Hug A Vet; Or Pray For One

I woke up Sunday Morning with a lump the size of a golf ball under my right chin and boy did it hurt. I had a sore throat and all kinds of conniptions going on.

 After realizing that it would take a two hour round trip drive, plus about four to six hours to be seen by a doctor, I decided to see if it was infection (or would get worse) or virus (which should get better on its own) or an acid attack from that damned Hebrew National sauerkraut that I put into the absolutely perfect Reuben sandwich that I made on Saturday.

So, I vacuumed, then shampooed my rugs with my handy dandy new miniature carpet shampooer. That thing worked like a champ and was worth the splurge.

I felt better, the golf ball was gone. So I plopped on the couch for a nap.

And woke up on Monday to a lump the size of  a baseball and even more pain that was rolling around the right side of me head. It went away when I got up and slept on the other side of me head.

So I waited until Monday afternoon, thinking that the weekend heart and stroke victims would have been triaged and would not be so sour.

I go by myself, as I hate to have anyone with me or driving for me. Can’t stand the idea of someone waiting for hours for a routine deal. Especially David, who talks and talks as if he has to get every word that ever comes into his mind out through his mouth. He’s a sweet guy and is very smart, but dang.

I arrived at the VA emergency room at about 2:30 pm to find it full of people. It was a full house. My scheme had backfired.

Hell, this was going to be at least five hours. 

By now, the roof of my mouth was getting puffy with little lumps, a clear sign of way too much acid. Must have been aggravated by the lime juice that I put into the smoothies and that Hebrew National sauerkraut. It comes in a bag from the chilled pickes section. It’s the best. I suffer for my culinary art. The perfect Reuben is not a thing to be trifled with.

The VA emergency room, which was non existent years ago, now has a beautiful new monster of a complex attached to it. It’s state-of-the-art. They rub the thermometer around your head. They slap a computer generated hospital band on your wrist.

You are now in the system, in the database. Coded, collected and collated.

The receptionists are no longer surly idiots who made us want to snatch their wigs and hairpieces off of their heads.

Even the doctors and security guards in the hallway look us in the eye, give a smile and give a “hello” these days.

We have all worked through a huge move from the old digs on Broadway, a huge renovation at their new location and a huge improvement of the whole patient care system. It is much appreciated. 

I like to listen to a couple of people in the VA waiting room just to see how far they’ve travelled and how they are doing. One young woman, her husband in a wheelchair, said that they came from Sonora. They have a choice of going to Palo Alto, Martinez or Sacramento. Damn. That’s hundreds of miles and hours of driving or riding in a VA van.

For medical care.

It’s worse at home. That poor woman’s stories about how they get medical care in Sonora were from the gold rush days of California hill country medicine. There are so many places up in those hills where it’s an hour drive to get to town, let alone to see a doctor.

I met a man who’s son, at age 30, needed to be put into detox for severe alcoholism. He was in Afghanistan and now is in so much distress that he has to be hospitalized. The kid always had a drinking problem, but there is something that has driven him over the cliff. The man is praying that his son gets detox,  or something.

The triage nurse calls me in, asks a few questions, looks alarmed and assures me that I will be put ahead of a few folks.

One young woman comes from Lodi, near Stockton. She came to help a relative. It’s a decently long drive, about as far as I used to have to drive when I lived farther away from Sacramento.

Lots of young people come here now. I used to be one of the youngest, and I was no spring chicken. Now some of them look like college and high school kids.

We all share something, even if we never served in the same war or branch or era. The VA feels like home and the people feel like one giant family, even when we’ve never seen each other before. The military is like that and so goes the VA.

I’m called in, put in a room, get on the bed and start to read “Sherlock Holmes” on my Droid.

I’m finally seen at about 4 pm. I get a woman who is in training to be a patient assistant or something. She apparently was a “health educator” and now is acting as if she is a doctor for God’s sake. She says that the roof of my mouth does look “unusual”.

The real doctor has the affect and self posession of a 12 year old. He orders a “rapid” strep swab. Gag.

Everything else is moving real slow, but everyone is being cared for. It’s a full house and it has probably been a full house since the wee hours of Monday morning. 

It takes the crew about half an hour to finally do the requisite blood test to see if I have antibodies. I read a sign that tells us the times for various tests. I see that it will take “30 to 60” minutes for blood tests.  Dang, little vampires. They filled about five tubes. Do I get cookies and juice?

The phlebotomist is showing the alleged patient assistant how to find a vein. WTF? 

Of course, you clowns.

 I’ve got two bumps on the roof of my mouth that just started up.

At about 6:30 and we got antibodies. I get penicillin and advisement to see the dentist, because it might be from bad dental care. Me, the sibling of a dentist who made my front teeth after a terrible bike accident, who rinses with Listerine and peroxide, brushes and flosses and scrapes daily.

You can’t be the Lisa to a Bart of a dentist and not be hip to a few extra factoids about oral health!

Can you? I’ve never heard of it. Dentists never stop proselytizing about oral health.


Of course, you clowns. Bring on the student geniuses. Bring ’em on, with their off the top of their heads wisdom. Makes me flash on that poster for the film “Brazil”, where the top of that poor man’s head is blowing up.

As I leave, I look at the other patients and wonder which one is the 30 year old with the severe alcoholism. He will haunt me as many others have.

I’m home now. The bumps on the roof of my mouth are tripled in size and I still have a golf ball under my jaw. I’m watching “Law And Order”. It’s a heartbreaking story about some Black people who had a mega corporation coming after their blood because the grandfather had some cancerous tissue stolen decades earlier…without approval compensation. Now the mega corporation has made billions off of life saving cultures from the man’s tissue,  and still comes after the kids and grandkids for blood…offering something like $500…or nothing. The family, of course, lives in poverty.

I wonder if my five tubes of dubious blood are going to kuwait to cure some bulge-ion-aire.

I’m wondering about all of those people who are on the road right now, in the dark, trying desperately to bring their loved ones to emergency care at the beautiful new VA facility. 

The care will overall be quite excellent once they’re in the system. 

It’s always good to be home, safe and sound after a great VA adventure, but my fellow emergency room vets always haunt me for days after a rare visit.

If you can’t hug one, at least pray for a vet today.