Sitting in the local coffee shop I overheard a group of fifty-ish women having their weekly coffee clutch. Their conversation drifted toward doctors and illnesses, and one of them related how the husband of a mutual friend was “going in for tests.”
I’ve never thought much about this phrase before, but suddenly today it struck me somehow as one of the key phrases of modern American society, over-medicalized, over-diagnosed, aging as we are.
The patient—well, he wasn’t technically a patient, really, because the tests were performed on an out-patient basis—underwent a “series of tests,” a “battery of tests,” and after all of them the results were inconclusive.
Again, this word inconclusive somehow seems like a metaphor for today’s America. Something’s wrong, but we don’t know what. The doctors are baffled, puzzled, stumped. The specialists are called in. The machines are fired up, foreign electrons pulsating through our flesh, our blood drawn, our tissues sampled, and all we have in return is a printout that’s inconclusive, too-soon-to-tell, let’s adopt a wait-and-see approach and come in again for tests in six months. Nobody can explain it to us, nobody knows, and we leave the sterile air-conditioned waiting room, walking dazed and blind into the sunwashed parking lot, a blast of summer air at the door, feeling Damocles’ sword above our head.