I had this blog all written in my head. Knew exactly what I was going to say, and how I was going to say it. Yesterday, it all changed. Every single solitary word.
My husband, who is also a veteran, is diabetic. He has what is known as diabetic neuropathy, which simply stated means he has no feeling in his feet. None. Step on a nail – nothing. Step on hot rocks? Nothing. So Sunday morning, when he evidentially kicked a piece of furniture, breaking his toe and tearing his toenail, nothing. I looked down, and his toe was bloody. Having been through intensive wound care with him, I knew the drill. Clean it, watch it, wait if we thought we could, but the second it looked reddened or very pale, call to see what plan of action we needed to take. Well, yesterday morning, the toe was very red, and appeared to still be bleeding (just a little), so I called the VA and got the phone care nurse. She heard “diabetic” and “injury” and said “come to the ER”. I told her it was a 2 hour drive, and she was a broken record, “come to the ER now”. So, we hurriedly finished breakfast, loaded up, and hit the road. I emailed both my instructors to inform them why I was not at school, and figured that this would be an all day affair. Boy, was it EVER!
We checked in around 10:20 am. About 40 people in the waiting area with various medical conditions. Of course, those with chest pains, flu-like symptoms, high fevers, obvious broken bones, copious amounts of blood were immediately treated. I am very familiar with ER protocol – the more life threatening the situation, the faster you get seen. He was triaged about 11:45, blood taken, and we were told to return to the waiting area. With that many people, the amount of time made sense so while it was annoying, it was not really concerning. About 1 pm, I went to the little snack bar down the hall in search of food. Nada. Got us each a soda, went to the vending area and got us each a bag of chips. Figured we would be seen soon, and then go get a substantial meal. ****Side note**** The canteen (cafeteria) at the Memphis VA is not run by the VA, and is open for breakfast and lunch (until 1 pm) Monday thru Friday.**** At 4 pm, we were called back and put into a room. At 6 pm, I asked if at least my husband could be fed, as he was diabetic and had not eaten a meal since 8 am. At 7:45 pm, a tray was brought with a personal pizza, fruit and a drink, so that helped him. Right before the tray was brought, we asked (again) what the hold up was, as we had been in the exam room nearly 4 hours. What follows is the explanation.
The Veterans Administration has literally hundreds of open jobs – for doctors and nurses, mostly in emergency and in patient hospital situations. Pay is on par with civilian hospitals. No one is applying for these jobs. So, they remain unfilled. My husband was the 87th patient checked into the emergency department yesterday in Memphis, Tennessee. There were 2 doctors in that department. TWO. There are supposed to be SIX. But there were TWO. Let that sink in for a minute. 87 divided by 2 is 43.5. If each doctor only took 10 minutes with each patient, and never looked up or stopped (and lets face it, doctors have to type orders, answer phone calls, and they still have bladders!) that is 7 hours and 15 minutes worth of work!!!!! That does not include the patients who came in after we did. So, if there were 86 patients ahead of us, our wait time should have been 7 hours – if doctors only took 10 minutes per patient. Let’s be honest, folks. If I’m having an appendicitis attack, a heart attack, a stroke, seizures, bleeding profusely, have a broken bone (or two), have pneumonia, the flu, panic attacks, allergic reaction – whatever – do you want your doctor on a stop watch???? Oops, Mrs. Smith, your 10 minutes is up, NEXT???? NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!! That flies in the face of quality medical care, and any doctor that would do that would not have many patients in a very short period! So, the answer is get more doctors, right? They are trying. Many medical students today are going into specialties and do not want to be ER doctors. Studies show – questionnaires filled out by doctors who would be applying for these unfilled positions, nurses who would be applying for these unfilled positions – that these qualified people, who could provide care for our nations Veterans, DO NOT WANT TO WORK WITH THE VETERAN POPULATION! Those who do hold these jobs are routinely cursed, called foul names, belittled, physically assaulted by VETERANS – and are told they have to take this abuse because the patients are VETERANS. PTSD is used not only as a diagnosis, but an excuse for a patient to give a nurse a bloody nose! Also, these studies show that these doctors and nurses have said “they do not want to work with trained killers, and all veterans are trained killers”. REALLY??????? Yes, I learned how to defend this nation in boot camp, as did every other veteran – but this is a viable excuse??? What, are we supposed to get out of the service and just DIE OFF????? WHAT IF A VETERAN SHOWS UP AT YOUR CIVILIAN PRACTICE, WILL YOU DENY THEM CARE???????? But, I digress – back to the explanation. So, that is why you have been waiting so long to see a doctor – but a third doctor is coming in at 8 pm to help eliminate the backlog of patients.
So, at 10:15 last night, after 12 HOURS wait (6 in the waiting area,, 6 in an exam room), we saw the doctor. A very nice young man, who told us that we should have had an x-ray, but since we hadn’t he wasn’t going to make us hang around but rather treat his toe as if it were broken. And, yes, the blood was from the toenail, and clean it well, and put the bacitracin that he was sending us home with on it would clear it up. And that the toenail would most likely fall off, not to worry, but that if it became red, streaky or turned very pale to get back in there pronto! At 10:45, the oral antibiotic prescription came down from the pharmacy, we signed our travel pay papers, and we headed to the car. 12 hours and 31 minutes since I had dropped my husband at the door of the emergency department.
So, yes, it was a long day. We posted updates on Facebook until both our phones died. We both received personal messages, texts and calls expression dismay (and even outrage) that we were having to wait that long. We were outraged ourselves – until a really wonderful nurse named Terri explained why.
Today, missing another day of school because of sheer fatigue, and watching to make sure hubby doesn’t have a reaction to the antibiotics, I am still outraged. But in a different direction. Yesterday, actually last night about 8 pm, the direction of my outrage was changed. America, shame on you! YOU – the citizenry of the United States of America – are letting your Veterans down. You want cushy medical practices, fat bank accounts, and no problems. You don’t want to care for those of us who offered our very lives to protect yours. There is a bill in Congress that would mandate that the VA pay for veterans to go to local hospitals and doctors out of system if they are closer. I say this will NOT solve a thing. Those doctors who refuse to work for the Veterans Administration because they do not want to care for our Veterans, will not want to care for our Veterans in their private practices. So, our Veterans will continue to be seen by those few doctors who give a damn. Who are willing to get past the fact that some of these veterans are addicts, homeless, angry, sick, alcoholics, and in general pissed off. Who are willing to realize that the reasons behind a lot of the anger is simply they feel like they mean less than nothing because they have been in a waiting room for 12 hours in pain. Who are grateful for the service so willingly given. Who realize that we, as veterans, have earned our medical benefits, but that for much of the population, we have not, nor will we ever, earn the respect our voluntary sacrifices deserve. How many doctors practicing medicine RIGHT THIS MINUTE learned their skills using the GI Bill???? How many MEDICS, now civilian, disdain jobs in the Veterans Administration system? How many VETERANS are quiet about their service to avoid being SHUNNED, or LOOKED DOWN UPON, or DISCRIMINATED AGAINST????
How many of you have seen the “true story” military movies? Do you realize that “true story” means some of your fellow Americans LIVED THOSE NIGHTMARES???? My great-aunt, Irene Eby Wise, was a nurse in World War II. One of her fellow nurses committed suicide in the South Pacific. Her coworkers had to just go on and do their jobs, because the war didn’t stop just because of their grief. Many of that generation are now gone. This past Saturday, I had the honor of speaking with a 94-year-old Navy veteran of WWII, a Naval Quartermaster. When I told him I was a Navy veteran myself, he THANKED ME. I’m in tears just typing those words. I was a peacetime sailor. My life wasn’t ever really on the line. And this man, who was on SHIPS that were TARGETS for the JAPANESE – THANKED ME!!!! A man I truly respect lives daily with the memories of the horrors he saw in Somalia – horrors Hollywood has depicted in “Blackhawk Down”. Thank YOU, Al. I can never understand what you go through, but I can also never ever thank you enough for what you have done for this nation. Another friend battles cancer, yet his service in the Submarine Fleet remains a proud accomplishment. Thank YOU, Senior Chief Mike Terrill. How many others – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines – am I blessed to call friend? Thank you ALL. My husband – without your service, I would not be blessed to have been your wife for 30+ years, and mother to our awesome kids, and grandmother to our awesome grandkids. Thank you, ASM3 R. M. Hudson. I love you. Yes, I signed the same contract as all these. To my nation, the United States of America, I say it was my honor, and my privilege to serve you. To those citizens of this nation who want “someone else” to care for those who were willing to die for you – step up! Freedom isn’t free, but bondage doesn’t cost a dime.
Happy Veterans Day.
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