Yesterday I finally got to see the doctor at the VA hospital for the appointment I had to wait a month for. The appointment was set for 2:30 pm and I wanted to make sure I was early. Past experience with the VA hospital and recent news created a scenario in my head where I was going to be sitting in the waiting room for a few hours.
I brought a book with me, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, if you remember that one. I also had the Times in my bag, and my trusty notebook to write in. I was prepared.
I’d come from a morning of installing doorknobs and fixing existing ones for a friend, and had enough time to grab a quick bite in Union Square Park before heading north and east to the hospital on 23rd street.
I got to the hospital at ten to two, 40 minutes early. But that was OK, because I was prepared. More than just ready to entertain myself, I was armed with the expectation that I was going to have to wait and the reserve to do it gracefully.
I checked in, starting with the recitation of my last name and “last four,” meaning the last four digits of my SSN. In the military your social security number has replaced the old serial number. Makes us a little more human, I’d guess.
“OK, Mr. Trevino, have a seat and the nurse will call you.” I made a quick trip to the toilet. The whole reason for my visit is my BPH symptoms, and having to pee often is the most prevalent of those.
I’d made this appointment a month ago when I’d run out of medication, as a life-long procrastinator I had waited till the very last minute to do something about getting new medication. I had to pay a doctor $250 for the prescription, plus another $170 for a 30 day supply of the medication, something called tamsulosin, an alpha blocker. It is called FLOMAX in TV commercials, not to be confused with FLONAISE. That’s for allergies.
I came back from the bathroom and took a seat in the crowded waiting room.
The room is in the emergency triage section of the hospital, with four booths manned by nurses. You can take a number and wait to be called if you are a walk-in.
I looked around, and there were dozens of men seated with me, of all ages and races. There were men in their ‘80s, Korean War vets. There were men in their ‘60s and ‘70s from the Vietnam War. The younger men were from the latest wars of the past 25 years. They were white, black, Latino, Asian. The older guys had their black VETERAN hats, with unit crests and pins and whatever else you can put on a hat adorning them. There was one guy in a navy uniform.
I had no sooner sat down and opened my book when I hear my name called. It wasn’t even 2 o’clock yet.
I grabbed my jacket, hoodie, book and backpack and followed the middle-aged woman to a room down the corridor where she weighed me and took my vitals.
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“No,” I replied.
“It says here you are allergic to Talwin,” she said indicating her computer screen. Talwin is another name for naltrexone, an opiate antagonist.
“Not anymore,” I said. I didn’t want to go into a long explanation about having been on the methadone program here many years ago. She remained silent, and proceeded to take my vitals.
My body temperature was 97.5°. It’s always low, and I don’t know why. She was unconcerned about it. After she was done she instructed me to go back to the waiting room to be called by the doctor. It was now 2:15 pm.
I watched as a tall well-dressed black man argued with one of the triage nurses. He wore a black suit, black raincoat and a golf cap. He carried a black leather soft attaché case.
“I just stepped out to get some lunch and they called me. She put me down as a no-show and said I can wait until she’s done with everyone else. I ain’t waiting.” The nurse shrugged, he didn’t care if the guy waited or not.
I watched as really old men were wheeled by on gurneys, doctors chased missing patients through the corridor and technicians pushed carts and medical equipment back and forth. I tore myself away from the drama on the big screen TV up on the wall, the Statue of Liberty was being evacuated; and got out my book. On second thought I got out my notebook and pondered in pen if any of the men I waited with had ever “wasted” anyone, dropped a bomb or launched a missile. Then I heard my name being called, it was the doctor. It wasn’t even 2:20 pm.
He was a tall dark man, from his name I gathered he was from India, but he spoke English like me, so he’d grown up here.
“Last four?” He asked as we sat in the examination room. He asked a few more questions, and I explained about the medication and my BPH problem.
“Let me order that for you now. Would you like to pick it up at the window, or have it sent to your home?” From past experience with the VA and medications, I opted to have it sent by mail. Waiting for meds at the window was a definite chore.
“There’s a co-pay, isn’t there?”
“Yes, but it’s not much, $2 per prescription or something.” I wanted to hug him.
“How do I pay?” I asked.
“I’ve no idea.” He said. That made me smile.
He ordered blood tests for sugar, Hep-C, and other routine things. I declined the HIV test; I haven’t engaged in any unsafe activities since the last one, so what was the point? We shook hands and said goodbye, and promised to see each other in 6 months.
I went down the corridor to get a tetanus shot and then my bloodwork, and left after making my next appointment at the desk.
I walked out into the sunshine of 23rd Street smiling, and it wasn’t even 3 o’clock yet.
This week the flowers our super had planted in the tree plots in front of the building emerged, that made me smile Monday. On Tuesday I installed a faucet for the Center for fiction, and I managed to do it with little effort and didn’t break any pipes. I also drained their roof, which had almost 5 inches of water on it, causing a leak. That made me smile too. It was a good week, and I could have brooded about why I hadn’t contacted the VA sooner and saved myself $420, but hey, I can’t have it all, can I?