Monday, November 2, 2009

Le Deuxième Sexe

Recently at work we got a new spirometry machine.  The old one looked like it had been built in the 70s and was a classic pencil-point machine which drew on a card;  it is so old that the best picture I can find is a hand drawn thing from the Merck Manual home edition:

These old machines work on the principle of measuring displaced volume;  you can draw a time-flow curve by taking the derivative of this.  The new machines measure flow, typically with a turbine vane or similar.  They then calculate the classic spirometry curve (time-volume) by integrating the time-flow curve.

All of this is a distraction (and I am almost as distractible as the llamadoc himself) from the original point of this post:  the new spirometry machine.  It asks for patient specifics, such as age, sex, height and ethnic group, to be able to calculate predicted lung volumes, since a large part of interpreting spirometry data is comparing to the predicted volume.

To enter sex, it gives the following prompt:  "Male Y, Female N".  This is vaguely reminiscent of Simone de Beauvoir's classic work Le Deuxième Sexe, or The Second Sex.  This book takes its title from the old practice on French IDs of having the sex written as 1 for male and 2 for female.  

Perhaps women will now become le sexe négatif.

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