Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I'm a Non-Vet That Feels Like I'm Living at the Veterans Hospital

This is a Rollator. The VA Hospital gave John one last month and he hasn't stopped rolling since. Now that we both have wheels there is no stopping us.

I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in our city. It is a beautiful facility that offers the best of care for some of the most complicated medical conditions that I have ever come in contact with. It offers the latest in free MS medical care to John, takes great care of my friend Scott, and gave my father everything that he needed up until the day he died. I have only one complaint. That place is so large and so spread out that it takes forever, down long, albeit interesting, halls to eventually arrive at your desired destination.

It has West, East, North, and South entrances that surround what is called the Tower. All entrances lead to the Tower, which is the inpatient hospital, but there are a myriad of floors and offices and specialties that circle in and around the Tower. And that doesn’t take into account all of the separate buildings and specialties that are spread out over many acres of grass and tree covered ground.

Inside those many buildings, halls, and waiting rooms you will find some of the most friendly and ‘eager to help’ people. It’s as if all the men and women that walk those halls have experienced heartbreak and body breakdown and they reach out to one another to offer love and understanding. I heard a group of women that work there call it the ‘happiest place on earth‘. And the laughter that they generated from that description bounced off the walls so loudly that it had all of us shaking our heads and giggling along with them.

As you come through the doors of the South Entrance you will be faced with a sign that says “The price of freedom is visible within these walls”, and I’ve never read anything that tells a more truthful tale then that simple sentence. There is complete acceptance there. It would not be an unhappy place to be if it weren’t for the pain that resides there.

My friend Scott had been helping a friend do some heavy yard work. The friend was trying to cut down a large avocado tree and one of the large branches glanced off of the saw and slammed into Scott’s right arm, just above the elbow. When Scott called me he had just gotten home from the VA Emergency Room. He had a compound fracture! The emergency room doctor didn’t want to do any more then splint the arm. The break was too complicated to just be set and put in a cast. Scott would have to see an Orthopedic Surgeon.

The appointment with the surgeon was made for the following morning, and that is when I got the telephone call that my friend of 20+ years needed some help. He was in horrible pain, he couldn’t drive, and he had to be back to see the surgeon the next morning. “Is there any way that you can help me?”

Of course there was a way. Scott and I have been dear and loyal friends. We have seen one another through some really tough times. I would help see him through this one too, but I had a minor inconvenience. Both of my grandchildren had a long awaited appointment with their orthodontist. They were getting the braces taken off of their teeth. It was the day of days for them. They had waited four years for this day to come and there was no way that I could graciously bow out of taking them for this hard-earned award. One of them had a 9:15 a.m. appointment and the other one had a 10:15 a.m. appointment. It was decided that the friend that Scott had been helping would take Scott to the surgeon’s appointment and I would pick him up and take him home. I would meet Scott at the North Entrance of the VA Medical Center at 11:30 a.m.

John got on the phone and told Scott to look for him and if he wasn’t there to go into the Canteen and sit and have a cup of coffee. John would come into the Canteen and find him. HaveI failed to tell you that finding available parking at ‘any’ side entrance is almost impossible, unless you have wonderful legs that will carry you impossible lengths? So I would stay in the car and deal with the military police patrols when they came by to scoot my car out of easy walking range. As long as I could show that I was disabled and the person that I was picking up was disabled they wouldn’t argue with me. But picking up disabled persons is supposed to flow fast and easy. I would deal with the car, John would deal with going in and escorting Scott to my car and Scott would deal with the pain that every speed bump was going to cause him. All parties agreed that it sounded like a great plan.

What none of us took into account was ... Scott who had never taken a narcotic in his life was higher then a kite on Demerol and had a pill bottle full of nice strong pain killers that he was told he could take 2 of every four hours.

The stage was set.

I got in the car at 8:30 a.m. and took both grandkids to have their braces removed. When that was accomplished, with all the attendant oohs and aahs because their teeth were so straight and beautiful, I took the kids home, picked up John, and headed for the VA Hospital North Entrance. Scott was nowhere to be found. John got out his rollator and slowly proceeded up the ramp to go collect Scott. I didn’t see John again for another hour. The MP’s and I played cat and mouse for that whole fricken hour. I idled in front of the entrance until I saw one of their cars heading my way, and then I went on a slow trip around the facility until I ended up at the North Entrance again. I did that so many times that people began waving to me as I passed them. Finally on one of those rotations I saw John sitting on the seat of his rollator and throwing his arms around trying to get my attention.

John had gone into the Canteen. Scott wasn’t there so John went all the way to the elevator and pushed the button for the Orthopedics floor, the elevator broke, John had to evacuate, John went to another elevator, arrived at Orthopedics, was told that Scott had gone down to x-ray which is over on the other side of the facility, by the South Entrance. John pushed his rollator back to the North Entrance, waited for me, got in the car and told me to drive to the South Entrance. To get to the South side you have to pass the West Entrance. Just in case he might have landed there we went over there first.I had already gone by the West Entrance 5 times, this made the 6th time. No Scott. We went to the South side. John got out his rollator and walked into x-ray, Scott had left. X-ray thought Scott had gone back to Orthopedics, we thought he might have gone to the Canteen like planned, but before we went there we went back by the West Entrance again, 7th time no Scott. We went back to the North Entrance, no Scott, but one of the ward clerks in orthopedics happened to be on break and he waved to us and yelled that Scott had gone back to x-ray, we drove back to the West Entrance, 8th time no Scott. We went back to the South Entrance and John got out his rollator and went back into the facility. X-ray said they had kicked Scott out of there because he was crabby. Well hell, John was getting crabby too! John was gone almost another hour and when he returned he screamed at the top of his lungs, “I FOUND HIM AND HE’S CRABBIER THEN I AM. HE’S AT THE WEST FRICKKEN ENTRANCE.” So we went back to the West Entrance, 9th time no Scott. I pulled up to the curb, turned off the car, and dared an MP to try and tell me I had to move ... I was beginning to get just a bit crabby myself. It was now 2:00 p.m. and I had been in the car since early morning.

We waited. And we waited. And we waited. Finally one of the senior volunteers, in his little red volunteer jackets, came up to the car and innocently asked, “Are you waiting for Mr. Scott?” It seems Mr. Scott was sitting in a wheelchair with his back to the tinted windows of the reception area of the West Entrance and, apparently, had been there for many of the numerous visits we had paid to that very same West Entrance. Crabby was fast becoming the code word for the mood inside my car. But hey, Scott was in a lot of pain and I would put a hold on my crabbiness and present a loving and smiling demeanor to my friend in distress.

The senior volunteer went back inside the West Entrance and minutes later re-emerged with one Mr. Crabby Scott. He screamed once when the senior volunteer went over a bump, but otherwise he kept his crabby attitude to himself until he saw my face and then he yelled, “Where the hell have you been! I’ve been waiting for hours!”

And I yelled back, “And f*&%ing hello to you too!”

And I started laughing so hard that I thought I was going to choke. I had glanced at an older veteran that was sitting in the waiting area in a wheelchair and he was laughing so loud andhard that I yelled at him, “You’ve obviously been through this once or twice.” And as he laughed he shook his head and I couldn’t do anything but laugh with him. A woman sitting on a bench with a broken leg got up and hobbled over to where Scott was trying to get in the car and gently pushed his crabby butt into the seat and shut the door for him. And as she hobbled away she and the old veteran were bent over with laugher.

As I was trying to gently drive away a voice that sounded very much like John’s came from the back seat, “Watch out Scott. She’s gonna hit every speed bump she can find. That’s what she did on the way over here.”

Scott yelled back, “I’m gonna kill that old f*&^er.”

“What old f*&^er? John? If you mean John, I‘ll help you,” I snapped back.

“That old volunteer f*&^er. He went over that bump on purpose! I know he did, the old volunteer f*&^er,” Scott yelled back.

“Come on Scott, that old man is a volunteer. John and his big mouth are the real culprits. Take a couple of pain pills and I‘ll pull the car to the curb and we can both kick John‘s ass.”

And that is when the three of us let the tension go and started laughing. I have never heard my friend Scott use language like that and he had never heard me use language like that. But I have to admit that we have both heard John use language like that. And the more we laughed at the whole situation the more time was eaten up so Scott could take more pain pills ... just in case I did have to go over a speed bump.

That is why I haven't been on the computer for over a week. John and I have spent a great portion of this week seeing Scott through some major orthopedic surgery. The doctors found an irregularity with his heart and his diabetes has been raging all over the map. He has been very ill. He has never been sick, he has never broken a bone, and he has never been in the hospital. This has been very traumatic for him and extremely exhausting for John and I. You should get a gander at the two of us trying to get through all of those long meandering halls in that vast building so we can go up the Tower to visit a very sick friend. I once said to John that I was going to be 102 years old before we reached our goal and one of the doctors walking in the hall stopped,turned around, cocked his head to one side, and said, "Aw no, you'll probably get there by your 101st birthday."

I want to apologize to those wonderful, caring people that sent me e-mails asking if I was all right. I intend to answer them, but I had to see my friend through this painful experience. I want you to know that your notes were very special, and mean the world to me. Thank you for the show of love.


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