Warning: Do not try to lower a fever with a cold shower — it is dangerous. If anything, use lukewarm water. The following is purely for informative purposes.
Dr. James Currie and his Cold Water Cure
Dr. James Currie was handed the unique challenge of curing an infirmary of soldiers while traveling by ship, without access to appropriate medicine. Cold water was his cure.
Dr. James Currie said that he generally observed a time over the course of 24 hours when a fever would exhibit a spike in intensity; he called these “exacerbations”. Of these, he said “These exacerbations are marked by increased flushing, thirst, and restlessness. If the heat of the patient be, at such times, taken by thermometer, it will be found to have risen one or two degrees in the central parts of the body above the average heat of the fever, and still more on the extremities”.
He continued: “The safest and most advantageous time for using the aspersion of affusion of cold water, is when the exacerbations is at its height, or immediately after its declination is begun; and this has led me almost always to direct it to be employed from six to nine in the evening; but it may be safely used at any time of the day, when there is no sense of chilliness present, when the heat of the surface is steadily above what is natural, and when there is no general or profuse sensible perspiration. — These particulars are of the utmost importance.”
Caution! Does Not Mix with Chills
He further cautioned: “If the affusion of cold water on the surface of the body be used during the cold stage of the paroxysm of fever, the respiration is nearly suspended; the pulse becomes fluttering, feeble, and of an incalculable frequency; the surface and extremities become doubly cold and shrivelled, and the patient seems to struggle with the pangs of instant dissolution. I have no doubt, from what I have observed, that in such circumstances, the repeated affusion of a few buckets of cold water would extinguish life. This remedy should therefore never be used when any considerable sense of chilliness is present, even though the thermometer, applied to the trunk of the body, should indicate a degree of heat greater than usual.”
Neither ought it to be used, when the heat, measured by the thermometer, is less than, or even only equal to the natural heat, through the patient should feel no degree of chilliness. This is sometimes the case towards the last stages of fever, when the powers of life are too weak to sustain so powerful a stimulus.
More Caution – Does Not Mix with Profuse Sweating
It is also necessary to abstain from the use of this remedy when the body is under profuse sensible perspiration, and this caution is more important in proportion to the continuance of this perspiration. In the commencement of sweating, especially if it has been brought on by violent exercise, the affusion of cold water on the naked body, or even immersion in the cold bath, may be hazarded with little risque, and sometimes may be resorted to with great benefit. After the sweating has continued some time and flowed freely, especially if the body has remained at rest, either the affusion or immersion is attended with danger, even though the heat of the body at the moment of using it be greater than natural. Sweating is always a cooling process in itself, but in bed it is often prolonged by artificial means, and the body is prevented from cooling under it to the natural degree, by the load of heated clothes. When the heat has been thus artificially kept up, a practitioner, judging by the information of his thermometer only, may be led into error. In this situation, however, I have observed that the heat sinks rapidly on the exposure of the surface of the body even to the external air, and that the application of cold water, either by affusion or immersion, is accompanied by a loss of heat and a deficiency of re-action, which are altogether inconsistent with safety.”
James Currie’s Actual Stories
A Nurse in the fever-ward of the Infirmary, having several patients under her care, caught the infection. She was seized with violent rigors, chilliness and wandering pains, succeeded by great heat, thirst, and head-ach. Sixteen hours after the first attack, her heat at the axilla was 103° of Fah1., her pulse 112 in the minute and strong ; her thirst great, her tongue furred, and her skin dry.
Five gallons of salt water, of the temperature of 44° F were poured over her naked body, at five o’clock in the afternoon, and after being hastily dried with towels, she was replaced in bed: when the the agitation and sobbing had subsided, her pulse was found to beat at the rate of 96 strokes in the minute, and in half an hour afterwards it had fallen to 80. The heat was reduced to 98° by the affusion, and half an hour afterwards it remained stationary. The sense of heat and head-ach were gone, and the thirst nearly gone. Six hours afterwards she was found perfectly free of fever, but a good deal of debility remained.