I don't know how long I have to write this morning as we may have to depart for Reno at any time. Don't be alarmed, no emergency medical procedures required. We need a document from the Social Security Administration which was supposed to be available on line, but isn't. A trip to get this in person is imminent. Breaking news: Reno trip cancelled, document to be mailed to us instead.
The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon is golden orb dominated skies with 58 Fahrenheits (and more) predicted to warm our bones. Rain makes no cents here today or tomorrow, and squirrely light winds from the ENE if they show up at all. Did I ever mention that I was a certified weatherman and even taught the subject in the military? You could probably tell by all of the technical jargon I use, like icky and squirrely, right?
My stress level is rising daily as the Mensa National Convention for which I am responsible draws closer. I find the hardest part for me is having to rely on others to accomplish tasks and provide me with information. My whole life has been one of independent action, albeit in concert with others at times. Ultimately what happened was a result of what I personally did, or did not do. I find having to depend blindly upon others gut-wrenchingly difficult, and a source of great depression for me. I do have "up" days where I feel like it will all work out, but most are dark and full of worry over catastrophic failure. Failure is something that I am not used to.
I was not always a calm and peaceful man. The military trained me to be a violent person and it lurks beneath the surface still. There are things that I can not tell even today, but here is a short tale of near death, for someone else, not me.
It took me twenty years to return
The year was 1991 and I had been medically discharged from the Navy and working for the USPS as a letter carrier in Fallon for three years at this point. One of the medical issues that I was dealing with was pain in my right shoulder, for which I had been treated while on active duty and was a chronic problem.
Being a veteran, and the price of medical care being what is was even then, I was encouraged to seek treatment at the VA Hospital in Reno. I must tell you that it was not a good place to go in those days, treatment was unreliable and delays for everything were legendary. Horror stories were rampant and true.
I was sent to the VA Hospital to see the Orthopedic Specialist for evaluation of my shoulder for surgery. Would it improve my condition or not, was the question of the day.
In those days they played a weird scheduling game at that specialty clinic. You had to report in between 08:00 and 09:00 am, regardless of when your appointment time was, and then wait in a kind of "stand by" mode until your scheduled time arrived. This was initiated and enforced by the lead doctor, and the man that I was to see, Dr. F. He felt that his time was too valuable to have any blank spots in his day and so the patients were stacked up waiting to move forward should a cancellation happen. Of course the doctor could (and had done so in the past), walk out the door at any time and cancel the rest of his day.
This meant a five hour wait for me with my 1:00 pm appointment. I was already angry from having to park a mile away from the hospital and hike in, Tuesday being "clinic day", people were there early to get a spot.
It was my first visit to this clinic and I didn't know the hospital very well at all. Parking was on the opposite side from the main entrance so I was coming in through the back of the hospital, which had me all turned around. Fortunately I always arrive early for appointments or the walk and wandering the building would have made me late. I was hustling to make 08:00, but I found the administration and check in desk and got my name in by the hour.
I plopped down in a chair with my back to the wall to wait, and was observing the activity around me. I never heard anybody called for "Ortho", or any other clinic for that matter. After 30 minutes of being patient I asked the guy sitting across from me which clinic he was waiting for and he moved his paper up in front of his face and said nothing. Great, no help there. Fifteen more minutes passed and I got nervous and got out of my chair and went back to the desk where I checked in to ask the lady there why no one was being called.
The shock of being told that I was in the wrong waiting area jacked my blood pressure right up and I had to focus on the instructions as to which hallway and how many turns, etc., would get me to the orthopedics waiting area. It was almost 09:00 and I was in the wrong place!
I walked away from the desk to a wall with doors to the outside, where I had to turn and proceed down a hall. Coming through the door from the outside, was an elderly man wearing a WWI veteran cap being pushed in a wheelchair by a young black man wearing hospital scrubs. I stopped to assist with the door and got a nod of thanks from the old vet.
As I turned to hurry on looking at my watch, I heard the old man say to the orderly, "Please, I have to pee, can you take me to the bathroom?" To which the young man said, "You will have to wait" as he parked the wheelchair against a wall and locked the wheels. As I looked back while still walking, I could see the orderly going back outside. I seriously regret not having gone back to the old man's aid at that point.
I was lost and in a hurry and thinking of being late and losing my appointment. If I had been thinking logically I would have realized that with a 1:00 pm appointment, I had several men ahead of me and was in no danger of being dropped. To explain: If they called your name and you were not there, you were removed from the list and had to reschedule. The appointments were set for every 15 minutes.This doctor was a civilian with a contract, not a VA employee, and got paid by the body count. Factory medicine!
I found the clinic and checked in with the gum chewing young lady behind the counter. She told me to have a seat and do not under any circumstance, leave the waiting room without telling her or my appointment would be cancelled and I would have to reschedule. I wanted to slap the gum out of her mouth at that point. I resented the Hell out of her attitude and was angry with myself for not helping the old man. Plus the stress of parking, being in the wrong waiting room, etc. It had not been a good morning.
Finally, it was my turn and the doctor was observed walking back in from lunch. He was just as arrogant and abusive with his receptionist as I had heard that he was with patients. So I was his first appointment after lunch, OK, so he should be in a good mood and we could get through this. I was not looking forward to the manipulation of my shoulder that I had learned to expect from other examinations. It hurt during the rotation and for hours afterwards, which was part of why I was there, something was obviously wrong.
I was called and then taken back to the exam room, by the young woman who I checked in with. She complained all the way down the hall that the nurse didn't come back from lunch with the doctor and now she had to do her work too. I can remember thinking to myself, "honey, you couldn't empty a bed pan without screwing it up, you could never be a nurse."
Told to sit on the exam table and wait for the doctor, I complied and looked around at all of the medical posters with joints and bones exposed showing the workings. After a few minutes Dr. F. burst into the room, writing in my chart and didn't even speak to me as he went to a desk at one side.
Tossing my chart on the desk he picked up the telephone and dialed a number. "Oh damn," I thought, he saw something in that chart and is ordering some kind of procedure. You always expect the worst case in a doctors office, it is conditioning.
That bubble burst when the guy started talking to the person on the other end. He was arranging a golf game! He completed that call and instead of turning to address me and apologizing for the delay, he dialed another number and spoke to another golf buddy. This repeated until he had arranged his foursome. Finally, picking up my chart and writing in it once again, he looked up at me and said, "Come back and see me in two weeks." Throwing my chart in the "completed" bin, he turned to leave the room.
I was beyond angry at that point and fairly jumped from my seat on the examination table, to a position blocking him from leaving the room. I got nose to nose with this medical "unprofessional" and was probably spitting on him as I spoke, I was so mad.
"How dare you use my fifteen minutes of time for your golf date calls after I have waited all damn day to see you! How dare you write in my chart without ever even looking at me, much less examining me! You arrogant quack!" I know that this is exactly what I said because the receptionist wrote it all down and I was presented with the details later in a written "denial of service letter."
The doctor went "bug-eyed" and started screaming for the receptionist, alternating between "Get out! and "Help, get security!" I did turn and leave at that point, as I knew that I was never going to let this guy work on me, even if he would have. The fortunate thing for both of us was that he did not put his hands on me. It would have ended very badly for him. I was completely calm by that point, which could be bad.
I left the office and not knowing how else to get out of the building, I retraced my path back to the admin area. It was probably the longest possible route to exit the hospital, but it was the only way that I knew.
I could see the old man sitting in his wheelchair from down the hall, exactly where he had been "parked" hours before. As I got closer I could see the man crying and a puddle under his chair, which made me walk faster. Almost to him , I could now see and hear the young orderly approaching from the doorway. Speaking in a very harsh and menacing tone he said to the old veteran, "Now look what the Hell you done did! I am gonna have to clean up that mess you made! Sorry old..." and was raising his hand, as if to strike.
That was as far as he got, as my fingers closed around his throat and I slammed him against the wall, lifting him just off of the floor by his neck. His eyes were bulging as I choked his windpipe and I quietly said to him, "You owe your freedom and your very existence in this hospital to this man. Is this how you repay his service to our country?"
That orderly owes his life to the very man that he abused, because as I was closing off his airway, the old man said, "Please don't kill him, he isn't worth it." I just said, "Yes Sir." and dropped the younger man to the floor.
Could I have killed him? Yes, easily. Would I have killed him? I don't know. I was very angry, but still under control or he would have died instantly.
Security was already looking for me after my run in with the Doctor, although they couldn't "do" anything to me for yelling at that creep. So they were right there on the spot when I made the current scene.
Given the circumstances and the witnesses who sprang (if one can spring from wheelchairs and crutches) to my defense, the security guards were very nice to me and asked me to please accompany them. I expected handcuffs and some shoving around and was embarrassed by what I considered "losing control."
I mean, I should have at least threatened the guy first, but that just wasn't how I was trained to react to a perceived threat. He was advancing upon and threatening the elderly veteran in my eyes, I just moved by instinct.
I was taken into the administrative office and questioned by the security supervisor, as we waited for the Reno PD to show up. Because I had laid hands upon another person they had to be called. The hospital security guys kept coming to the door and speaking to their boss, relaying more and more information, including saying Dr F's name and laughing behind their hands.
I confess that as I waited I had scoped out the exits and how I would depart the building to my vehicle should they want to arrest me. I was NOT going to a jail cell.
The Reno PD guys arrived; one slender but hard looking blond white guy, and one very large black man that filled the doorway with muscles. Both had serious haircuts and their deportment confirmed it to me. You could almost see the "threadmarks" on their skulls, "jarheads"all the way. They smiled at me as they listened quietly to what was being said by the hospital security supervisor. They also interviewed the other security guards and the witnesses. Finally the orderly that I had choked was brought forward for his statement.
The young man mistakenly figured that he could play the "race card" and started off all wrong by calling out to the black officer, "Yo homey, we got to stick together when whitey tries to put us down. You need to bust cap in that honky's ass. Or I WILL." (verbatim, from the transcripts) and then started towards where I was sitting.
Both officers moved to intercept the orderly, the black officer almost cat-like, instantly in front of the young man, while his partner positioned to block me should I attempt to engage. He smiled as he saw that I was not moving and was unimpressed with the bravado and noise. He nodded at me and turned his attention back to his partner. I suspect that they had served together in the Marines or at least had been partners for a while, because they were very much in tune with each other's actions.
The bigger officer leaned slightly forward and addressed the young man saying, "First, I am NOT your homey, I am Officer "X" and I just heard you make a threat of violence. Should anything happen in the future what you said will be a matter of record and I will personally come looking for you. Second, I think that you had better be careful what you ask for, you may not be so lucky next time." and looked at me and nodded.
There was another older white orderly trying to quiet and restrain the young man, who finally said, "Will you shut up and come with me! We need to get you checked out." and then lead him away.
The RPD officers asked me to come with them, and we walked out the doors on the opposite side of the building. When we got outside, the white cop said, "What you did was assault on one hand, and justifiable prevention of assault and continued abuse on the other. No way are we going to charge you for defending a helpless old veteran. If any law suits happen from this we will testify on your behalf. Now it's probably a good idea if you go back home to Fallon in case this guy has any hot headed friends in the area. We don't need any more trouble." His partner chimed in, "Or any bodies should my mouthy "homey" jump up in your face."
I gave them a departing "Semper Fi!", to which I got "Ooh Raw!" in unison from the officers.
It was fully twenty years after that before I even considered utilizing the VA services that I was entitled to.
Only the personnel of the Fallon VA Clinic were able to convince me that it was worth another chance. I know the doctor who works there from years ago when he was my civilian physcian. The girl working the desk used to work with me in the Navy. The office manager worked at another office and I encouraged her to take on the VA Clinic job when it was offered. They were all friends that I trusted.
I am happy to report that the Reno VA Hospital is a far better environment today, where veterans of all ages are treated with respect and every effort is made to serve the patient. Care there is excellent.
It was worth the twenty years it took to return.
I always get asked this when I tell this story, "What happened to the orderly?"
The word got around pretty quickly of his abuse of the old WWI Vet and by the end of that day, no one wanted to work with him. I mentioned to a neighbor who worked in the top administrative office at the VA hospital what had happened (so that she heard it from me and not rumors) the same day that it took place. I know that she made telephone calls when she went back inside, because I could see her on the phone through the window. The next day when I delivered her mail she informed me that the man in question no longer worked at the VA Hospital in Reno, having sought employment elsewhere due to a "hostile work environment." I never saw him again.
I also learned later (from my admin. friend) that the old man, who was an inpatient there, passed away a few months afterwards (in the hospital) from complications from his war wounds. He had been shot multiple times and had been gassed in the trenches in Europe. The man had every medal there was (except for the Medal of Honor), including three purple hearts. He had entered the service at age 16 and didn't come home until it was over, over there. The old soldier had lived his entire life carrying metal fragments and dealing with damaged organs from his service. He was buried with honors in the Veterans Cemetery in Fernley. I am glad that I defended him and I am still sorry that I didn't take action to prevent his humiliation of wetting himself.