time? It is a reminder that we should also seek to do the same: face challenges with the mind to overcome and then be better prepared for the next one.
My grandmother had probably learned this fever method from her mother or the women around her, and tested it through the course of raising her three children. Years have gone by since her passing, but in small movements, I remember her and honor her for my life and the nuggets of wisdom she gave me.