Monday, March 22, 2010

Thermometers and other things we rarely use

For the past four days I ran a fever, seemingly because of a severe sinus infection. We all know what the experience is like: aches and chills, listlessness and lack of focus, sleeping for nearly 12 hours and still not wanting to get up. You feel about as welcome in social settings as a vial of anthrax in a subway station. All you can do is attempt to ride it out, knowing that it cannot last forever.

Through it all I became rather obsessed with taking my temperature, which appeared to shoot up and down in accordance with its own merry schedule. 102° when I first awoke, 99.5° after the aspirin kicked in, perhaps a brief foray into sub-normal territory before spiking up again. After a few days of this it dawned on me that this might have as much to do with our thermometer as with my temperature. Sure enough, I took my temp three times in succession and got three different readings.

Being frugal – ok, cheap – I sent Susan out to purchase a new battery for the thermometer. This proved to be a false frugality, as an LC41 battery costs more than many thermometers do. Worse, it did not fix the problem – the thermometer’s little electric brain remained scrambled.

So this morning I struggled into my clothes and left the house for the first time in three days in search of a new thermometer. It has been years, perhaps decades, since I shopped for a thermometer (which likely has something to do with the inaccurate readings). I quickly sorted out that there were two basic classes of digital fever thermometers: “60 second” units that cost around four bucks and “8 second” units that cost twice as much. Priced in-between were a number of thermometers whose performance appeared to be on a par with the “60 second” units but which carried endorsements from the Red Cross, the AMA or NASCAR. The basic “60 second” thermometers were on sale for 3 bucks (almost two dollars less than the replacement battery had cost) so I grabbed one. I took my temperature twice and it was the same (normal) both times: success!

So did I actually have a fever for several days? Clearly I did, because it was measured by the most accurate instrument known to man, my wife’s hand. But how high it got, how much it fluctuated – these things will never be known. I immediately tossed the old thermometer away (after removing the new battery, of course), since the one thing worse than having a thermometer you can’t trust is having two thermometers that disagree – as the saying goes, “the person with two watches never knows what time it is.”

How many things do we have in our home that we use very rarely, but expect to work perfectly when we finally need them? When that day arrives we discover that the glue has dried up in the bottle, the battery charger has lost interest in charging batteries or – in my case – the thermometer has developed a playful sense of humor. I bet there is a retired man (and it would have to be a man) out there who has all these things on a master calendar. Every April 18 he inventories his cans of touch-up paint. There is something in me that could become that sort of man. Fortunately, there is also something in my wife that could divorce that sort of man.


Susan said...

You've got that right :-)

rick in cos said...

John, you've sure had your share of illness. here I thought we helped you start the year off so well with our Minneapolis New Year's celebration! Rest well, friend, you deserve it.