It sounds to me like the thermometer was not reading the proper mash temp. If the thermometer is accurate, then the mash probably wasn't mixed sufficiently. Unless you have some kind of crazy jet engine burner, the mash temp isn't going to jump from somewhere below 168F to 178F in the minute or so it took you to go get your spoon.
So it could have been reading low when you left to get your spoon, or high when you got back, or low the whole time, or something else. It's hard to say.