One day last week the kids were at the beach swimming, snorkelling and having fun with some friends when Alex suddenly came out of the water crying and complaining about a rash on his legs. He had tiny red spots which stung a lot with the salty water. When we got back home, though, they were gone. The next morning he got up with white lumpy spots on his palms. Dave had them on the back of his knees. Although they both said that they were very itchy, an hour later they had disappeared. Around midday Alex said he had a headache. He didn't have a fever or any other symptoms, so I encouraged him to drink a lot of water. In the afternoon we took our friends to Simmo's, a favourite of the kids. Alex asked for an ice cream as usual but, surprise, surprise, after just one lick he said he didn't want any more. I don't think that had ever happened before. Five minutes earlier he had been happy, but he now began to cry and complain of a headache again. He even asked me to take him to the doctor.
His request astounded me as I thought he didn't know what it was to go to the doctor. It's something we don't do because we haven't had to. We've always been pretty healthy so there's been no reason to see any doctors. Days later, when he was feeling better, I asked him why he had wanted to see a doctor. He said he didn't know. I said, 'But you didn't know what it was because you had never been before.' He said, 'Yes, I knew because I had seen it on telly.' So I asked him if the reality had been the same, although I already knew the answer because I had witnessed it, of course. 'No, it was much better on the telly,' he replied.
I would have preferred to take him home, but the children have autonomy of their own bodies, so I granted his request immediately. I thought that if he considered it was that serious, then it was. I also thought the doctor would prescribe rest and lots of fluids, which is what I would have done. She did this but that was not all.
First a nurse took his temperature and checked if he had enough oxygen in his blood with a pulse oximeter (he did). Then she asked him to jump on the scales. I later understood this was just to determine the appropriate dosage of Panadol to give him. Then the doctor came and they both bombarded Alex with questions such as: Do you have a headache? Does your tummy ache? Does the light hurt your eyes? Are you drinking a lot of water? He answered yes to everything, which made me think he was feeling pressured. He hadn't complained about his tummy to me and when I asked him later he said it didn't hurt and it hadn't at all.
Next thing we knew the nurse stuck a syringe with apparently disgusting children's Panadol in his mouth. He spat it out and cried. The nurse and especially the doctor told him in a stern way that he had to have the full dose, and they aimed the syringe at his mouth again. He spat it out once more and then I said, 'That's okay. He doesn't have to have it if he doesn't want to.' The doctor retorted, 'Yes, he does. We have to bring his temperature down.' I said, 'But it's 38.3ºC, not 39ºC.'
You see, in my opinion, you should not give Panadol or any other medication to bring down the temperature in children unless it reaches 39ºC. To have a fever is not a bad thing, it is actually good: it's your own body's way of fighting against the virus that is attacking you. The virus will eventually die from the heat. This is how I explain it to my kids. Now, if you put drugs in your body when they're not even necessary you are depriving your body from doing its job, making it lazy; this is how your immune system gets weaker. But this, of course, is just the way I see it after having done my own research. Mainstream doctors seem to think differently.
This doctor in particular dismissed me completely. They managed to force Alex to swallow some of the horrendous liquid. Then the nurse gave him some lollies for having been such a good boy (eek!). This is ironic; isn't sugar supposed to be unhealthy? Why not give him some strawberries instead? Anyway, that calmed him down even though he didn't eat them. The doctor made us follow her to her office where she listened to his heartbeat with a stethoscope and checked his throat for any signs of infection. There was nothing; he seemed healthy apart from the fever. She said that it could be one of those viruses children catch, that it could be nothing or the beginning of it, and that it could get much worse. It was a public holiday the next day but she said I could call her anyway, any time. Or, if he got worse, I should take him to hospital immediately. She also instructed me to keep giving him Panadol or Nurofren, whichever I had at home. I had neither because the bottle I'd bought in 2006 had eventually expired. She insisted about the Panadol three times, which makes me think she knew I wouldn't make him go through that ordeal again.
When we finally left I thought: What the heck just happened? Before we stepped in the medical centre I hadn't been worried at all. The children had had fevers before and I had never panicked. But now I was feeling an uneasiness that I hadn't felt before. When it comes to children, doctors live in fear of making a mistake, but shouldn't they keep their fears to themselves? Well, five minutes later, as we were driving back home, I received a call from a different doctor (who hadn't seen Alex) to inform me that if he still had a headache after having had the Panadol that would be cause for alarm. I asked Alex if he still had a headache. He said it was not so bad, so I told the doctor not to worry.
His temperature kept going up and down the next day. At times when he felt better, he got up and watched telly, but most of the time he slept. I lay down with him. When the following day I started feeling sick I knew it was the flu. Alex mentioned his headache again and I said Panadol would get rid of it if he wanted to take it, but he refused. Dave got sick as well, so the three of us were conveniently ill for three days during which we barely left the house (we went for a bike ride and nearly died from weakness). Both Dave and Alex decided of their own accord to take cold baths to bring their temperature down when it was getting too high. Mine was never as high as theirs, but interestingly enough, I think I suffered more than they did because in my case my whole body ached, whereas the children said they only had a mild headache. For two days we did nothing much apart from drinking water and sleeping. We moved from the sofa to bed and from bed back to the sofa. It felt so good to sleep so much even though I had the sensation of missing a day or two, like the time when I flew from Hawaii to the Philippines and one whole day had vanished.