The Highs and Lows of Body Temperature

Three years ago, when I destroyed my left arm, a health worker came to see me a couple of times a week to help with things I couldn’t do myself (which was pretty much everything). Before we got down to the important things such as showering or opening bottles and jars or replacing the child-proof lids of my pain pills with ones I could open one-handed, she always took my vital signs.

The first time she took my temperature, we both stared at the number in shock. 91.9˚. That is absolutely not possible. A body temperature that low would mean I was dead. So she shook down the thermometer and tried again. Same thing. Thinking the thermometer was malfunctioning, she replaced the mouthpiece and took her own temperature, which was normal. Then mine again. Same abnormal reading.

The next day she brought a new thermometer, and the reading was slightly higher. 92 or 93, something like that. We finally shrugged it off. I wasn’t cold, was doing well considering I had a pulverized wrist, a fake elbow, a wrenched shoulder, perhaps twenty-five breaks in all told in my forearm, and was drugged to my gills.

Over the next weeks, my temperature climbed to a sizzling 95˚. And there it stayed for a while, though I think by the time she moved to a better job (in part because of the way the company treated me, though that is a different story), my temperature occasionally clocked in at 96˚.

I’ve always had a very slow metabolism (yes, I know — people who are overweight always blame their metabolism, but sometimes it is true) and so we thought my moribund metabolism could be the reason for the low number. (Or vice versa.) Since I seemed to have no problems because of it, we decided not to worry. And, apparently, such a low temperature is not that rare because when I went to the doctor for more surgery and then follow-up appointments, no one commented, probably because by that time they could see that it was my normal temperature.

I think about this every time I hear about people having their temperatures taken before they are allowed to see doctors or go to work. With a low body temperature, a person can have a fever and still test as normal, so a normal temperature is no indication that a person is clear of infection. (And then, there’s the whole no symptoms — including fever — for fourteen days thing, which really makes temperature an inaccurate viral test.)

I might have a thermometer around here somewhere, and I considered taking my temperature out of curiosity, but decided it wouldn’t prove anything. I’m alive and relatively healthy and no number is going to change that.

Besides, since I see almost no one (except a friend at the store yesterday, and we stayed the requisite six feet apart), my temperature is not an issue.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

5 Responses to “The Highs and Lows of Body Temperature”

  1. Judy Galyon Says:

    Good to know. Hope all is well with you.

  2. Sam Sattler Says:

    Wow, I’ve never heard of a body temperature that low; didn’t realize it was possible to have one that low.

    It makes me wonder where the “standard” of 98.6 degrees comes from. Mine has clocked in at around 96.5 or so for the last several years and no one ever says anything about it. You’re right about a temperature-check being an ineffective test for a number of reasons, anyway, especially since we know that a person can have this particular coronavirus long before fever shows up as a symptom.

    Stay well, Pat.

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