Heat, Pulse, Flow, Breathe

Heat, Pulse, Flow, Breathe

(On the Origin of Some Vital Medical Instruments)

As soon as you enter the doctor’s office for your regular medical checkup, the physician or the assisting nurse will ask you to relax as s/he takes your vital signs. You might have wondered what vital signs really are, especially if your work or interest is not in the field of medical or health care.

So, vital signs are measures of various physiological statistics, often taken by health professionals, in order to assess the most basic body functions. The act of taking vital signs normally entails recording (1) body temperature, (2) pulse rate (or heart rate), (3) blood pressure, and (4) respiratory rate. These are four vital signs standard in most medical settings. The standard equipments necessary in measuring these vital signs are a thermometer, a sphygmomanometer, a watch, and a stethoscope. Though, the pulse may be taken by hand, a stethoscope may be required for a patient with a very weak pulse.

Thermometer. Developed during the 16th and 17th centuries, the thermometer is a device that measures temperature. It has two important elements: the temperature sensor (for example, the bulb on a mercury thermometer) in which some physical change occurs with temperature, plus a means of converting this physical change into a numerical value (e.g., the scale on a mercury thermometer). Having an old history, its invention is credited to various individuals whom included Cornelius Drebbel, Robert Fludd, Galileo Galilei, and Santorio Santorio. The term comes from the Greek word thermo, which means “warm”; and meter, “to measure.”

Sphygmomanometer. Commonly known as blood-pressure meter, it is a device used to measure blood pressure. It consists of an inflatable cuff to restrict blood flow and a mercury or mechanical pressure meter to measure the pressure. Its invention in 1881 is credited to the Austrian-Jewish physician Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch. Scipione Riva-Rocci, and Italian physician, introduced a more easily used version in 1896. Harvey Cushing, an American neurosurgeon, discovered this device in 1901 and popularized it. The term comes from the Greek word sphygmos (‘pulse’) plus manometer, which means “pressure meter.”

Stethoscope – a medical device for listening to the internal sounds of an animal body. It is used often to listen to lung and heart sounds, and also to intestines and blood flow in arteries and veins. In combination with a sphygmomanometer, the stethoscope is commonly used for measuring the blood pressure. Its invention is credited to Rene Laennec, who developed it in France in 1816. The term comes from the Greek word stethos, which means “chest”; and skope, “examination.”

The Last Leaf
There are so many things and names in this world that we see, encounter, or even use on a daily basis but whose origins we are unfamiliar with. To many people, these pieces of information may seem trivial; but learning about them can be a source of personal empowerment and self-confidence. Remember, knowledge is power. Anyway, these days, information can just be a google away on the Internet.