Some Tests by Wayne Macauley

A few years ago, I decided to get to the bottom of my frequent migraine headaches. It was the beginning of an eight month process of tests (mostly ‘ruling things out’), visits to four doctors, and various medications and procedures. My experience ended with an iron infusion which ultimately made all the difference to my migraines, however, there were moments on this medical merry-go-round when I thought I was wasting my time and money.

Wayne Macauley captures this exact situation in his strange novel, Some Tests.

It begins with the normally healthy Beth – aged-care worker, wife to a man with house renovation plans, mother of two young girls – who wakes one morning feeling a little ‘off-colour’. Her husband calls the locum, who in turn sends her off to the slightly odd Dr Yi for some tests.

‘There are a few things here that aren’t quite right,’ says Dr Yi, ‘and sometimes it is these little wrongnesses that can lead us to the bigger wrongs that matter.’

And so unfolds Beth’s absurd journey to six doctors and a pharmacist, as she’s shunted around suburban Melbourne from Box Hill to Heidelberg, Epping to Gladstone Park and so on.

What looks wrong now in this test may turn out later to be nothing wrong at all. That happens. But we have to be sure. You understand. Medicine is often about seeking assurance, for the patient and the practitioner. What one net doesn’t catch, another will: we’re always tightening our nets.

While the story began as something quite ordinary – a contemporary lit novel – I quickly realised that it was something else entirely (Dystopian? Satire?). I am loath to reveal more about the plot because the most interesting aspect of this book is the slow unfolding of meaning for the reader, as Beth faces the difficulties of listening to her instincts, in light of ‘expert’ advice.

You will need scripts too, she said. I’m not lying when I say your overall picture is a little worrying. Have you spoken to your loved ones? But first I’ll give you a letter for Fatima at CommPharm, then one for Dr Panchal. I could send you to Fiedler but I think straight to Panchal is best.

Did I enjoy this book? Not particularly – it went in a completely different direction (genre) to what I had anticipated. That said, it provides lots to think about in terms of death and dying; our need for a diagnosis; and the power of medicine and the role of medical practitioners. My thoughts turned to the upcoming Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation in Victoria. Without debating the legislation, it does force us to consider the value of death and what a ‘good death’ might look like.

It runs on disenchantment, that’s the fuel – disenchantment with all those systems and institutions that people have blindly followed to now. If you can take back control of Death, Beth, you can take back anything, really.

2.5/5 Plenty to discuss for book groups.

And we’re not just doing hospital food either! I’m having baked trout

7 responses

  1. I think this book really spoke to me because as we get older, doctors are always sending us off to more and more tests, and it’s a merry-go-round that’s hard to get off.

    • Agree. There were elements of the story that I liked (all the bus trips!) but there were some that seemed too absurd and a bit unnecessary (the glazier guy…?!). Anyway, it was interesting – brought to mind Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That and that decades old doco by Michael Moore, Sicko, both of which I found fascinating.

  2. I don’t think I could read this at the moment – I’ve just finished a book about a woman’s determination to get her chronic pain treated which made me furious. She was constantly dismissed and not listened to. But it’s a fascinating subject.

  3. I had serious migraines when I was a young father. They ended when I started taking BP medication and I later read that one of my pills was being considered as anti-migraine medication. We tried lots of diets but eventually Milly made me see a doctor specialsing in ‘natural medicine’ – a real weirdo but he did identify my high BP and of course send me off for more tests.

    • I had much success managing migraines in my early twenties with treatment from a Chinese herbalist but almost lost a flatmate in the process, on account of the fact that the herbal tea I had to brew each day smelt VILE 😂

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