Gross Measurements

When I started getting a fever yesterday and was sure I was on the fast track to certain death, I dug into my medical accessories drawer looking for a thermometer.  I found a bunch of old sleep apnea masks, plus tubing, and two blood pressure taking machines with those cuffs that expand around the upper arm and four thermometers.  Two were made by Vicks, but they were different models and the battery was dead in one; one from Walgreen’s and then one of those old mercury kinds.  I don’t know who made it.

So first I tried to take my temperature with the one that had the dead battery; I didn’t know it was dead till I tried it.  Then I tried the other Vicks one and it said 99.7 which freaked me out because that was nearly nine tenths of a degree higher than what it was supposed to me.  And then later it read 99.9 which freaked me out more, so I kept digging around in the drawer and came up with the one from Walgreen’s.  It read like 98.9, only three tenths of a degree high, and a few minutes later when I stuck it in under the other side of my tongue it read 99.

 In desperation I stuck the trusty old mercury in my mouth and waited and waited and waited.  Those digital ones work a lot faster for some reason.  The numbering on the mercury is tiny; I mean there’s no digital read out obviously and you have to hold it this way and not that or you won’t see the mercury at all.  It seemed to read closer to 99, confirming the reading of the Walgreen’s. But clearly with those tiny little lines and not actual specific numbers the results of the mercury seem to be a sort of approximation or gross number of whatever my temperature actually was.

I wanted to make a general point about technological advancement.  I am not sure it’s such advancement.  I expect those digital thermometers are more accurate than the old mercury job, but at the same time, they are way more delicate.  Exactly because they have the potential for greater accuracy, they also have the potential to be wrong more frequently.  But the mercury job because it has less possibility for being absolutely accurate also has less possibility of being completely wrong.

It’s sort of like that digital scale we bought a while back.  I expect it is very accurate, possibly way more accurate that the old-fashioned scale with weights where I work out.  But the more accurate one gives me vastly different readings from one moment to the next.  When I step off the old fashioned scale where I work out and then step back on, it gives me the same reading every time.  But if I move the digital scale from one square of tile to another on our bathroom floor it will sometimes give me different readings.  The more accurate scale—the digital one—is also the more delicate.  The tiles on the bathroom floor are irregular.  Some have a microscopic slant and the delicate scale responds more readily to changes in its weighing environment.

Technological advancement while aiming for greater and greater accuracy also gives us the potential to be wrong more and more frequently.  The same with the computer: the more then expand your so-called options for this or that, the more chance you have for screwing up.  Which in my case, is usually the case.

I still remain uncertain as to my exact temperature, but my explorations in this area have led me to believe that 98.6 as the so called “normal” temperature, is itself a gross sort of indicator at best because while I have been above it several times today and below it also several times, my temperature has never been exactly at 98.6.

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