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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

« The lost week | Main | The fever »

Follow-up to the previous post, that being the one about the fever.

So I thought I should provide a little more information, because I seem to have terrified the pants off of some of you. And then you mailed me your pants, just to prove how literal you were. You are a bunch of odd ducks, aren't you?

Anyway, Henry has long been prone to high fevers, and 104-105 has become more or less standard for when he's really, truly sick. Which is why I did not rush him to the ER when his fever reached that number. Also, once he gets a little ibuprofen or acetaminophen in him, his temperature lowers within minutes, so even though his fever was 106 in the middle of the night, I knew it wouldn't last.

The other reason his sickness was not more worrying is that he was chipper and well-tempered. Prone to falling asleep on tables, sure, but otherwise relatively normal. This was in stark contrast to the last time his fever reached elevated levels, when he insisted that my face was covered in sparkly stickers and then tried to remove my chin with his pointy little fingernails.

And finally, I do not think his temperature was actually 111. Our last ear thermometer was so inaccurate that we purchased a high-end swiping-across-the-forehead model that promised stunning accuracy ; so far it's been as flighty and inconsistent as the last one. The advantage to this kind is that it takes a temperature within two seconds, and I don't have to wake him. The disadvantage is that it's all over the place and scares the crap out of me. So his temperature was probably a few degrees lower than 111, but still, I think we can all agree that that's awfully high.

The ER staff instructed me to buy an oral thermometer, which I did, and it read his temperature as 97.3 when he clearly still had a high fever, so I'm at a loss. Anyone have a foolproof thermometer to recommend?

Reader Comments (80)

As a nurse . . . oral or rectal temperature is the most accurate. If you got a low temp with an oral thermometer it may not have been under his tongue or he may have been doing a bit of mouth breathing, and that will cool it off.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMissa
I have similar dissatisfaction with fast-reading thermometers. The ear thermometer I have never reads my temperature over 96.8 (perhaps it's dyslexic?), and my normal body temp runs high (98.9-99.1 is normal in my world).

For my kid, I usually start with the lips-to-forehead method and, if I need a number for the dr., I end up with a really slow digital thermometer under arm because my kid is terrified of the idea of putting it in her mouth (which actually creeps me out a bit too on the rare occasion I feel bad enough to even check). Because a fever is really almost always a good thing, I rarely resort to the thermometer because it just p*sses my daughter off these days.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermostcurious
I have never been so concerned with my child's exact temperature that I felt compelled to stick anything in her butt. Seriously. I use my hands and my lips. Ok, that sounds really wrong.

If she feels abnormally hot and sort of sharp when I feel or kiss her forehead, that's a fever. If she is ALSO acting drowsy and lethargic, it's enough that she needs Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

Maybe if a child has a specific medical condition that requires careful and exact monitoring of the temperature, that's one thing, but in most cases of typical kids, it's more for the parents to know how much to freak out. I find that it's much more practical (not to mention COMFORTABLE for everyone) if we use the forehead kiss/monitor behavior method I outlined above.

I actually think that kissing, as a behavior, probably originated with mothers monitoring their kids' fevers. I think the romantic notion of kissing proceeded from there, as a way of demonstrating feelings of mutual responsibility ("I'll take care of you," as well as assessing a potential mate's health, "Are you going to survive to raise our offspring?") but that may be going a bit too far with things.

The only time the kiss & feel method has failed us was when I was sick too, and couldn't tell she was hot because I was matching her fever. In cases when I'm not sure, or not trusting myself, I double check with an axillary (arm pit) reading on a digital thermometer (add one degree to normalize it to oral temperature, so 97.6 axillary is normal).

My two daughters (3.5 and 2) have had exactly ONE rectal temperature taken (in the hospital for Rotavirus) and not without a lot of, "Is that STRICTLY necessary?" and eye rolling on my part. Yuck.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
I called 911 and had the ambulance sent over because of that expensive and insane forehead scanner thing. My 2 year old daughter was lethargic and feverish, so when I saw numbers as high as 112, I decided to call an ambulance. (She has a twin brother, I was alone with them, I didn't think there was time to get everyone out of the house and into the ER)

The ER nurses refused to believe her temperature could have been so high. I was adamant I had read the thing right and that it was the Tylenol that had brought it down to the low 100's. Also, I was pretty peeved that they were treating me like a dramatic, hysterical parent.

But, now I think those things are flaky. I was looking forward to the comments to see which is a better method. And, as far as I can tell, tried and true "lips to the forehead" wins.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
Alice-I rarely use a thermometer. I kiss my baby's forehead and know what the normal temp is compared to an elevated one. Yes, it drives the Drs crazy (tho I rarely talk to one) but if I do, I can fairly guess the temp.ESPECIALLY if they're alert, eating and/or drinking, and active. Glassy eyes are a dead giveaway of a fever in my kids and a free ticket to stay home from school.I've been lucky. All said, the kids mostly got over their fever/virus' in 24 hours. Until this year when 7 year old daughter had a medium high fever for over a week! OVER A WEEK!!! A little throwing up and not really hungry but up and about and quiet for a WHOLE WEEK!!!! No diarrhea nothing.So, you know Henry better than anyone else. Don't leave it all up to strangers with weird letters they paid a lot for behind their names. You're the Henry expert. YOU tell THEM!!
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Nowak
You should look at Alexa Flotsam's entry of March 17 about thermometers. "Of axilary/Temps be wary... Very funny.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
I use the bottom of the feet method...If those hot coals are jammed in my side or in the palm of my hand, I can accurately guess the fever and never be off by more than one degree. It's taken a couple of years and two kids to perfect (yes, this skill was born out of co-sleeping but don't fret, people, they were in their own beds by age two). :-) But I like the idea of a fertility thermometer...probably more accurate than most.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTess
Luckily, my kids don't run fevers that high; so I never use one. I have no idea what I would do if I were you. Probably make sure I am married to a pediatrician...
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent
I'm with Megsie...still love my mercury thermometer. Just don't eat it.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoelle
I've had good luck with the digital thermometers- under the tongue sort of to the side...and I double check with the finger in the ear...Hotter than the dog means more than 102. Strange, but it works for me...
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHelen
My cheapo digital from Target works fine. (Have you been to the Atlantic Yards Target on Atlantic Ave. yet? It's a bit of a hassle, but it's the biggest Target I've ever seen!)
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteramber of TheAmberShow
I have a usual under-the-tongue thermometer. Granted, I am not a parent, I use it for me.

But I am a freak whose normal, average, day-to-day temperature clocks in at 97.5, which makes it pretty much impossible to convince people I actually have a fever. I had strep throat last year worse than I have ever, ever been sick and after the first round of antibiotics I was still getting a 99.6 on my thermometer. I went into urgent care and they were like, "Pffft, you have not even hit 100, that is not a fever, go home."

Boy, did I laugh when it turned out I had strep again and had to get another round of antibiotics. Take THAT, skeptical urgent care nurses! I WAS STILL SICK WITH A HORRIBLE ILLNESS THAT KEPT ME FROM WORK FOR TWO WEEKS.

April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Friendly pediatrician in training here (commenting as a blog reader only and not a medical professional) - truly, unless your child is a baby (in which case any fever is reason for a visit to the doctor), the exact temperature doesn't really matter. Most illnesses will NOT cause a fever high enough to cause any harm to the child. We treat fevers for a child's comfort, not because the fever will hurt them. Fevers actually help the body fight infection, so treating a mild fever may even be counter-productive.That said, an awful lot of people (including most docs) care an awful lot about that magic number on the thermometer. The most accurate temp is indeed a rectal one, though we routinely use oral or under the arm ones with a digital thermometer here. (Here = regional children's hospital.)I don't trust ear thermometers for anything, and don't have enough experience with the temporal (forehead) ones to have an opinion.
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSara
I am here to say up the butt is NOT always so accurate, either. When my kid was about 7 weeks old I thought he might have a fever and so I tried taking his temperature, used 2 thermometers about 5 times each, up the butt each time, and they all gave frustratingly diff readings. So there.

Thinking I may just try the lips-on-the-forehead method next time...
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy
I agree with Wendy; nothing like an old fashioned mercury thermometer. They're the only ones I really believe in. We still have ours. Glad he didn't really have 111! DH had read that and said "He'd have been dead, that can't be right!" ;-) I reassured him that since he wasn't dead, probably it was a mild exaggeration.
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMauigirl
Yeah, I think the butt ones are the most accurate which sucks for the one on the receiving end.

But, I swear that I can pretty accurately tell when my kids have crossed into 'super hot' territory---it's when the fever has gotten into their feet and hands. At that point, they are always above 103. But below 103, their hands are not burning up.
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFairly Odd Mother
I want to know the number. I don't want to pick my kid up every couple months and say, "Yep, you're bigger." I want them to stand on the scale and read a number. And if they're hot and blah, I want to say, well, you're 101.1 sick, not 103.9 sick. I need stats and digits. So.
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMignon
I've never had any luck with any of the fancy digital thermometers. When my kids were little, I'd just touch the small of their backs or their neck to tell if they had a fever. The nurses would always look at me funny when I said that I knew they had a fever even though I couldn't tell them an actual temperature.Now that my kids are older (ten and seven), I use an old fashioned mercury thermometer under the tongue. (Just don't break one, trust me--we had to throw out our new $300 vacuum cleaner because my brilliant husband decided to vacuum up the mess while I called poison control for advice. Don't ever vacuum up mercury!)I think that behavior is a far better indicator of how sick your kid is than any number on a thermometer. You know your kid best, go with your gut.
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
I've pretty much quit taking temps, too. The funny thing is that when one of the kidlets is sick enough to warrant a trip to the doctor's office, the nurses always want to know the exact temperature and are somewhat surprised I can't provide one, yet they never take a temperature themselves. The practice is full of fancy-pants Ivy-educated doctors and if they've decided as a group not to bother taking temperatures, why should I?
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
I read somewhere (how's that for rigorous research methods) that the mercury from a single broken thermometer is enough to make an entire lake measurably contaminated.

So don't eat it AND don't use it in a boat.

We accidentally broke a mercury thermometer when our daughter was a baby. The friendly folks at Poison Control recommended a de-con process that included leaving all the windows open and vacating the house for more than 24 hours to be sure it had all evaporated. Oh and by the way, you can throw away that vaccuum cleaner you mistakenly used to clean up the big drops before you called.

When I was a kid, breaking a thermometer was cause for much rejoicing because then we would get to play with the mercury. In our hands. In the third row of the station wagon, which of course had no seat belts.Good times.
April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJean
So glad that Henry's better! The whole process sounded eerily scary to me.

My experience with thermometers: I used to swear by my Exergen temporal thermometer, until my daughter put her finger on the heat-sensing part and it was never accurate again. I learned that it was important to swipe it exactly the same way, every time, and we practiced a lot when everyone was healthy (ie, at a normal, predictable temperature).

I've also purchased a number of ear thermometers over the years, and I DO NOT TRUST them. I think that it involves a perfect positioning, and I just don't have the training to do that.

Our current solution: a cheap-o digital oral thermometer, tucked into my daughter's armpit. The readings are consistent, the process isn't ridiculous, unlike the perfect positioning of an oral thermometer or the inconvenience of rectal temp readings.

Good luck!
April 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
Stay away from the ear ones, period. Notoriously inaccurate. Most doctors have told me that. I sometimes do armpit, but and then add a degree or so. We can usually do an oral temp now with my son (age 6).

To tell the truth, I usually just kiss their forehead - have become pretty good at telling whether or not it's a fever. As you said, the number doesn't matter as much as how they're behaving/feeling.

Hope he's on the upswing!
April 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkhr
I get the feeling that all thermometers are moody sum'bitches, but I like the one that gives you red/yellow/green for the range the kids' temp is in. Makes me feel like I also have permission from the thermometer to turn right on red in addition to guidelines for when to freak out.
April 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAimee Greeblemonkey
Sorry about the fever. Same issues around here with the thermometers, though the forhead-scanner type has been my favorite.But I'm really leaving this comment to tell you that I just read your post about the mole and I laughed so hard I cried and had snot running down my face. And then I tried to read it aloud to my husband and I was laughing so hard I couldn't even read more than a sentence at a time. He was quite amused by me (and your story.) You are so freaking funny!!! :-)Love your stuff!
April 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
I've had the same Braun ThermoScan ear thermometer for 10 years and it's always worked fine. However, daughter isn't prone to high fevers -- I can't think of a time when she's cracked 104 -- so I'm not too concerned about being a degree or two off. Plus, like a lot of the people who already responded, I can tell how sick she is from the way she's acting; when she had strep throat last December, her fever was barely 101, but she was so limp and miserable that I knew we'd be heading for the doctor sooner rather than later.
April 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

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