Annie and I did get caught up in that commute yesterday morning, on our way down to San Francisco, just after we had gotten through Rohnert Park, and I had sent Casey an email saying that it was smooth sailing. You know how that goes; you hit the send button and look up to a kaleidoscopic light show, all those brilliant red brake lights, flashing on at once, the rain adding beauty and dimension to the scene.
Unfortunately though, after forty hours of prep work at home, seven-plus hours, round-trip in the truck, and three-plus hours in the VA facility itself, including actually having the inserted needle taped to the back of my hand for who-knows-how-long, I did not end up having a colonoscopy performed.
Dang! Brake lights. Well, it was inevitable, though I’m always glad to escape Santa Rosa without a battle. I can’t believe I had to drink that 64 ounces of liquid this morning, between two-thirty and three, and I’m in a car heading for San Francisco. Last evening's 64 ounces, which I drank between 5 and 6:30 was challenging enough, but at least I was not going anywhere, certainly not to sleep. So far-so good...
We had given careful thought to when we would depart, and had decided that five-thirty was about right. I had been up since 2:25, after having lain awake from eight onward, with a brief half-hour nap around 11:30. And Annie had awakened before our agreed-upon-time of 4:30, so we actually got out the door about 5:15.
This is so excellent. I don’t mind getting there early, because it’s better than stressing out that we would be late, if we cut it too short. Besides, you never know; maybe I can get in earlier than my appointed 9:30 arrival. That’s called looking at the bright side.
I was told to be there at nine-thirty, so they could prep me, and we actually ended up walking in the door at 8:30, a full hour early. We congratulated ourselves on our successful plan, as I moseyed up to the window to check in. There were two older gentlemen in the waiting room of twelve chairs and two women, all four seemingly unattached to any of the others. The two women seemed in that waiting mode, their husbands already in the “chamber,” their minds occupied with some form of reading. The two guys seemed up to be the next entries into the office.
OK, only two in front of me...I should be in right on schedule. I knew I could do this. After the last time, when I was such a whiny little such-and-such, I have to show Annie that I’m over it.
I had my appointment paper in my hand, along with my VA identification card, as I approached the window. A heavyset woman was sprawled out on the desk beneath the window, a telephone in one hand, and a piece of paper in the other. When I say sprawled out, I mean she had the chair pushed away from the desk, while she leaned heavily forward, her head supported by the same hand which handled the phone, the inevitable elbow anchoring the whole shebang to the table. Never mind she was not the most attractive sight-she just looked so unprofessional, like a high school girl answering the phones in the office as a work aide.
The woman never said a word to me as she took my appointment paper and my VA ID, put them in front of her, and thrust a single piece of paper at me with a pen. When I saw that it was a request for the name and phone number of the person who was going to take you home, I leaned in to ask if this was necessary, if said person was never going to leave the waiting room. I couldn’t penetrate the telephone, as she simply made a gesture to fill out the paper. I did so.
This gal at the window-I’m going to call her Dora-does not look that interested in her job. I should have given her my most radiant smile. That always seems to do the trick. I’d have liked to ask her several questions, but she doesn’t seem too receptive. Maybe I’ll just chill on the Group W bench for a spell, and read some Robert B. Parker, and kind of get a feel for what’s up.
Handing Dora the paper, I returned to my seat, consulted momentarily with Annie, and commenced to read out of Double Deuce.
“Vinnie Morris opened the door on the passenger side and got in... 'I been looking for you,' he said. ‘You alone?’ I asked... 'Yeah...' I didn't double-check him in the rearview mirror. Vinnie would kill you, but he wouldn't lie to you."
I read on, for the better part of an hour, still patting myself on the back for a job well done, as I waited for my name to be called out.
Actually, during the hour we sat there, nothing happened. The same two women waited; the two dudes also. No one else entered the room. It occurred to me that I had never asked Dora about a time frame. I stood and stepped past one chair to the window and waited politely. When she paused in her phone conversation (I have no idea what the phone calls were about-whether work or otherwise) to inquire what I needed, I asked her what the time frame looked like. “What is your name, Sir?” I gave it. She found my blue folder and set it aside on the counter to her right. I took due note of it. “Shortly,” was her succinct response. I returned to my seat.
How come Dora has yet to refer to some sort of printout, indicating individual names and times? I see there are other folders on the side counter. Oh well. She must know what she’s doing. When this is over, I’m going to spend an hour just deciding where to eat. Been over forty hours...
Imagine my surprise when only a minute later, a door opened with a thunderous crash and a name rang out and one of the lucky fellows in the room staggered to his feet and followed the technician into the back, as the door thundered shut. I was to learn how important an occasion it was-if somewhat rare-to hear that door open. And then, just like that, another crash, that voice again, another name, and the second of the two men managed to gain his feet, and amble off after that same technician. Progress!
And then there was one. This should mean that I am next. I can see my folder from right here, hanging out on that counter. This is going perfectly. After lunch I am going to take a well-earned snooze, heading back up to Mendo County.
The price of poker was going up. With my nine-thirty appointed time now in the rear-view mirror, I was still optimistic that I was on course, since I figured I was next. I continued to read my book. At 10:00, now thirty minutes past my appointed time, I went up to the window to check in with Dora. I smiled my most engaging smile, figuring I would give that a try. She looked at me as though she had never seen me. “Can I help you, Sir?” My smile faltered in mid-stride. “Oh, just checking that old time frame.” “What is your name, Sir?” I gave her my name for the third time.
She hollered for the technician again, and when they conferred, the woman came through the crash-door again and beckoned to me. SHe told me she thought another thirty minutes. Fine, whatever. Just so I have an idea. An older gentleman entered the waiting room, perched in front of the window, conducted business with the surprisingly telephone-free Dora, and asked the key question, “What’s my time-frame here?” She responded, “Just a short wait.”
Hey, sounds good to me. We must be rolling into action now. I can still see that blue folder of mine, though there are others also. Dora just set that new guy’s down in the middle of the counter. We’ll just be after keeping an eye on that there folder, as it relates to mine.
When I conferred with Annie, she just told me I was doing great, and to hang in there for a few more minutes. I waited. Just then a very tall gentleman and his wife came in, he placing a bag on the chair adjacent to me, right next to the window, while he began to rummage through his pockets, and deposit things into the bag. He checked in with Dora, conferred with his wife, and went over to check out the magazine rack for something to read.
That magic door thundered open and a voice rang out with a name, but it wasn’t mine. It was the gentleman who had come in just before this most recent man and his wife.
What the hell is going on? That dude hasn’t been here for more than ten minutes, and his name is called? WTF?
I sky-rocketed to full alarm mode. The door crashed open again, and another name rang out, and the gentleman still perusing the magazine rack was through the door, before I could so much as sputter. I had been very quiet and docile up until this point, but when I stood up at the window again, Dora knew that something was amiss. “Hey, what’s going on?” My voice was calm, but my face ratted me out. “Why did the two guys who just came in get called? I’ve been here two hours now!” I mean, I know that one of those hours was technically a freebie, but since they were obviously going by first come-first served, I felt double crossed.
Somehow Dora noted the loss my inner tranquility, my good attitude having now fled the building. She looked back behind the counter, and shouted out to the medical technician to come up front. Dora gestured at me, and told the tech that I wanted to know how long. “What was your name again?” Dora asked me. Sigh. For the fourth time I furnished her that information. She’d only come into contact with a handful of names in the past two hours, but it still seemed a struggle for her to hang onto mine. The other gal left to seek information.
Is this place mad? I can’t wait here another hour, before I even get prepped! I’m keeping it together, but this is making me lose it.
Returning to the front of the office, the tech person conferred with Dora, looked at my folder, thumbed through it, and departed. The receptionist came back to me, and said there was a mixup, and that they were trying to find out what was happening. I waited, actually leaving the immediate waiting room, and going around the counter into the hall, where I could still see what was going on, but would no longer be able to provide entertainment to the rest of the waiting room. I sank to the floor, my back against the wall, and proceeded to melt down. Annie stood beside me, her hand resting on my head.
When the tech person came back a second time, there was another medical tech with her and she asked me to follow her.
Is it possible? Someone actually has some authority here?
“I’m sorry, Sir. The mistake is mine. You got skipped. I’m very, very sorry.” I feel bad to this minute, but I gave this poor woman a venomous look, and continued my downward spiral.
Get a grip, Dude. You have got calm down. I can’t do this. You have to do this. Do I? Do I?
“So what happens now?” I fired at her. “We’ll get you prepped. Then your turn will come.” She took me into a room, long enough to accommodate probably eight bed spaces which could be curtained off, for privacy. I was issued a bedraggled gown, and the curtain was pulled around me. I waited. After several hours, or so it seemed, I started to make disenchanted noises, and the rest is history.
Honestly, I’m fuzzy on the details from here on. A man came at one point, in response to my clamor, and brusquely inserted the needle for the sedation. He asked me the perfunctory questions and left. I waited. At one point I got up and was standing with my back to the curtain, my buttocks clearly exposed inside my little space, when the curtain was abruptly pulled aside. Spinning around, I was flummoxed to find a half-dozen people gathered around, just outside the large room, the door to the hallway being wide open.
How nice for all those lucky people in the hallway. A show! How nice for me.
Hey, under different circumstances, I might have thought it was funny. I’m sure no one was particularly interested in my buttocks. I just felt the lack of professionalism, not to mention compassion, acutely. I actually had to ask the person who had opened the curtain, if it could be pulled back so that the people in the hallway could not see me. When he tried to accomplish this, the curtain got stuck. In his efforts to get the job done, he drew the attention-once again-of the folks in the hallway.
You can do this. Can I? That ain’t the question. The question is, Why would I want to? I can just take this needle out, and hit the road. Bad decision! Work on it. Lie back down, Dude. Use your tools. What about Annie? What about all the work? Stop and think.
Didn’t work this time. Nothing worked. No one cared. People passed back and forth. I despaired. I got dressed. I removed the tape. I took out the needle. I tried to remove the wrist band. It resisted.
One of the medical techs finally noticed what I was trying to do. She came quickly to my side, saying, “Wait, a minute, Sir. Let me get a scissors.” I continued to tear at the wrist band, flecks of blood from the needle opening splashing on the wrist with the band. “Sir! You are scratching yourself!” She was there a second later, and paused in my frantic efforts, long enough for her to snip it off. I walked out the same door where those folks had been gathered, oblivious to anyone and everyone in the arena. Something for them to discuss later. Lunchtime dialogue. Or not. No one seemed to much care.
That’s about it. I am at fault as much as anyone. As I said later to Annie in a calmer moment, “I tend to forget that I have a mood spectrum disorder, which I keep in check 99% of the time. This was just a “safe” way to allow that disorder to manifest itself. Who knows what that means?”
However, I also hold those in that circus of a medical arena accountable. Dora? Hopelessly unwilling to surface long enough to oversee the one element for which she was responsible: those in the waiting room. The only person with any integrity was the gal who admitted it was her fault that I got skipped. I saw one doctor, one time, as he escorted a patient out of the inner sanctum.
My enthusiasm for the VA has been hammered. I am deeply distressed over the entire incident and wish there was a way to turn back the clock. All the way back to when Dr. Mulligan reminded me that it was time for this procedure. Had I to do it over again, I would have smiled sweetly and said, “No thank you.” Compassion is a precious commodity, especially in a ward where the patients-all of them-have been starved for forty plus hours, not to mention minor details like no coffee.
The reality is, this department of the VA Hospital is run as though one of two principles applies: Either the people who run this facility are inept, or they are callous. Neither one speaks well for the facility.