Rainy day tales from a pissed-off semi-retired journalist

Ann Coulter, the attention-seeking missile, has managed to finagle her way into the American conversation once again with her rant against soccer and the World Cup. Pttttewwwie. That is my spelling of a spit that comes from me. I know that spit is not good for my computer so I will just spell it, and not spit it. What I will not do is give that, well, I can’t use the word I would like, but I will not give her any more of my attention.

So it’s a rainy Friday afternoon. CNN is on my screen but the volume is not engaged. Wolf Blitzer is on TV talking to a Republican House Ways and Means Committee member about some missing IRS emails. “GOP outrage at missing e-mails,” is the “Developing Story” headline. This, in these days where every little happenstance is a “Breaking News” story.  Boy, they set the bar so low.

I once received a corporation-wide monetary award that I shared with another reporter. Both of us are gone from the paper and in the government sector. Well, I’m just part-time. Here is what happened:

I wasn’t Cops reporter anymore but I got to the paper an hour early so I could, usually, leave an hour early. I was the only one in the newsroom. I heard a call on the police scanner, a sheriff’s department dispatcher said there had been a helicopter crash. I called the sheriff’s department and got what information I could. An Army Black Hawk, on a foggy morning, crashed into a TV tower out in the countryside. It turned out bad, all seven on board including a brigadier general were killed.

The editor came in pretty soon and I told him what was going on. Best I can recall, he sent the other reporter at the scene and told me to “rewrite.” The latter term is now sort of a dinosaur. In the olden days — before I was even a reporter — a newspaper would have reporters in the field calling in their stories or pieces of story by land-line phones and the rewrite men (and women) would craft the story together. I only did it a couple of times and both times I just saw what was happening and took off from there, figuratively speaking, after a few seconds of direction from the editor. The other story was about a fatal charter bus crash out on the interstate. We had three or four reporters on that.

This rewriting of breaking news, or deadline reporting as it is called in the business, was not something I really trained for but rather something I seemed to take on instinctively. I knew about the award before I left the paper — I don’t know if my confidential agreement is still in effect, maybe some day I may tell the story, there isn’t much to tell anyway — I collected my share after I began freelancing. I think maybe it was only $50. That is more than the average newspaper award.

You’ve no doubt heard the term “award-winning journalists.” Well, in some ways, journalism awards can be a dime a dozen. There is something really wrong with you if you haven’t won awards. I had collected, jeez, I don’t know how many awards from regional and one state press association in my first two years as a journalist. And I pretty much learned about running a small weekly on my own.

Awards are nice to have. I won a couple of Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. awards, first places for my size of daily newspaper, which was below a major metro. I won environmental writer of the year from the statewide Sierra Club. I did okay in my job, in other words. The latter and the company award meant more to me personally. Regional and state press clubs are, while nice to have personally (like on a resume), more a bigger deal to the newspapers and its managers.

Back to Vulfenzblitzer, as I like to call him, I detest CNN making every other story “Breaking News.” Technically, they are correct but it cheapens the really big stories that reporters write or broadcast every day in different cities around the world. A Facebook friend of mine, a network radio reporter, is traveling around the East with Secretary of State John Kerry.  She and I met covering the court-martial of former Army Spc. Charles Graner, the alleged “ringleader” of the Abu Ghraib saga. Those are real stories and, of course, I have my Gee Dubya stories from interviewing him alone by ourselves when he was campaigning for his “Poppy” to I don’t know how many press conferences as governor and a few as president.

Really, I am not bragging as there really isn’t much to brag about. I just spent some incredible years as a journalist who was just doing his job, and then some as a freelancer. CNN’s repeated versions of “Breaking News” kind of cheapens my personal history. And I don’t like it very much, see?

Oh, “Breaking News” now about the VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs? I’ve written about it for years. I’ll save that for another day.

–30–

Shinseki gone. It’s time for the VA to heal itself.

My high hopes for Gen. Eric Shinseki taking an already overburdened and poorly-managed Department of Veterans Affairs were dashed early. Oh, I suppose I gave him more time than was warranted. But just because I continued to see the VA healthcare system imploding from the ground up didn’t mean that a total collapse had yet made it to the top of the food chain. Regardless of my poor vision of the cluster f**k of a bureaucracy that is the VA, the situation has progressed even beyond that state expressed in the old military acronym SNFAU. For those of you unfamiliar with the term — for those of you returning visitors from Zimbawe — it means “Situation Normal All F**ked Up.” Shinseki resigned today and many talking heads were a bit too timid to bury the retired four-star in their disgust. The general did, after all, have half of his foot blown off in the Vietnam War. And from the political and pundit class who might call their target of opportunity a “sonofabitch” they are sure to add “But we thank him for his service.” Such is similar to the way veterans are treated by the VA these days. Oh, not all of them, for sure. Not even the majority of them. One may be certain, though, when more than a thousand, who knows for certain even how many, maybe tens of thousands, are used in a numerical shell game when all they seek is medical treatment there remains a certainty that these veterans are not treated in the respectful manner in which even an injured dog would receive. I had erroneously believed the hiding of veterans seeking appointments was for specialty treatment. Specialists have, for at least the past 20 years I have used the VA for health care, been the scarcest of medical commodity. It is not uncommon to see residents, physician assistants or even nurse practitioners when attending specialty clinic appointments. It’s the luck of the draw. Oh, if you are sick enough or suffering from a critical injury, you’ll likely be attended to or at least overseen by a board certified specialist. It seems though, the veterans in the news are those that were seeking primary care however. That boggles my mind as bureaucratic insanity at its worst.

The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center in Houston.

The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center in Houston.

The VA bureaucracy is like this: Washington–>three separate administrations for Health, Benefits and Cemeteries–>Regions–>Regional benefit offices–>Regional-to-extra-regional systems called “VISNs” for Veterans Integrated Service Networks–>Health care networks based on a large VA hospital system (mine is the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center in Houston)–>Community-based outpatient centers–>Vet Centers–>The veterans. That’s not even including the National Cemeteries the VA oversees.

Now don’t you think at least one level somewhere in this wicked matrix could be eliminated? I had two dealings with the VA this week. One was concerning an appointment. The other relating to a complaint from an appointment last week. I had scheduled an appointment for a clinic for which I went almost 15 years without a follow-up. I will not say which one. I can understand long wait times because of the particular clinic and will say part of the reason for the failure was situational. Nevertheless, my appointment was Wednesday, 80 miles away in Houston. There is a toll-free phone number on which patients may hear their appointments as well as manage their prescriptions. I called the night before to make sure the time was what I was last told. The clinics usually send letters with appointment information at least a few weeks before. They also give automated calls within a week of the appointment during which one can confirm, cancel or reschedule. I did not receive a letter for this clinic. I do not remember receiving a call. This month I had an unusually high number of appointments in Houston. It was just how they happened to fall. When I called to check on this clinic, it was not listed. I called the “Telecare” staff in Houston and the notation they had on their computer indicated that I had cancelled the appointment. They didn’t know when or why. I had taken a day of leave, which have become scarce lately because of various medical and other problems. I was livid and wrote a very scathing letter to the department that oversees customer complaints. I didn’t hesitate to drop a few names either. I hate when I do that, but unfortunately one can only receive relatively quick response unless some kind of “enhancement” is employed. I received a call early the next morning saying the clinic responsible would be contacted. They were and I was called by the clinic. The person who called told me once again that I had cancelled the appointment by phone. I have seen some of these specialty clinic top people in Houston go directly into their best “Cover Your Ass” mode when such a problem happens. I told the person who called that what she said sounded like someone who was trying to “cover their rear ends.” I’m so nice. Well, I came away with a rescheduled appointment in two weeks. Later, I received a call from the VA Police Department in Houston. I thought, “OMG, they think I’m a nut and are going to give me the third degree!” Instead the officer was following up a complaint I left in a “suggestion box” regarding parking. I mentioned quite succinctly that the medical center had incessantly bragged as to how they have eased the parking problems at the hospital. Steps have been made including a free valet service. However, I am not comfortable with someone else driving my pickup, at least someone I don’t know. Parking lots have supposedly been expanded for patients and employees. But during my last visit I spent some 30 minutes trying to find a place where I would not have to walk too far to the hospital. I continue to have knee problems, especially when walking for a distance. Well, the officer was quite thorough explaining where parking has been increased and it was mostly on the side that I didn’t want to park. However, she said there now are shuttle vans that drive through the parking lots which will pick up patients and take them to the lobby. Apparently, these vans aren’t well advertised but if I can indeed flag one down to get it to drive me to a close entrance then this entire exercise will have been worth it. This is just one small example of how the VA can fix things when they put their minds to it. It looks as if now is the time for great minds to converge and not at just one medical center. The whole system has needed help for years. It is time to fix the VA.

VA-Shinseki thoughts drafted. For now I think about knees and trees.

My thoughts on the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary is in draft form and in the cooler. I’ve been sitting here writing for awhile and my knee has begun to bother me as it has more and more during the last couple of days. Hopefully, I will get back to my draft and publish it tomorrow.

I haven’t written a whole lot lately because I’ve gone to physical therapy several times a week around the time I usually write after work. My knee has become more painful in the last week. I was hoping surgery and some therapy would help. Something doesn’t seem right about it so my therapist said he would try to talk to my surgeon. He said it could be that I need a brace that puts less pressure on the part that is giving me trouble.

My normal routine in physical therapy has been to wire me up with a TENS-like electrical stimulus and place a heating pad on top of it. And when I say a heating pad, I mean that mother is HOT. I also have undergone some ultrasound and dry laser therapy as well as numerous leg lifts of several types and a leg lift while lying on my stomach. Usually, I have them ice down my knee for about 10 minutes before leaving. The results I have experienced have been mixed.

Now I am at a point where I wonder how long I will have to wear a brace? Is the problem I had not fixed? Will I need a knee replacement? I have already “wasted” what I consider to be four months since I first injured my knee to surgery and up to now in two weeks of physical therapy. It seems so long ago that I was hiking through the Big Thicket or the Angelina National Forest. I can’t even imagine what is in store in the future. In part, I don’t want to think about it.

If you haven’t read this blog before, then you know it is mostly for me to indulge myself in one of the main past-times I enjoy and which also has been, in the past, a living. At least I can still write. Now if only I can walk out among the pine trees again and listen to the wind whistle its song through the tree tops. That would be about all I could really ask for. That and to not end sentences with prepositions.

 

Marshall or Moon plan: Help for VA needs big fix

Each time another new scandal breaks involving shoddy health care practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs does it seem a case of deja vu arises.

That the newest VA scandal, in which patients are allegedly dying because specialty care has not come quick enough as well as the “secret lists” regarding that specialty care seems as if the scope would indicate a large-scale scandal. And since the Republican opposition is always hunting the new “Watergate” or “Benghazi,” if you will, this counts as the first major VA scandal for the Obama administration.

The truth, sad to say, is that similar albeit smaller-scale scandals have occured for years. Take for instance a personal anecdote.

From middle 2000 to the same time in 2001, I was suffering from a very painful and near disabling episode of a couple of ruptured cervical discs. I was taking several pain-numbing opiates which left me in a cloud, all the while my neck and arm pain was not abating and my left hand had nearly gone numb. I had a job with insurance then although my meds were more affordable at the time with the VA than through civilian doctors.

I later would be diagnosed with depression but at this time, the pain and the opiates were leading me down the path to Crazyville. I finally asked to see a VA neurosurgeon, though that was much more easier said than done. I was told that the Dallas area VA system — I had to ask there because the Temple (Texas) VA hospital that was my hospital said they didn’t have a neurosurgeon at the time– had but one neurosurgeon. I found that incredible to say the least. I knew for fact that Dallas, like most large VA hospitals, operate in conjunction with big medical centers and medical schools. In the case of Dallas it is the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. The Temple VA Hospital is the clinical campus for the Texas A & M University medical school. Nevertheless, I ended up going to the Dallas VA hospital where I was told it would be six months until I would get to see a neurosurgeon.

Eventually, I relented after the pressure from my boss. I saw a civilian neurosurgeon in Waco and I was able to give this doctor all the test information including a MRI, that was done by the VA. About a month after first seeing the neurosurgeon, I received a call from Dallas VA saying an spot had opened so I could see a VA neurosurgeon early. Could I possibly come to Dallas on Aug. 9? As it so happened, I was scheduled for neurosurgery in Waco on that date.

My major concern with having surgery performed by a non-VA doctor was the price. I had already wrecked my personal finances with an initial cervical spine surgery. I was not sure how I could keep from going into another fiscal black hole with what would probably be an even more expensive surgery. But I was pleasantly surprised in the financial sense at least. With the VA paying for all my expensive tests and a co-insurance taking care of added expenses, I probably spent no more than $1,000 out of pocket for my operation. That was astonishing. It was also probably the only bright light of this dismal experience. Well, that and the fact the surgery gave me a couple of years without pain and my hand no longer was numb.

By the time of my surgery I had begun covering the VA as part of my beat as a reporter. I also wrote a weekly column on veterans issues. The column was distributed internationally through The New York Times News Service. I was once visiting one of my brothers in East Texas and I happened to see a column of mine on the op/ed page of the local daily. I called it to my brother’s attention.

“Yeah, you’re getting to be a regular Cal Thomas,” my brother wisecracked. Not the comparison I would have preferred, but it was a notice nonetheless.

I began to study what was happening nationally with the VA, not just in my local hospital — where Washington had by then threatened the shuttering of our local hospital along with some others in the nation.

I found then as now, the biggest problem facing the VA — given the past and this most recent scandal — is money. Or rather the lack of a steady funding stream and the wise deployment of funding.

No doubt, I have been disappointed with Gen. Eric Shenseki and his stewardship of the VA as secretary. The former Army Chief of Staff came at a time when firm leadership and innovative thinking was needed more than ever. Unfortunately, Shenseki did not seem to offer any such qualities.

The VA under the Bush Jr. administrations tried the tired old Republican ploy of shrinking resources as a way to manage fiscally. The wars that Bush pushed the country into — the types of war in general leading to many disfiguring amputations, brain injuries and PTSD — all began taxing the VA health care systems. By the time the wars were nearly over the VA tried to offer all the services to its expanding and an existing patient populations as if it were an everyday operation. It isn’t. A true crisis has hit the VA. Years of merely funding part of the VA’s needed dollars has finally come back to bite them in the ass. The problem of long waits for care has caused some administrators to do when they are truly backed into a corner: hide the problem.

These budget problems will continue until Congress finally comes to its senses — a truly scary wish — and makes funding for all VA programa mandatory. Currently, slightly less than half of VA expenditures comes from discretionary funds from Congress. Programs such as disability pensions and other programs are mandatory but the meat on the bones for medical care requires a mandatory funding system. Once that is accomplished, the VA needs a George Marshall Plan or a man on the moon-type program to make the VA function as it should. A seamless transition of care between the military and VA should also be established.

The problems with the VA are many but are solveable.

Complaints, I have few. I have almost none. Although, I probably ate too much today, the food being free and all.

Yes, I did take advantage of one of the several offers for a free meal from veterans. I just came back from the local Golden Corral. There was a large line as always for the chain’s traditional feed bag for Veterans Day, but these folks are pros and they run people in with military precision.

The food was good. It was plentiful. Above all it was free. So the fact that I might have chomped into a chicken foot … I am not sure it was a chicken foot. It was part of some Mongolian chicken. I didn’t say anything. And I am not taking the offending piece of whatever to an attorney. I didn’t break anything. Plus, I didn’t even know the family they sat me with even though they were nice. Thus, I was able to very ably sneak the fowl food from my mouth to the plate. But heavens to Besty, Come in Betsy, that’s a big 10-4 on that 10-10 aqui!!! I had catfish, hushpuppies, shrimp, a small chunk o’ watermelon. And not to mention, though I will, a small bowl of banana pudding.

One of my brothers was in town today for a short visit. His main purpose in driving three hours was to qualify at the gun range. He retired after 36 years as a police officer. Now he must periodically shoot to keep his special retired peace officers gun permit. He passed even though it was the first time that he had tried qualifying using his fairly new Glock semi-auto 9-mm. He packed a Smith & Wesson Model 19, which is a .357 magnum revolver, for most of his years as a cop. Old school. I would have liked to try out his new Glock, but I don’t know whether the range master would let me and I didn’t ask. I am just curious how my shooting would go some several years after developing a type of palsy. Of course, if you stand at the 1-foot line a mover and shaker like me should have the ability to hit within the target area. Or get a shotgun.

But just as good, shoot, better than shooting, my brother bought lunch at Mazzio’s. I had a salad and a small pizza as he did. It was good food, free, good to see my bro too.

So on this day we honor our veterans I ate. My brother is also a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. My brother and I had originally intended to visit another brother, who is also a Navy veteran. But he was supposedly working somewhere in Louisiana. That means he sits there and watches his crew paint and tell them what to do. It keeps him occupied.

On this day, what I am calling Fat Monday, I am full. Happy Veterans Days to all those veterans out there I missed.

Just how stupid are those folks who want to shut down the gub-mint?

Imagine how it would feel having a somewhat comfortable job only to have the threat of it shutting down two or three times a year?

That is the way it has blown during this and the last fiscal year for government employees. And we aren’t just talking about so-called “bureaucrats” whom you condemn because either you have had a bad experience with a government employee or your favorite political talking head has said you should hate the government.

Unless you are completely shut away from the government, there is some arm that is there to do something for you whether you realize it or not. Who comes and gets you when you ignore warning signs in the national parks and find yourself hopelessly lost and trapped by a hostile sleuth of bears? Who takes care of your 90-year-old veteran father who you can no longer care for, nor can you afford to put him in a home? If you get an increase in your social security or veterans benefit checks, do those hikes appear magically? No, and a hint, these increases don’t come as a brainchild of Congress (although Congress and brainchild do seem oxymoronic.) Whose job is it to ensure that aircraft run about orderly in the airways and don’t continually come crashing out the sky? Who administers and rules the U.S. military in such a way that we are not always beset by a coup d’etat?

Those are just a few instances of civilians who work for the U.S. government. And there are many more, although those conservatives who teeter on the edge of anarchy paint any government as bad, bad, bad. Thankfully, that is a relatively small number of people who side on the likes of Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Congress passed the Affordable Health Care Act, the so-called “Obamacare.” Now the GOP in Congress wants to ensure it isn’t funded. The country is, roughly, split over liking or disliking Obamacare. There are polls showing though that it is gaining popularity in states where it has already been implemented. And the idiot-children who want to shut down the federal government if they don’t get their way and withhold funding for the health care act? The American public is nor so inclined. Several polls reported by the conservative-friendly Fox News say the public does not want the government shutdown, even if it means de-funding Obamacare. The Republican party itself in Congress doesn’t like Obamacare, of course, but congressional members too are split over withholding money for the government to operate in exchange for no money for Obamacare.

Many astute Republican politicians can see the writing on the wall. A shutdown of the federal government would be what my Daddy used to say was a “Mellofahess!” It lost the GOP Congress the last time a shutdown took place. And the same looks as if it might happen should the Republicans be so stupid.

The big question is: Are the Republicans as stupid as during the Clinton era? I hope not, for my sake and for that of the country.

Get me outta here! Home from the hospital

It is good to be back home after nearly a week in the Houston VA hospital.

Here, where I call home for the time being, I don’t have someone coming in every couple hours checking my blood sugar. I don’t have someone coming in three or four times a day checking my vitals. I don’t have alarms going off on my CPAP machine or from an adjacent room. I can take my medicine on my routine and not that of a nurse. Although I can’t adjust my bed to make it and me sit in an upward position, I do have a bed that is not the world’s most uncomfortable. Likewise, I don’t have an attending physician followed by a flock of some half-dozen residents taking their time feeling and handling things of mine that I would rather they not handle. Oh, and even though the VA had some really nice people who bring your meals,  I now can get a meal myself that tastes good or at least is not tasteless.

I also know that diseases such as strep and staph infections can be found just about anywhere out there in the world and they can be a pain in places worse than the butt. But hospitals these days are breeding grounds for infectious diseases. It would come as no surprise to me that this infection, which I hope is now on the down side, came from that very hospital. It seems I have to go there for something every month or perhaps twice a month.

One of my doctors said what is the best circumstance was to get the treatment I need and get out of the hospital as soon as possible. He was referring to the additional infections to which I could become exposed. I said it sounded like good advice.

So here I am. It may not be the best circumstance overall but it is the best one I can think of at the moment.

 

 

A hospital stay is no excuse, but …

No blame can be cast toward WordPress (so far) relating to my absence here in the past week.

I was in the Houston VA hospital for a form of staph/strep skin disease. The hospitalization had more to do with the concern for my Type II diabetes than the particular or potential seriousness of the illness. It, the skin concern in an area which shall remain unidentified, was also painful. I won’t digress why.

Nevertheless, I am not yet near 100 percent so I shall concentrate on getting well. After all, I have a trip to the Colorado Rockies coming 10 days away. Hopefully I can figure out what to do about the inconsistencies of this blogging platform.

Memorial Day U.S.A.: Another day in the home of the brave and the free and the …

There was no work today and so I managed to sleep until almost 10 a.m. It is amazing that I can sleep better in the morning than most anytime. I first woke just before 9 and said, “No, I need to sleep until at least 10.”

I began thinking about a bear. Maybe it has to do with that Discovery Channel series “North America.” It is a very cool show if you haven’t seen it. I believe they said it took three years to shoot. There is just fantastic footage of all kinds of creature in myriad situations in their everyday life. Things like trying to seduce a spideress. You lose you die. That’s kind of opposite the situation sometimes with women. You win, you die. Ba-rump! Sorry all of my former girlfriends who read this. Which probably total to “0,” If there are some, I am sure I will hear from her or them, or perhaps I will hear her racking a slide.

Last night I saw this report on this “green machine,” an actual vending machine that will buy your old cell phone and pay you cold cash. Well, I can’t guarantee the temperature. So I decided to take my lone ex-girlfriend cell phone to the Eco-ATM at Parkdale Mall. I didn’t know what to expect after seeing a report similar to this one on TV.

It seemed as if the people who were trying to sell their phone in the kiosk were having trouble, as did the next folks. Those next folks just jumped right on up, in front of me in line. The first group who was on the kiosk acknowledged that those other people jumped in line in front of me. I didn’t say anything until this little smart-ass girl was too busy talking on the phone and to her friend, while operating the nosy kiosk to get her job done. It was too much for her and when I asked her if she was finished after talking on her other cell phone she acts all innocent.

“He mad,” said the probable teen to her friend.  Sorry about the quote and any racial overtones it might bring, but that was the way she talked.

I told her that, “No, I’m not mad. In fact, I feel rather sorry for you with your self-esteem issues.”

“Say what?” with her breaking into laughter with her enriched friend.

Yes, I can be cruel sometimes. I will admit to that. She tells herself she didn’t break in line. Plus I told her what type of emotional issue that was bothering her. But, she was/is a total nitwit.

Finally, she got through and took back from the machine, the iPhone4 she was going to sell because the machine only offered her $99. I chuckled. Karma’s a bitch, I wanted to say to her. Glad the little witch didn’t slap me.

I didn’t get lucky with the Eco-scammer either. My phone was turned down because it didn’t have “no,” as the previous customer would say “power.”

Oh well.

Then as I came home, I turned at the underpass over I-10. The lanes go like this: One goes “U-ie,” under the underpass. The inside lane goes left under. The outside lane goes either left or straight. I always take the left-straight because I have to turn at the first right, just past the convenience store. But since I had the accident in the G-car in which I was at a similar intersection — a 90-year-old lady turned left from the outside lane into the left and hit my car which was going straight — I always give a little leeway and time before turning. The reason is because sometimes a driver, whose head might be too deeply inserted up his or her ass, might just decide to go straight from the inside lane instead the outside lane.

The latter happened today. Fortunately. I waited and only turned a little bit. The car on the inside lane decided to go straight. Thus, I “laid” quite harshly onto my horn. I hadn’t used my horn much lately. I was glad to see it worked. Afterwards, the nitwit in the other car laid down on his or her horn while speeding away for the Interstate. What a f**king stupid a**hole!

But I also reflected upon the meaning of this Memorial Day. All of those who lost their lives upon the field of battle or even training or other types of accidents have kept this country safe so the majority of our great nation can thrive. And all the jerk-offs that I experienced today? Well, I suppose some gave their all so we can have those ignorant asses who make the rest of us feel as if we have some sense.

Rest in peace all of those who died in our nation’s service.

 

 

From the VA Hospital: Maybe there’s no free lunch. But breakfast?

Today was a long day at the DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. I had a five-hour wait to see the doctor. There was nothing that could have been done with that for various personal circumstances.

My 45-minute or so visit with the neurologist went probably better than any visit in a great while. The doctor has agreed to take me off the side-effect-ridden Cymbalta and put me back on another drug I once took for the same conditions. What was even better was I got the neurologist to put me in a consultation with a neurosurgeon because of my back pain. This would be after undergoing another MRI on my back and an EMG. Now I had an EMG earlier this year or later last year. I can’t remember. That was to determine problems with my hands and fingers, which was then diagnosed as carpal tunnel. I was given two gigantic black braces for each hand, both bearing the U.S. Flag. When I don them both, I look like someone gearing up for bomb disposal, such as in the movie, “The Hurt Locker.” The braces aren’t very practical for my work as I disarm or detonate very few, if any, bombs in my daily comings and goings.

However long it takes after all the tests I will consult with the neurosurgeon as to whether I need back surgery and, if so, whether I will ask for it. I see that as a long way down the line. I have decided that I need to try and access a better physical shape and improve my health. Along with that, I also should start thinking long and hard about how to medically retire from my paying job and determine how to live on however meager the pittance might be. Time to be a vagabond, perhaps?

As ridiculously long as the day has left me, I did come away with one of those head-spinning acts of humanity.

I got some bacon and eggs, a sausage, and a biscuit along with a cup of coffee this morning at the Patriot Cafe. The cafe is the dining hall inside the huge DeBakey hospital. They have about four cashiers who have customers paying on either side of them. I went to one of those tellers and only a single customer was on the other side.

I hardly noticed the other customer on the other side except to note that she looked as if she was a VA employee and that she had a small item, a coffee perhaps. I thought I heard the cashier ask the young woman if she was paying for mine too. I was somewhat stunned but figured what I heard must have been in error. The other customer paid and walked off.

The cashier turned to me as I held my plastic in my hand. “She paid for yours,” she said. I was then truly dumb-founded. I quickly turned around and saw the generous woman as she was walking out the door. “Thank you very much,” I told her, though not very loudly as I was still wondering took place.

“Did you know her?” the cashier asked me, about the woman. “No,” I told her.

Thus ended a long day that left me wearisome and tired. The mysterious VA worker’s generosity might have been misplaced or mistaken. Or maybe she saw the tiredness in my eyes. Or maybe she was just messing with my head. Be it far from me to look good fortune in the mouth. Or anywhere else. Including in my local VA hospital