Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective, to place ourselves in others shoes, feel what they are feeling. Many of us easily empathise with others but are unable to show empathy to ourselves when it comes to our own health. What I would like to discuss this month is how to empathise with our bodies in times of acute illness. The best way to show ourselves empathy in sickness is to preserve and tonify our Vital Forces by managing our fevers and adopting some good old fashioned convalescence
Learn to empathise with the fever
A Fever is a natural response of a healthy immune system. A fever inhibits toxins and clears waste from the tissues, lymph and blood. White blood cells called Natural Killer Cells (NKC), neutrophils and macrophages are increased to destroy invaders. During a fever of 38-40°C our immune system is down regulated. This means the immune system is disciplined so that it learns not to overreact or attack itself causing allergy or autoimmune disease.
The natural progression of a fever
A fever usually start with a chilled stage, pallor, shivering with aversion to cold. As the body temperature rises, blood flow increases through the tissues and phagocyte activity increases and the body's defenses are mobilised. During this stage the patient feels hot.
The body cools down by opening the sweat glands.This is called the fever breaking
The foreign invaders are repelled and a crisis is reached. Recovery can commence. The ability to throw a good fever is a great indicator of the strength of our Vital Force or Life Force.Fevers ar e useful and need to be supported rather than suppressed.
Symptoms to cause concern during a fever
Symptoms that indicate a trip to the doctor are prolonged high fevers of over 40°C, fever lasting for longer than 5 days, difficulty breathing (flared nostrils in babies) or rash. Fever is not dangerous unless the temperature is over 38.3°C in an infant, 39.4°C in a child or 40°C in an adult.
The good fever
The ideal fever temperature is between 38 – 39 °C. This is when defense mechanisms are operating at an optimal level. If the temperature is below 38 °C, the immune system is operating at a suboptimum level. It is wise to actually promote a rise in temperature to encourage a good fever. This can be done by wrapping the patient up and by giving warming diaphoretic herbs. Only encourage a moderate rise in temperature, especially in children.
1. Nurture the temperature between 38-39 °C
2. Minimise discomfort and risk until the crisis is reached and the fever breaks.
3. Support convalescence
- Intelligently interpret reading of the thermometer. Ask if the person feels hot or cold. Feel their skin if it is moist or dry.
- If the temperature is hovering around 37°C it is best to promote a rise in temperature to encourage optimal immune function. herbs such as garlic, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon and nutmeg are used to raise the temperature.
- A traditional formula is called Composition Essence, consisting of Bayberry, Cloves, Ginger and Cayenne is prescribed when a patient is not mounting a good fever. The ingredients are grounded and added to honey and lemon.
- Wrapping up encourages a rise in temperature.
- If the temperature is 39 °C and they feel hot and the fever has broken i.e. their skin is moist, this means the temperature is on the way down and indicates that it is not serious.
- If the temperature is 39 °C and they feel cold and there skin is dry it is more serious. This means the temperature is still on the way up, as they feel cold.
- If the temperature rises above 39 °C it is time to take it down. Traditionally tepid baths and cold flannels are used.
- Sometimes you need to bring the temperature down by using diaphoretics like Yarrow, Elderflower and Peppermint YEP (or LEP tea in pregnancy with Lime Flower). YEP is a blend of diaphoretic herbs, which promote sweating to lower temperature. These herbs are amphoteric, meaning that they can lower body temperature if it is too high, or actually work to raise body temperature in a low grade fever ie. 37 °C.
- Sometimes you need to bring the temperature UP by using YEP tea!
- Other diaphoretic herbs to reduce the temperature are Cat nip and Boneset . Boneset is specific for fever with aching bones.
Convalescence is an old fashioned word that is often forgotten in today's society where there is an unhealthy "soldier on " attitude. Convalescence is extremely important. It is necessary for complete recovery. Apparently a person needs one week's rest for every day of a fever!
There are 3 aspects to convalescence.
3. Convalescent foods
4. Restorative, Nervous system tonics, Immune stimulants, Antimicrobials and Qi tonics herbs.
Rest means sleep obviously, a good 8-10 hours and long baths and a good book.
Go for a light stroll.
Examples of convalescent foods are stewed fruits, steamed vegetables, soups and stews, especially boiled bone broths such as chicken soup. Well-cooked ginger and mutton broth is good after childbirth and for the elderly. Stew apple and pears with warming herbs such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Others examples are;
Congees are perfect convalescent foods. Basically a congee is anything that is literally slow cooked for up to 12 hours. Examples are a rice and red date congee prescribed to tonify qi and blood.
Chinese herbal soups
Chinese herbs that tonify Qi are Wolfberry fruit, (Gou qi zi), Astragalus root (Huang qi), Chinese red dates (Hong zao), Longan (Long yao ran), White peony (Bao shao), Prepared Rheumannia root (Shu di huang), and Liquorice root (Gan cao). Boil these herbs with some pork ribs. Drink the soup and eat the meat.
Restorative herbs, nervous system tonics, immune stimulants, antimicrobials, Qi tonics, lymphatic alterative and specific system tonics i.e. Respiratory tonics, Urinary tract tonics. Herbs such as Oats, Verbena and Hypericum are ideal.
Antimicrobials such as Picorrhiza, Barberry, Golden seal and Thuja are anti-viral. Herbs such as Elderflower, Eye bright and Golden rod are upper respiratory tract anticatarrhals. Lymphatic alteratives include Phytolacca, Baptisia, Stillingia and Clivers.
Natural remedies are naturally empathetic
By working with our body and not suppressing symptoms, herbal medicine, supplements, acupuncture and homeopathy all empathise with our bodies when we are sick.
Please consult a naturopath before taking natural remedies if you are on medication, or your doctor if symptoms persist.