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.

Pain, Cosmic and Otherwise

When I was going through the first horrendous days, weeks, months of grief after the death of my life mate/soulmate, and even later as the grief extended into years, I felt comfortable (mostly) talking about my pain because it seemed noble, perhaps, or maybe even cosmic. The experience was so much bigger than I am that the only way I could deal with it was to cry out my pain to the whole world.

Now that I am dealing with a different kind of pain, physical pain, I don’t feel as comfortable writing about what I am feeling. The pain is localized — it affects only me. To talk about the harshness of losing mobility in my elbow, wrists, and fingers, possibly permanently, seems self pitying because as bad as this injury is (shattered elbow, pulverized wrist, radius broken in 12 places, displaced ulna, deformity) others have it worse.

I know I still have the right to feel bad. That others have it worse doesn’t erase my pain. It just makes it feel less — cosmic.

People seem think I should have resumed my normal life by now, whatever it might be, but it’s all I can do to get through the days. I have to be careful not just because of the external fixator that is still attached my arm, but because of the effects of the strong painkillers I am taking and the need to be careful not to risk a fall. I’m not really prone to falling. The fall that destroyed my arm was a fluke — I tripped over a parking curb I couldn’t see in the dark. But I have to be very careful not to reinjure the arm, at least until it’s healed. I take walks on nice days, so I do get some exercise, but I use a trekking pole as a cane to ensure my balance.

I’ve been trying to cut back on the pain pills because I need to get myself back, but when the cloudy and rainy times come, such as last night, I am grateful for the meager relief the drugs bring. I hope that as I heal, my reaction to inclement weather won’t be as strong because . . . oh, my. The weather -induced ache can be terrible, particularly since I have so many injuries in a single limb.

I no longer have to wear the splint, not even at night, so I am able to work my elbow and regain some mobility at least in that one joint.

Although I have not been writing, I have been keeping busy. Endless games of computer solitaire. Reading. Netflix. Watercolor painting. And doing jigsaw puzzles that came in a care package from a dear friend. (This woman has been especially concerned about me, knowing that I am having to deal with this alone, and she included several delicious treats in the package as well as soups and a throw to keep me warm.)

I’m trying not to worry, trying to take things as they come, trying to focus all my energies on healing, but I have to admit I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what is to become of me. An injury like this is like a new chapter in the story of one’s life with a plot twist that sends you ricocheting off into an unknown direction, but so far I have not had a glimpse of that direction. Even if life doesn’t make the change for me, I can use this injury as an impetus to create something new in my life, but so far I have not had a glimpse of that something new. Maybe it’s too soon. After all it could be a year or even two before I am healed, which gives me a broad scope for growth. For now, though, my life feels like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.

I hope you are all doing well and finding all the pieces of your life in this new year.

Below is my most recent painting.



(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.