Some Zity members queried me about rectal temperature use when I was young. I have discussed that in various postings on the site, but they are spread out in the forums; here is a complete discussion.
When I grew up, only rectal temperatures were used at home; this was very common in France back then (1970s-1980s). When we were little, our mother took our temperature with a mercury-filled, glass thermometer that she lubricated with Vaseline: I recall seeing it done on my younger brother both in the diaper position and on the stomach over the bed. As we got older, I’d say when we turned 6, we were instead handed the (unlubricated) thermometer and told to insert it as we laid in bad. This afforded the privacy of bedsheets or covers.
(Curiously, our mother had no qualms seeing our bottom when giving suppositories or spankings, but she afforded privacy for temperature.)
I hardly remember having my temperature taken; here is what I recall. If I was not already in pajamas in bed, I would have been told to undo my belt and buttons and get under covers. Then mom would shake the thermometer if necessary to bring down the temperature indication and hand it to me. I would then roll on the side and insert it into my rear. Mom would leave and come back approximately 3 minutes later to collect the instrument, read the temperature and swab the tip with alcohol for “disinfection” before putting it back into its case.
A temperature would be recorded under signs of illness (headache, stomach ache); I would not be sent to school if I had a fever, conversely it was hardly possible to skip school if I felt sick but had no fever.
There was nothing fancy to these measurements, in general, but two episodes stand out.
The first was when I was about 9, in hospital, when I had my appendix removed. A nurse showed up with a thermometer and handed it to me. I had seen cartoons and read comics where people in hospital have the thermometer in the mouth, so I hesitantly moved it towards my mouth. The nurse tut-tutted, said “here at the hospital, we do not take it in the mouth” and stared at me. I immediately understood, rolled on the side and brought the thermometer under the sheets. I wonder what would have happened if I had been unfamiliar with that procedure (not all families used rectal temperatures): would the nurse have done it herself, if only for showing how it’s done?
The second one was at home. For some reason that I do not recall, I had decided that I would fake a fever. My mother left me with the thermometer, as usual. I tried heating it on the bedside lamp. I felt pretty clever, not knowing (from reading other testimonies on this site and elsewhere) that this is a very common trick! Perhaps I was nervous or otherwise acting bizarrely, but mom came back unexpectedly, as I had the bedside lamp on and the thermometer in hand, definitely not lying on the side with the thermometer in the rear as I was expected to. I do not recall what exactly happened then, what questions she asked, how I answered. What I recall happening is that she left after telling me to remain in my bedroom, which puzzled me. She came back with the Vaseline, sat on the bed, shook the thermometer, lubricated it and commanded me to lay across her lap. I obeyed, felt my buttocks parted, was ordered to “bear down” and felt the thermometer entering. I don’t recall any conversation while I had my temperature taken “baby-style”. Then mom removed the thermometer, read it, noted that my temperature was normal, that I was a cheater and a liar. She immediately proceeded to spank me, and I think this was one of the rare long and hard spankings that she reserved for severe offenses.
As I grew up and was recognized as more “responsible”, I would be expected to take the thermometer out of the pharmacy closet, take my temperature, read it and swab the thermometer with alcohol before storing it back. As the habit had settled, I always took it rectally and this is how I did it in adult age. This was anyways the normal method for many adults of my parents’ generation (and I think still is for many people of my generation, except they now use an electronic one) and the method used in hospitals.