I made a visit the other day, (a required visit), to a VA out patient clinic. At 7:30 in the morning the waiting room was full of veterans waiting to get blood work. What an amazing group of people these are... Old and young, wars long fought and forgotten and some from wars still being fought. This facility treats every veteran with dignity and honor.
In my various travels throughout the VA system, I have not always found this so. Some facilities are a little, shall we say, harsher in their patient treatment. I will give you an example: While incarcerated in a large VA hospital in a Southern state I found that they did not like patients roaming the halls. Forget about trying to sneak a smoke or wheel down to the cafeteria for some real food. I did it anyway, but it made the stay harder and I wound up leaving one day when I went for a “walk.”
At another facility in Missouri, I found a modern well-kept hospital that pretty much let people do as they pleased if they were able. They could roam the halls; go outside and get some sun on their face and even had a smoking room. The rumor is that President Truman's wife saw a group of sick veterans standing out in the freezing cold having a smoke. Enough said, because soon a smoking facility appeared. If you're late for a test of some kind, this facility will page you. (Happen to me)
Now, we all know that the VA is teaming with local medical schools and other large hospitals to try to combine services save money and give the veterans a “one stop” facility for a wider range of services. It all sounds good to me and I'm sure it saves money.
However, we all know that civilian hospitals, nurses and doctors are used to civilian ways and they are also used to getting THEIR way. I just hope that in this rush to provide us with better care, they don't forget the most important thing to a veteran. Dignity... the right to be treated as an individual and make your own decisions. In other words, to do whatever you please if you're up to it.
I have seen some rather---amusing situations develop when a civilian doctor ran afoul of a veteran. One veteran in particular comes to mind. This man was in his seventies and looked frail. His doctor just happens to be from the medical facility across the street and was new at treating veterans. Not really his fault, he just picked the wrong veteran to start out with. Anyway, when the doctor arrived he was several hours late and as soon as he walked into the room this old vet got up, put his shoes on and headed for the door. The doctor, rather taken aback asked where he was going and in his best Marine D.I. voice he replied: “Sonny, I'm going to have a smoke and you stand down until I return.” When this old frail man spoke, he made ME lie at attention.
And, of course, there was the time a new doctor told a hard as nails retired Navy Seal that he was going to put in a catheter. This was one of my most amusing incidents because it lasted so long and involved some rather colorful language and something about whether the doctor would fit out our window. (I personally thought he would barely fit) Well, I don't know how many doctors, nurses, aides, etc, came to his room but I can tell you that no catheter was inserted by anyone. The incident resolved itself one night when an elderly volunteer nurse that had served in World War II came in and in a voice that would make the D.I. run for cover, told this Seal she was going to put that catheter in some orifice of his body before she left the room. The old Seal got a smile on his face and in a very tiny voice said, “Well Ma'am, all someone had to do was ask!”
Aw, there's the key. Ask, don't just tell or worse yet don't just do. I know some veterans that are very particular about being touched. And you do NOT want to wake a new veteran up in the middle of the night without standing well back. These are some of the things the older nurses, doctors and aids have learned the hard way and should probably teach the civilians.Now, don't get me wrong. Every VA facility I have been in has been run wonderfully and by mostly great people. It is just that I don't want them to ever forget that they are working for the veteran and not the other way around. And I would ask everyone to visit or better yet, volunteer at a VA facility. Just when you do, check with the older volunteers first. I can't say enough good things about the VA. Maybe one day, the civilian hospitals will open up a little. Naw, never mind!
Steven J. Newton
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