“What should I watch for?” is a question I am often asked by mothers when their children are working through an acute inflammatory illness. Many mothers don’t trust themselves to discern the difference between a routine illness that can be managed at home and one that requires a visit to the doctor.
In my experience, mothers have every reason to feel confident in their powers of observation and in their intuitive sense of what’s happening with their children during illness and healing. I have found that, most often, a mother’s assessment is accurate, especially if she has had experience, and if she’s not carrying a heavy burden of fear to cloud her judgment. Just as the mother of a crying child can usually sense the difference between a normal cry and a serious cry, so has she the intuitive capacity to sense whether her child’s illness is serious or not.
But, as with all capacities, practice makes perfect. To observe an ill child accurately, we need to start from the right premise – that is, from a premise that is not only truthful but that also empowers us and the child and that aids the healing process. In my experience, that very helpful premise is to see an inflammatory illness as a healthy, cleansing, detoxifying activity of the child’s immune system, and not as an invasion of hostile bacteria and viruses. The glass isn’t half empty; it’s half full.
It’s normal for a child with an inflammatory illness to be lethargic, flushed, warm to the touch, and uninterested in eating or even drinking. The child is hard at work concentrating her energy inwardly and loses attention for her surroundings. The more a child can sleep during an illness, the better. The process of inflammation may take several days to accomplish its cleansing task. Here are the important things to watch for:
How is the child’s strength holding up? During the breaks between fever peaks, if she perks up a bit and wants to eat or drink or play, these are good signs.
If, on the other hand, she is losing strength steadily and has to struggle more and more just to keep contact with you and her surroundings, you should call your doctor. The question to ask yourself is, “Is my child essentially maintaining control, even though she’s having to work very hard, or is she losing control – losing ground to the illness and becoming more and more exhausted?”
The bottom line is, follow your child’s strength. This is a far better measure of the seriousness of the illness than the color of the mucus or the degree of the fever, which are poor indicators of disease severity. The task of the parent is to support and nurture the child’s strength to expel the poisons stirred up by the illness and to directly help the child to accomplish this by applying the measures discussed in Melissa Block’s article. Healing occurs when all or most of the poisons have been thrown off through fever, sweating, mucus discharge, rash, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your child’s strength has become exhausted in this process, and the illness shows no signs of releasing its grip on her, then by all means seek professional help.