Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Typical VA Hospital Appointment

A Wednesday morning interlude, so to speak, as I get through another week of being alive.

Here’s a story for you. Another adventure at the VA hospital. I haven’t mentioned them in a while, but I still go to appointments. I’m still being watched over. I was there yesterday. I spent over half the day, getting there around eight in the morning and leaving the parking lot a little after twelve thirty in the afternoon.
It is wise that the VA tries to group many appointments into a day when you might be there for another appointment. Saves me time and saves them money. Since I am a disabled Veteran, I get mileage pay, called travel pay, when I have to get to the VA for services. Since there is no direct public transportation from where I live, I drive my car.
There is a van that is paid for and provided by the DAV, Disabled American Veterans. But this van leaves the county I live in, fourteen miles from my home min the next town over, at around five in the morning. The van returns when the last Veteran is finished with all his or her appointments. This can be 6PM or later. Then I would still have to do the 14 miles back to my house.
I can drive across the river into Minnesota and find a bus stop, then take the bus downtown to find the bus that would take me to the light rail station so I could ride the light rail. The Hiawatha light rail goes right to the VA facility, and being a disabled Veteran, all I need do is flash my VA ID card and get on the bus or train. Disabled veterans ride for free in the Twin Cities Metro Area. But this takes a long time and in winter, has me standing outside freezing my butt off or lately, practically dying from the heat and humidity or getting drenched by the thunderstorms that have finally found their way to the Midwest, making up for the dry spell of March, April and May.
So, I drive, negotiate the parking lot that is too small for the volume of cars, yet gigantic when it comes to walking upwards of a quarter mile, and drive around and around looking for a place to park. Even the far away remote lot is full. I can walk from the hinterlands and I do need the exercise, but I am disabled for a reason. Walking great distances is very hard for me. 
The entire parking lot can’t be handicapped parking, can it?
Anyway, I arrive for a 9 AM appointment at the blood drawing room. This is a newly remodeled room in the basement of the giant building. I scan my ID card and the screen tells me to have a seat and my name will be called. I find a place to sit down where I can hear the vampires, the people that draw the blood from the arteries in my arm. The room is so big, if I don’t sit close to the door where they come out and call your name, I can’t hear them through the din of conversation as Veterans and their spouses await their turn to give a blood sample.
Let me tell you a small tidbit of information about men when they get old. We tend to get up early, eat early and arrive early for appointments. Thinking that if they have a 9 AM appointment and they get there at say, 8:00 AM, they might get in and get it over with faster. This is not the case in the blood draw room at the Minneapolis VA. Your name is never called earlier than your scheduled appointment time. In fact, in yesterday’s case, they were 40 minutes later than my 9 AM scheduled time! If I get there after my scheduled time and they called my name and I wasn’t there, then I lose my turn and the wait is even longer. 
The old saying that you’ll hear is this, “Hurry up and wait”
That seems to be an Army thing and it starts the first day you enter the service. Standing in lines, wondering what will happen next is how most of my time was spent when I was in the military way back in ‘68 and ’69.
Back to the story. So I’m here, I get called, 40 minutes later than scheduled, then I have to wait for the results of the blood test to be sent to the clinic where I’m supposed to be at 10 AM. Of course, since they were late drawing the blood, the results were late, and as I sit there in the clinic, on time, waiting to be seen by the doctor, waiting for him to get the blood work results so he can proceed with the proper treatment and care, I’m eventually late for my next appointment which was at 10:30 AM.
Being the concerned anal retentive guy that I am, I went to the desk and asked the receptionist if I could call the next clinic and let them know that I will be there, but I will be late because I haven’t seen the doctor yet.
I am asked what the phone number extension is. I don’t know it, she doesn’t offer to look it up. I tell her it is in clinic 1L. “Which one is that?” she asks.
I tell her, “That’s a mental health clinic. It used to be the PTSR, (Post Traumatic Stress Recovery), clinic.” She dials and hands me the phone. I reach over the counter and have the corded phone stretched to its outer limits, all the while the cord brushing against and knocking out of kilter the post-it notes and papers that are strewn all over her work space. I apologize to an unsympathetic ear and a scowling facial expression.
The receptionist that answers the phone in clinic 1L asks me how she can help me, but first, there is a long message about making sure I hang up and call 911 if I am a threat to harm myself or if I am having a health emergency. I tell her I am in another clinic and that I will be late for the group meeting at 10:30 and just wanted them to know that I would be there, but that I would be arriving late.
She tells me that the group has already started and that there is no way she can tell anyone and that I should leave a message on the voicemail of the facilitator, who also happens to be my case worker in that department.
I get his voice mail, then another long message about harming myself and calling 911 before I get to leave a message telling him I will be late. But he won’t get this until after the group since he will not be at his desk until group is over. He’ll have seen me by then and know that I was late because I’ll be walking through the door late.
I get finished in one clinic, go check in at 1L and arrive at the group meeting. I apologize for being late and it is totally understood as all the other Veterans in the group have had the same experience numerous times as have I.
Group is over., A very good group by the way. I take my slip that verifies that I was there and attended all my appointments and get a number from a volunteer that is there to give Veterans a number, after I walk about a half mile from clinic 1L to the Travel Payment Office. There is one of those red machines that holds the numbers that hangs on   the wall, but we’re too stupid of a lot to go to the little red thing and get a number off of a roll of paper numbers which designates your place in line. The volunteer passes out the numbers. I see I am number 48. They are working on 32 right now. 
I wait out in the hall, standing along the railing, as the small waiting room is packed with other Veterans awaiting their turn. The center of the room is packed with folks in wheel chairs and mini scooters, like the ones you see advertised on TV.
While waiting, another Veteran starts to talk to me and is telling me his life story. He is volunteering the information like he was chatting up a hooker at the bar, telling me all about serving in the Army in 1956 after graduating high school. Degrading me because I am not yet as old as he is.
His hearing aid? Yes, he has one, and has been having trouble with it but the VA won’t even talk to him about it. I suggested that maybe they were talking to him and he just didn’t hear because his hearing aid wasn’t working. 
He didn’t get the joke, or didn’t hear me. (pun intended) I went inside the room and found a seat and waited for number 48 to be called.
I was processed. A procedure where the computer is used to verify that I was indeed the Veteran that had an appointment, and I attended it, and that I was eligible to receive the travel money. Then, a slip is printed out, initialed by the clerk and I go down the hall to the cashier’s window and wait in another line to show my slip along with my VA ID and get some cash for my mileage expense.
I can now start the long trek back to my car in the ocean sized parking lot and get on the road to go home, six and a half hours from the time I left home in the morning until the time I returned in the afternoon. Just about a full time job, being a Veteran. It can be frustrating, but I also realize the system is growing with the return of Gulf War and Afghanistan Veterans along with the aging population of  Vietnam Veterans and the few WWII  and Korean Veterans still around.
Technology exists to expedite all the lines. More people can be hired to draw blood, for example, so they won’t be 45 minutes late every time a blood sample is needed. Appointments can be scanned before and after a visit and the travel department just sends out the money. The communication system can be streamlined, but more people would be needed to answer multiple office lines in each clinic.
The VA just doesn’t have the money to modernize, streamline and hire more personnel. The system is taxed to its limits and I think they do a damn good job of holding it all together and treating Veterans to health care. In my case alone, I am thankful to be alive.
I am not fortunate to be disabled, but I am fortunate to have the care and a facility to go to when I need it and get excellent medical care.
Incidentally, I remember riding my motorcycle to a National Park entrance and showing my Golden Access Passport, an entitlement card that allows me to get into any National Park for free. 
The Park Ranger at the gate looked me over and asked me, “What’s wrong with you?” My friend, riding behind me, yelled out to the Ranger, “You haven’t got time to listen to all that’s wrong with him!” This diffused the situation immediately.
But I will tell you. Many might think I am totally healed  because I am riding a motorcycle and traveling. Yes, I am better than I felt during the last two months of 2011, but I am by no means healthy.
I wear a heart pacemaker. I am a diabetic. I have had two bypass surgeries and 7 heart attacks and episodes dating back to 1985. I have hearing loss. I have sight problems. I have numbness, tingling and neuropathy in parts of my body, sense of touch. I can’t walk far because of a problem in my leg muscles. I have lost almost all of my olfactory function. I can’t taste very well. My energy level is low and so is my blood pressure. My muscles and bones ache from the onset of arthritis. I have PTSD and many of the symptoms associated with it.
And I am one of the lucky ones because I am still alive and kicking. I see many on one of these outings to the VA that can’t walk, talk, drive, wipe their own ass or dress themselves. I am thankful for VA healthcare even though the process is somewhat a chore. So there you have it. A half day at the VA. 
Honor the Dead. Heal the Wounded. End the War(s).


somepinkflowers said...

yes, joe

you are
~~still being watched over~~
good thoughts
from many...

{{ don't you just
HATE those rolls
of tear*off numbers!

i bet
they have those in Hell...

here is hope
we Both never find out }}

Kim Mailhot said...

I am so glad you are here, alive and kicking, and sharing your stories. This place needs toi hear them, Beautiful Man.
Big big love to you.

Georgina said...

Oh my, your experience reminds me of when I used to take my Pop's to the local VA. The view was heart-wrenching and yet, I felt honoured to be in this large waiting room with so many proud veterans.

Glad to hear you're still kicking or rather, kicking back. Take care of yourself and don't be such a stranger.


Anne said...

A bittersweet story. I know how the v.a. could have money to improve their services. Less warfare...
Love to all the Spado family!

Jeannie said...

This sounds a lot like our regular health system.

I'm just glad they are taking care of you. There might be some rough spots but they are very busy. Funny though - that your government has all the money they want for weapons and such, but don't like to put out for the folks who had to fight. hmmm.

Mel said...

Wow.......what a fiasco of a time. And all titled 'the norm' for the VA.

I, for one, am proud of ya--for a number of one got chopped off at the knees, noone got a bad attitude and you continued to do the 'next right thing' again and again and again. That's all good stuff.

I don't know a whole lot of folks who wouldn't have passed off a cheap shot or two for the inconveniences placed on 'em.

And yes, it's a 'hurry up and wait' world, it would seem.
But you didn't get remained grateful and responsible and kindly.
Even with the silly tear off numbers...LOL

Geeze...those machines STILL exist?! I thought the world had gone to the electronic number system. (which is absolutely NO better!!)

You didn't mention the doctor's report and what he's saying about your overall progress since earlier this year. :-/
<-- will consider that GOOD at this point and conclude that all is well.

Thorne said...

Aho, sweet Joe. Long time no "see". Very nice to catch up even through your VA Hospital ordeal. Your voice remains as always full of warmth and good spirit.
Mitakuye oyasin.

merlallen said...

I live in Renton and go to Seattle VA. If I don't have a ride, they send a cab. They also have valet parking. I thought every VA was the same but I guess not. I have a sister in MS and the VA there is no where near as good as the one here.