The Boomer Generation was known for creating its own way and not accepting the norms that had existed in earlier generations. That, of course, is a generalization that is not entirely true, as boomer opinions on what was “normal” was as diverse as boomers themselves. However, one thing people agreed on without argument was that a “normal” body temperature was 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Some things were just accepted at face value.
The idea that we had a common normal body temperature came from Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich, a German doctor, in 1851. Taking the armpit temperature of 25,000 patients, he deduced that 98.6 was the average. The world has been deferring to his results ever since; well, until recently, anyway. At least since the 1970s it has been known by the medical profession that a normal, resting body temperature varies from person to person. They also had long discovered that body temperatures are different for men and women. Therefore, normal body temperature should be interpreted as a range rather than an absolute … sort of like the Boomer Generation.
Now comes word from a study by Stanford University that since the 19th Century, our body temperature has been decreasing to the point that a person registering a normal 98.6 degrees one hundred and fifty years ago would now have a normal temperature shift of about a degree and a half less today. Their study took records of more than 89,000 Civil War soldiers as a base line. In a 2014 study, researchers had previously found that our body temperature has decreased since 1970. The Stanford research suggests that data from the 2014 study was consistent with their findings.
Many factors may have to contributed this change in body temperature, and boomers benefited from all of them. Most notably among these factors are that we have vastly changed our environment with heat and air conditioning, as well as developing warmer clothing — and, perhaps key among possible reasons, modern medicine has decreased incidents of common infections and inflammations, the chief cause of fevers. Others point to a more sedentary lifestyle, diet and weight gain as contributing factors.
Conversely, a fever was, and still is, by much of the medical profession, considered to occur when body temperature has topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This, too, has been updated to a range today. The importance of establishing a fever threshold is that an increase in body temperature has long been held as an indicator of health. That is why every doctor visit begins with a check of temperature.
None of any possible controversies over temperature ranges mattered in the days of boomers. As such, the “normal” body temperature “fact” made its way into pop culture. From the 1950s to the 1970s, boomers heard songs make reference to body temperature.
98.6, Keith, 1967
In 1967, Tony Powers and George Fischoff wrote the song, 98.6. It was performed by Barry James Keefer — known as Keith on record. The Tokens provided backup vocals, and the single reached number seven on the Billboard charts. It became Keith’s biggest hit. Later, Keith became the vocalist for Frank Zappa’s band for a couple of years. How is that for baby-boomer normal?
The song uses 98.6 to make a statement on normalcy. The lyrics state, Hey 98.6 it’s good to have you back again. In other words, things are back to normal in his relationship. The temperature norm is a given.
Fever, Peggy Lee, 1958
Written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell in 1956, the first recording of the song that year was by Little Willie John. It peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Peggy Lee released her version in 1958, reaching number eight on Billboard’s Hot 100. It became her signature song.
Now you’ve listened to my story
Here’s the point that I have made
Chicks were born to give you fever
Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade
The song, sung from a female point of view by Peggy Lee, has her speaking to a man about the effect he has on her body temperature, but concludes with telling him he can catch the fever from her as well.
Burning Love, Elvis Presley, 1972
Written by Dennis Linde, the original recording was released by Arthur Alexander in 1972. That same year, Elvis picked it up at the urging of his manager, with Linde playing the opening guitar riffs himself. It became Elvis’ last Top 10 hit.
Ooh, ooh, ooh
I feel my temperature rising
Help me, I’m flaming
I must be a hundred and nine
The song, like Fever, uses an increase in temperature as an indicator of a flaming-hot love. This time, though, a specific temperature — and a high one at that — is mentioned.
Hot Blooded, Foreigner, 1978
Written by Lou Gramm and Mick Jones of the band, Foreigner, it was released in 1972.
Well, I’m hot blooded, check it and see
I got a fever of a hundred and three
Again, a song cites body temperature, and again, in a fever mode. Like the songs before it, this increase in fever-level temperature is discussed as a good thing, an indicator not of ill health but of high passion. It was a big hit for them, though of little interest to Mister Boomer.
When Mister Boomer was six years old, body temperature became a serious matter when he ran an extraordinarily high fever. By nightfall, his parents were so concerned that he was rushed to a hospital emergency room. There, his young body was literally packed with ice to lower his body temperature. Once he had returned to an acceptable level, he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with tonsillitis. The next morning, he had his tonsils removed. For Mister Boomer, this episode of abnormal body temperature marked the first time he would spend the night without his parents. He remembers staying awake most of the night, staring out his hospital window, as wild rabbits hopped in and out of the hospital lights at the far edge of the parking lot. The next afternoon, tonsils removed and body temperature restored, he was taken home.
How about you, boomers? Do you have a person connection story to normal body temperature in your past history?