Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thermometers

Through a weird set of circumstances I have found myself with twelve physician appointments in the last ten weeks.  At each and every one there was an initial pattern of treatment:

1.      Review my insurance information

2.      Measure my weight

3.      Measure my temperature

4.       Measure my blood pressure

What seemed strange to me was that all of these physicians are linked into some sort of group practice and further strange they all purport that they have a shared electronic record.  A fifth piec e of information that was requested by each of the eight different practitioners was a copy of the medications I take.  I have a three page written copy, which breaks out the individual medications and dosages of any multiple vitamins or supplements.  Some of these requests came within 24 hours of each other.

This experience, plus all the news regarding quarantine of suspected Ebola patients got me thinking of how thermometers have evolved over my lifetime.

I can’t remember much about thermometers until after the end of WWII, when my father returned from the Pacific and we returned back to Mason City, Iowa where he had left his dental practice.  Thermometers at that time were based on expansion of a material by heat and, depending on the portal they used to evaluate, had a small or medium-sized bulb of mercury, a material I used to use to make dimes shiny when I visited my father's dental office.

Once I was old enough to safely hold one under my tongue I was trusted to use the smaller bulb variety.  I may still have had a twenty year-old sample in my medicine cabinet when, the environmental agencies declared all of these were hazardous and should discarded for safer models.

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Thermometers are nothing new.  The Greeks and Egyptians had some method of measuring temperatures, more for scientific reasons than for health, and Galileo built a model that measures ambient air effectively and accurately.  I have a Galileo thermometer on my mantle, more as a work of art than a utilitarian piece.

I also have two combination barometer-thermometer devises, one mounted on a wheel as a parallel piece to a chiming Ship’s Clock and the other a remnant from when our rented house in Virginia was kept at a frigid 66 degrees to save on heating costs..  I have an indoor-outdoor model that tells me when to open our California home and an outdoor one to see if the combination one is accurate.

Contact Thermometer
All of these thermometers, and those presently in my medicine cabinet depend on liquid expansion as a measuring mechanism.  But there is new technology.  Some current models depend on contact with the skin to digitally read the temperature.  More than one of the offices I visited use that model.  One would guess it would have appeal to practices that treat small children.  IO find it ironic that my mother used a similar technique by feeling my forehead, presumably with about the same degree of accuracy.

And there is a model that uses measurement of infra-red waves.  This is the one you see screening West African travelers, since it keeps a safe distance from the person you are testing.
Infra-red Thermometer

I am unsure what model is suggested for monitoring exposed medical staff and contact persons twice a day for the twenty-one day incubation period.

Treatment of what one does to a patient with an elevated temperature varies greatly.  Aspirin was the only thing we had when I was growing up.  Now there must be a dozen drugs in use.  The movies (before they were called film) had a scene where Jane Russell lay next to the fevered cowboy, presumable transferring some of his heat to her.  My older son, with a temperature of 103° was advised by our flight surgeon that we should bathe him in ice water and if the fever didn’t break on half an hour should take him to the emergency room with the windows down to let in the cold Rhode Island air.  His suggestion to hold him out said window was ignored by Mary.

One of the more interesting things I learned in my medical training is that a fever is not a bad thing until it gets too high.  It provides a better opportunity to incubate antibodies and is nature’s natural reaction to a problem in our system.

Possibly inspired by my mention of my thermometers, and possibly because we recently set our clocks back, I thin k my next Post will be on clocks and how the ones I have, came into my life.  I hope you will join me.

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