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Wires! Who connects things with wires?

Your Humble Blogger underwent a cardiac stress test this morning—don’t be alarmed, studies show I have a heart—and was struck by the peculiar sense of old-sf in the room.

I mean, there I was, hooked up by eight tiny wires to a machine the size of a football that was in turn hooked up by one thick wire to a machine the size of the Narnia wardrobe. This machine has a screen on which green lines glowed against a black background; it emits unidentifiable beeps at unpredictable intervals, and it prints off a stack of continuous perforated printer via what certainly appears to be a dot matrix printer (albeit a good one). This machine is connected to the treadmill, which is a treadmill: conveyor belt at the bottom, handle at one end, and some sort of system for inclining the belt while making a whining noise. And there is Your Humble Blogger on the treadmill, wires dangling from my chest.

Every now and then, the doctor took my blood pressure, using a cuff that inflated with a squeeze bulb, and listened to my pulse through a stethoscope of particularly timeless design. He wore a white coat over a shirt-and-tie; I wore chinos and oxfords, and had my shirt-and-tie in a satchel that could fairly be described as an attaché case. Against one wall was one of those medical scales that measures pounds and inches, using small counterweights and a sliding aluminum bar. There was a telephone; the receiver was attached to the transmitter by a coiling wire.

The aesthetic of the machines was highly reminiscent of the PET computer on which I learned Basic in or around 1979. Much of the experience seemed to smack of science fiction written or filmed within a few years of that time. People hooked up to machines! Machines that beep! And read their internal organs! Conveyor belts! Molded plastic! Eyeglasses! Beep!

If, right now, you were to write or film a scene where a fellow’s heart was being tested for possible pathology, you wouldn’t include any of that crap. Certainly he wouldn’t have wires stuck to him. He would be in a chamber of some kind, possibly submersed in gelatinous liquid; the doctor would operate the machinery from another room, possibly from another building or halfway across the world. There would be a lot of glass, and multicolored readouts with rapidly scrolling text (or text-like things), and a computerized voice giving instructions. Also, the stimulus part would be in automatic feedback with the readout part without people leaning over and pressing a sequence of buttons.

Oh, and things would go horribly awry, with shattering glass and dramatic lighting and viscera. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Anyway, I had a couple of thoughts as I was walking on the treadmill. First of all, there is this idea that pops up now and then about medical costs, that it would be nice to be able to pay 1950s prices for 1950s medicine. I suspect that this is 1970s medicine, and that the insurers are paying more or less 1970s prices for it, and that is all Good Enough. I would guess that somewhere there is a much fancier, much more expensive, much more twenty-first century version that is reserved for people who are already identified as having cardiac pathology of some kind or another. This version is for people like me, who are just checking to make sure that they are, in fact, as OK as it seems they are. So that’s all right.

The other thing is a horrible surmise that maybe in eighty years or so there will be conventions devoted to the cheap-plastic-punk aesthetic, much the same steampunk for us. People encasing whatever truly futuristic devices they will have in the grey-green grimy plastic that indicated Computer at the time. Wearing striped neckties with checked jackets and sansabelt slacks. Eyeglasses with rims made out of black plastic that is supposed to look like horn. Rotary telephones and bench seats. Ferns.

We’ll all be dead then, of course, from the cardiopathology these machines will not pick up. Thank goodness.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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