Three generations of Veterans in one morning


My experience I didn’t forget

When I talked to the patients I met

            I wasn’t nervous

            When I went into the service

And now I can say I’m a vet.


Yesterday I saw four veterans before noon. 

One had been stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941.  At 89, the patient maintains a clear mind, erect posture erect, and nimble speech.  The apparent age is a good ten years younger than the calendar age, and we talked about that.  The patient’s oldest sibling just died at age 103.  I told my plans for the future.  From the patient’s perspective, a year away doesn’t seem like such a long time.

A second vet recounted tales of the Mediterranean in 1957.  We talked about what being a short timer feels like.  At tour- of-duty’s end, separation orders in hand, the acronym FYIGMO applied. Until the separation from the service was delayed by a month because the international situation heated up.  We discussed how FYIGMO can go to FUBAR.

I won’t translate the acronyms; in the twenty-first century anyone who can access this blog can use a search engine. 

More than a dozen years ago, because I listened carefully, I was instrumental in tracking down a disease so ridiculously rare that it wasn’t discussed at all in medical school.  There’s only one case in Sioux City and mentioning it would be tantamount to disclosing the identity of the patient.

Mayo Clinic actually nailed down the problem after it had been missed by very good local subspecialists.  The patient didn’t deserve the disease, it’s a disorder of bad luck.  Fifty years ago life expectancy was less than a year.  Now, with very good drugs financed by the VA he’s doing wonderfully. 

The third vet complained about the price of medications.  I asked if he’d investigated the Veteran’s Administration resources.  The answer expressed frustration with the VA system.

The VA had a bad reputation a while ago, I don’t know if it was deserved.  In medical school and residency the joke went:  You walk into a patient room at the VA hospital.  There are three glasses of orange juice on the bedside table.  What’s the diagnosis?

I, like most people just getting used to clinical medicine, guessed diabetes, then sheepishly shrugged my shoulders.

The punch line:  Patient’s been dead for three days.

The VA I’m familiar with is nothing like that.  The Veteran’s Hospital in Sioux Falls remains the warmest hospital I’ve ever experienced.  The employees go past professionalism and into extreme caring.

I feel like poser walking the same hallways with the men and women who faced enemy rifles. 

(There are seven uniformed services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Public Health Service.  I served in the PHS on a series of Indian reservations.  The most dangerous thing I did was face drunks in the ER.)

My experience with the VA has been uniformly good.  They pay for rheumatology services.  Every injection of the fabulously expensive drug they pay for pries the devil’s fingers from my spine.

Three very good family practitioners in Sioux City left private practice to work for the VA in the last fifteen years. They have expressed intense personal and professional satisfaction with the choice.

I’ve considered it.  The problem remains that two of my unusual talents, my fluency in Spanish and my ability to examine children without force, would not be used.  But as a short-term situation the VA clinics sound attractive.

I’m also thinking about taking a one month position on an Armed Services base.  They’re frequently short-handed.  At the very least, it would be an adventure, and a positive payback.


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One Response to “Three generations of Veterans in one morning”

  1. hotfiledownloads Says:

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