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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
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Let's Panic

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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)

You can buy a rectal thermometer and some Astroglide to make the experience less invasive.

You have to use the oral thermometer correctly, by making sure that it sits in one of the spots in the mouth that actually give a good temperature. Seriously, there is a diagram of this somewhere.

I found it:

its on the first page, there is a picture of under the tongue spots.oh, and NO DRINKS/FOOD for 30 minutes.this is why i use the rectal thermometer.

My son is 6, and when I need an accurate reading (vomiting usually indicates a temp of 102+ in him) we go the impolite route. I preface it with, "You can have candy and we shall never speak of this again.
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterheather
OMG, please please PLEASE if you get an answer to the thermometer question, PLEASE POST IT. We have 3 thermometers, including both oral and ear, and they all give us totally wacky readings all the time, fluctuating several degrees sometimes within minutes. I cannot stand it. Basically I am unable to take anyone's temp in this house--it's useless.
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon
Oh my gosh, it sounds like your hand is more reliable than that thermometer! That's ridiculous!
So sorry you went through this, but it's oddly comforting to read about another mom dealing with a kid whose fevers burn so hot. My son used to go to 105 routinely when sick, and the first few times it happened were totally terrifying. My daughter, on the other hand, has never gone much over 102. And let's just say that those fever tendences are inversely proportional to the kids' temperaments. Ahem.
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaige Orloff
Dang, I was hoping for answers, too, and. . . it seems that most thermometers are crap. Go figure.

I do have/use an ear thermometer, but I don't really know why. Honestly, I go more by the forehead check (I do it with my cheek, not lips--that's how my mom always checked us for fever!). If that's not conclusive, I put a hand on my son's bare back--if he's got a fever, his back will be flaming hot. And along with all that, I look at how he's acting. Fever with no other symptoms means I won't even take him to the doctor unless the fever lasts a couple of days, but if he has a fever AND is clearly feeling like crap, we go straight to the ped's office. It's almost always strep, or flu (or, one time, both! score!).

Again, so glad that Henry's feeling better.
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara
We went through many many fevers with our Maggie, who was in and out of the ER in her 1st two years with kidney disease and a multitude of infections. Thermometers on ears, foreheads, swipes, whatever ARE NOT ACCURATE. Not even close. We pretty much rely on the plain old oral digital ones . . . though it's worth paying an extra $10 for one that gives you a reading quickly. BTW, when we were going through Maggie's issues, the docs wouldn't even listen to me on the phone unless we'd taken a rectal temp. Just sayin'.
I use a digital thermometer that is made to be used under the arm and gives a fast readout. 5 seconds.

I have also used it on them to check when they are NOT sick to have a baseline and used it on everyone in the family for the same reason.

Some people have higher normal temperatures than others, so it's good to have a base.

The other thing is I find that feeling the back of their neck is the best initial check system. If it feels hotter than usual, Ii'll whip out the thermometer to double-check.

And my super expensive ear one? Useless. You have to get the angle just right to get an accurate reading. And we all know how much kids love having things stuck in their ears. So they sit so still for that nice accurate reading...
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAEMom
I second the Braun ThermoScan. Our pediatrician uses them as well in her office.

April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin
We first use the hand to forehead/kissing forehead method - but we bought the higher priced ear one at Walgreen's and have been happy enough with it so far. Each ear reads about 1 degree different, so we just go with a ballpark figure, take both ears... it seems to be close enough to know if its scary high or just high. Luckily we haven't had as scary as you - you handled it better than I would I think.
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
the thing about the mercury in the back of the station wagon? hilarity.
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlindsay
I actually love my digital food thermometer. The probe is on a long wire that you can leave stuck in the roast while the display stays outside. It cost ~$30, but it does double duty. :)
April 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterm
Awww I hope he feels better soon. Pickle-boy is like that when he gets a fever. My mother follows me around demanding I check every inch of him because he's so hot, but that's him. It doesn't last either. If he's smiling, coloring, playing, just hot then I don't worry myself.

(wishes well for him)...
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRants n' Rascals
I, too, have had issues with thermometers. I've had two ear thermometers, two oral thermometers and one swipe-across-the-forehead thermometer and NONE of the dang things is accurate. My mom always asks what my kid's temp is when he's sick and I always say I don't know (or guess) and she always wonders why since she was the one who bought two of the five thermometers I just mentioned. What can I say? None of them work and I hesitate to spend more money on a thermometer when they've just consistently proven to be unreliable.

P.S. I am profoundly unwilling to stick anything into my 7 y/o's butt. I know that's more accurate but neither of us cares THAT much. If he's got a temp, even a fairly low one, he has a tendency to feel like lava, so there's no mystery about it.
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTitanKT
I'm thinking your hand is probably starting to work better than the thermometer. You do the same thing whether it's 102 or 104, right? I suppose the thermometer tell us when to really freak the fuck out. That's what I rely on mine for.
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens
Rectal. It sucks, but if you need an absolutely accurate reading, it's the only one that is. It will gross you out way more than Henry, trust me.

April 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
Okay, so I agree that you can totally tell whether your kid has a fever using the "lips to forehead" method and that their behaviour is also a dead giveaway of whether it is high or not. HOWEVER, for all of the pooh-poohers of getting an accurate reading, I am here to tell you that it DOES make a difference just how high their temperature is once you learn that your child will vomit if given anything by mouth once they hit 104 degrees, like my little monkey. This means acetominophen by suppository (oh joy) or the temperature will just keep climbing.

So far (he is just under 2) we have used the rectal method, which isn't all that crazy when you end up following it up with a suppository anyway. But now that he's a little older I'm experimenting with the armpit method instead. He was pretty cranky about the whole rectal thing last time he had a crazy fever. Plus Daddy won't do it so Mommy has to stay home until the fever goes away... I get to have all the fun.
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersparkyd
mother's lips to child's forehead. that's the only thermometer i ever use. and agree with the idea that a mother knows how sick a child is by the way they are behaving. when my son slept right through christmas morning i knew he was sick. three nurses insisted his chest was clear as a bell but as soon as a doctor saw him (7 hour wait in ER) he declared that the child was raspy and sick. pneumonia - just as i had diagnosed before leaving the house.
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhonesty*rain
Well, I have a Braun in the ear thermometer that is quite accurate - within a degree or so. I also have a son who fevers high too - 104 or 105 is not uncommon for him and it can last too, although it will go up and down but he can hold onto a fever for 4 days with it going like that. Scarey stuff though. They say a rectal thermometer is the most accurate but once kids get older good luck with that method.
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKim
what did our parents do before there were thermometers? they used their gut instinct. There isnt anything more reliable than a mothers instinct. In the absence of a reliable thermometer, do what you think is the best thing to do.
April 8, 2009 | Unregistered
Braun Thermoscan!

Ours has always been accurate in comparison to drs office and ER temps. I noticed recently that our peds office is now using a "professional" version of the one I have at home.
April 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHaus
I'm an ER nurse and in my own experience with my own kids I like the regular digital oral thermometer under the arm. Stick it in the pit and hold the arm flush to the side of the body. The reading should be pretty accurate (but about a degree less than a core temp).
April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCC
Hi, Alice,

I just wanted to tell you that I love your blog. You are one of the freshest voices out there. I adore your sense of humor! Congrats on your recent move, and I hope everyone in your family is doing great now.
April 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
What's up with these thermometers, anyway? I think I sustained serious cardiac damage one night when my son was a year old with a fever I read my temperature wrong in his ear. I do so envy you your forehead swiping device, even if inaccurate - it is kind of super cool.
April 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicole
Everything is still OK?
April 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLPC
We've always used a "pitty" thermometer. think it's a Vicks brand bought at a lcoal dicsount store. Seems to have always been accurate, it agrees when they feel warm and act sick. Plus, they think it's pretty funny to stick something in te armpit no matter how sick they are at the time.Our little man Ben is prone to high fevers as well, 105-106. had hydroneuphrosis when he was born and some kidney issues after. they felt it was possibly just his body fighting off the kidney infections he would be more prone to. After a round of very low dose antibs for one month, we've not had the spikes of fever since.Sorry for the ramble, but wnated to share our thermom and fever stories.good luck!

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sue Deihl

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