I was sitting in the patient waiting area at the local Veterans Affairs Clinic to get refills written for my prescriptions. They were getting low and I didn’t have enough to make it to my next appointment. They have always been good about writing refills for my drugs between appointments, even when I wait until the last minute. Of course, I had to sit and wait since I didn’t have an appointment, which is fine. I have to do it this way a couple times a year. No big deal. One day, maybe I’ll get my medications and my appointments synched up and not have to get refills written between appointments. I’m sure that takes more planning than I want to do right now, though.
While waiting, I watched a number of patients get called for their appointments. The nurse that was in charge of doing their vitals, as well as height and weight, seemed to have a chip on her shoulder for some reason. Her demeanor and body language actually made her seem like she was in a pissy mood. She just didn’t look like she wanted to be there. But for those of us that deal with the VA regularly, we know all too well about those people.
From where I was sitting, I heard a Viet Nam-era veteran complaining to a clerk about that nurse. He went on about how he shouldn’t have to be treated like that. I’m not sure what she did or said to him, but he was not happy. Another patient, a man closer to my age, in his mid-40’s, was also offended by the cantankerous nurse.
I heard the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran tell the clerk as he checked in that this was his first time going to the VA and that he didn’t know what to expect. All I could think was, “Welcome to the VA, buddy. Get used to not knowing what to expect.” But I digress. Shortly after he entered the secured door where he would have his vitals checked, the door re-opened and he was coming out, seemingly trying to ask the nurse a question. Her response, which she said twice while pointing down the hall, was “Someone else.” He turned back to her as he exited the door and said, “Kick rocks.” I’m not quite familiar with that term, but I believe it’s a politically correct way to say, “Go **** yourself.”
I watched the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran go to the opposite side of the waiting area away from the door to Nurse Difficult’s chambers. I recognize the look on his face and the stare in his eyes. He was wondering if she was worth jail time and also trying to calm himself down. I know that feeling all too well. A minute or two later he came back and approached the clerk, explaining again that this was his first visit to the VA and he didn’t know what happened, that she had simply become problematic during his check in. Welcome to the VA, buddy.
Not all VA employees are like that nurse. But it only takes one or two people like her to make the whole VA experience an appalling reality. And then there is Paul. Paul is the clerk that helped me this week to get my prescriptions refilled and was also the clerk that checked in the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran for his appointment. I remember the first time I met Paul. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me since he deals with hundreds of veterans a week. But I will never forget the day I met him.
I had two main conditions when getting released from the hospital in 2015 after my failed suicide attempt. One, to go to a specified local mental health outpatient clinic to sign up for six weeks of group therapy. And, second, to go to the VA for ongoing treatment. I pulled into the parking lot of the VA at 4:28 PM. They hadn’t locked their doors yet and I was able to get inside. If you are familiar with the VA, once 4:30 hits, you can forget it. The world for them stops and you no longer matter or exist. However, Paul apparently didn’t adhere to that train of thought.
Paul was the only clerk at a window that day. I approached him and briefly explained my situation. I’m sure I sounded like a nut-case, and maybe that helped in this instance, I don’t know. But Paul stopped what he was doing and made sure that I could get my medications and set up an appointment for me with Mental Health. First, he called the psychiatrist’s office to make sure the prescriptions could be transcribed to VA prescriptions so it could be filled on the spot. Then he made sure someone would be in the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions. After that he made a future appointment for me to see the psychiatrist. All of this was done after Paul was supposed to be able to tell me they were closed and I should come back the next day. Paul didn’t care about what time it was. Paul was helping a veteran that had just been released from a psych ward. To him, that was far more important than quitting time. Or at least, that’s how he made me feel.
In my dealings with all of them, there are only a handful of VA employees that are like Nurse Difficult. But like I said, it only takes one or two of them to ruin the whole experience and give the veteran a feeling of hopelessness when dealing with the VA. And then there’s Paul. Paul is the personification of what a VA employee should be. We need more people like Paul. I’m thankful I met him. I’m thankful he was working at the VA the day I got out of the hospital. He made a difference in how things could have gone that day, which, at the time, made a difference in my life. And he probably has no idea.
To Nurse Difficult, kick rocks, bitch. To Paul, thank you, keep doing what you’re doing. And to those of you who are going into the VA system for the first time, be patient. I know it’s hard. I really do. I almost got removed by security once a while back at the VA. It wasn’t pretty. But be calm and outlast them, like we did the enemy. And to the ‘mid-40’s’ veteran who was there for the first time, good job, bro. You handled it well.
Thanks for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.
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