This symptom is very common in general practice. There are numerous possible causes, but in family practice it mainly occurs in young children, the cause usually being a viral infection. Paracetamol, (Panadol, Tylenol), can help reduce temperature and ease pain, but it usually only lasts for several hours.
27-year-old Janet appeared to be quite desperate when she came into my office one cold winter evening, pale as a ghost, shivering and sweating profusely.
“I feel dreadful, doctor.” she said, “I’ve got a fever – I had to leave work I felt so bad. My neck and shoulders are so stiff and painful, and I have a shocking headache. Please write me a medical certificate so I can go home and die!”
I thought she probably had a viral infection.
“Sure,” I said, “but first I need to examine you to see if I can find a cause for your fever.”
Then, for some strange reason, pointing to the tube of wheatgrass cream on my desk, I asked her, “Would you mind if I rubbed some of this cream on the back of your neck?”
Probably thinking I was more likely in need of a doctor than she was, she nodded her approval. I then applied a small amount of the herbal cream lightly over the back of her neck. On examination, there was little to find other than a high fever and a rapid pulse, not uncommon symptoms in a viral infection. Less than ten minutes after applying the cream, I sat down to complete her medical certificate.
“Excuse me doctor,” she said, looking up from her seat.
To my amazement, her ghostly white face had changed to a healthy pink, and she was smiling!
“I don’t know what you’ve got in that cream,” she said, “but my headache and all that stiffness in my neck has gone! I’m starting to feel a lot better. I don’t really need a certificate now!”
I did a quick check. Her temperature and pulse were now normal!
Then, as if this happened every day, she thanked me for “making her feel better” and left – without the certificate!
But, how did her temperature normalise so quickly?
Perhaps rubbing her neck with the cream may have helped? After all, this area was close to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature! If that was the case, how on earth could a wheatgrass extract possibly induce such a dramatic change.
I needed time to think, to discuss what was clearly a medical phenomenon with a medical colleague. But I was working solo that night – and the waiting room was full.
Dismissal for eliminating fever in a young child
Soon afterwards, on my first day working in a clinic in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs where six doctors worked hard all day.
I could hear a young child screaming his lungs out in the waiting room, and hoped he would not end up in my office - but it wasn't my day.
Three years old, crying and irritable, the child had a high fever. His mother unsurprisingly raised her eyebrows when I asked permission to apply a little cream to the back of his neck.
Fifteen minutes later, his temperature now normal, the child, now playful and happy, left with his mother eating a couple of jellybeans.
Suddenly, the receptionist barged into my room (which she had no right to) and asked what I had done to the child!
“DONE?” I asked. He's quite well now.
“He was so ill”, she said, “but now he looks so well!”
“I always thought that was what doctors were supposed to do. You know, make people better?” I said.
She seemed puzzled, so I briefly told her about the wheatgrass extract.
She then reported my action to the doctor/owner of the clinic. After explaining how I had used the cream successfully to "cure" fever, he dismissed me because I refused to stop using the herbal cream as treatment.
So began many years of the "cold shoulder" from ex-medical colleagues, when all I did "wrong" was to improve the quality of life of many of my patients - without adverse side effects!
Twenty-five years later, as I write this story, I remain convinced the extract "cured" fever by influencing the part of the brain that controlled body temperature - the hypothalamus. I may be wrong, but there had to be some explanation, because it certainly wasn't magic!
Dr. Chris Reynolds.