Wednesday, October 29, 2008

VA "Vavoom"

Once upon a time we could have walked there. It wouldn’t have been a short walk, but it would have been a pleasant one. Now we have to load ourselves in the car for a 15-minute drive when John has an appointment.

When all John has to do is collect his medication I sit in the car and watch the constant movement of men and women and wonder what they have seen and what they have been through. Often when I go in the facility with John I find myself seated next to a Second World War Veteran. Generally, they love to tell their stories. I love to listen.

The Veterans Administration Health Center sits on approximately three square miles. It abuts the sprawling University grounds. The two complexes comprise an area that would almost look park-like if it weren‘t for the buildings that have been erected. There are large, spreading trees, sections of grass so green it looks artificial, benches for resting, tables for picnicking, and paths for meandering. In fact, they meld so well together that it is hard to tell where the grounds for the young and healthy stop and the grounds for the older and ailing start.

My introduction to the VA was in the 1980’s. I had a friend whose father figure was fighting cancer. He asked that I not visit him, because he didn’t want me to remember him wasted and in pain. So I would sit on one of the benches under a tree while my friend visited the man that he loved like a father. I would look up at the towering building and my pulse would race. My fear of all things medical would come to the surface and sometimes my breath would feel short or my hands would shake. I have to admit that I was grateful that the man that was fighting a losing battle inside those walls had spared me the trauma of walking into that building.

Then my friend, Scott, moved to this area. He had served his country in the Navy. His service made him eligible for free medical care. He started using the services at the VA. He always had praise for the care he was given. Still, I found reasons not to go into the building that was the hospital.

Scott’s aunt served in the Armed Forces. She called me to say that she was going to the VA for the female services. The only criticism that she had was that the male patients kept asking her if she was the wife of a man that had served.

"WIFE!! What makes any of them think I would be married to some old man. I'm more man then any one of them," she told me in a telephone call. We laughed our heads off. She was a lesbian and she had a reputation for putting more then one man on his butt when she was young and hot headed.

My father came to live with me. He had dementia and high blood pressure. He needed medical caretakers in this area. My sister-in-law told me stories about her father and the great care he was given at the VA.

One of the reasons that John was so drawn to moving to this particular area of the West Coast was because he had talked to a nurse that had worked at the VA and she had nothing but praise for this facility.

It took six months for the government to verify that my father had served in the Second World War. The building that his records had been stored in had burned down and they had to go to extreme measures to locate his verification. By the time I got the letter saying that my father was eligible John had moved here and was working on having his records transferred.

John and my father became legal members of the VA community about the same time.

There was no way that I could stay out of that building now. No matter how short my breath got or how hard my hands trembled I had the responsibility of getting those two men to their medical care.

What I found was the exact opposite of what I had expected. The trauma and drama that exude from private hospitals wasn't there. Neither was the instant hospital air and smell. Everyone is 'nice', everyone has a smile on his or her face, everyone is friendly, and everyone is caring of everyone. I have met some of the most interesting people at the VA. It's as if everyone has been through something together.

John gets the best care that he could hope to find for MS. His medication would cost him $1,300 a month in the private sector. At the VA he gets it free. There isn't anything that he needs that he doesn't have offered to him at the VA.

But something really puzzles me. John is given something, free, that he has no need for .....

His doctor asked him if the MS was interfering with his sexual performance. John said, "NO". She said, "I'm going to give youa prescription for Viagra. Keep it handy, just in case. It's important to good health to have a fulfilling sex life."

So every month John receives a padded box. Inside the box is a good-sized bottle. Inside the bottle are 2 tablets.

2 tablets every 30 days. Is that the government's idea of a healthy, fulfilling sex life?

Twice a month!

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