A new VA hospital in Orange, Texas? Man, give me some of that smoke!

Well, I’m back. Not that I went anywhere. I see I haven’t posted since last week. When I was last here Tropical Storm Bill was causing havoc with its torrents of rain. But alas, I have returned to the keyboard and summer has returned to Southeast Texas with its muggy days and afternoon bouts of here and there thunderstorms.

Having not written in a few days I do realize that many items of importance have gone unmentioned by the proprietor. To that, I must say, missed it. Missed that. Missed that as well!

Something just caught my attention on the local news though.

The story by KFDM Channel 6 right here in Beaumont, Texas, got me to wondering what some of the folks over in Orange County (Texas) have been  smoking?

I mean, the 70s were my heyday and that was supposed to be a time when folks were smoking a lot of different things. I was there, but I don’t remember much of it … being so long ago. With all these places allowing marijuana, like Colorado, I don’t know much what to say. I figured I would never see marijuana legal. Of course, it is only half-assed legal. It’s illegal, according to federal law. But a bunch of different local laws were passed making pot legal for everything to medicinal reasons to recreational. I think all places should just cover their bases and make it all legal. The federal government too!

But in this story on Channel 6 story by Lauren Huet, one wonders if she must have run into a bunch of folks over in Orange, between Beaumont and Louisiana, who are smoking something mighty potent.

The story this evening tells how locals over in Orange including the young county judge seem to think they can get the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build an inpatient hospital there. That very idealistic. Very very idealistic.

I tell you why. Not so many years ago the VA went through the “CARES” years. And those years weren’t anything like the Care Bears. The GOP presidential years in the early “Oughts” (2000) could have been called the “Don’t CARES Bears.” Too bad I didn’t think of that back then.

CARES was an acronym for a VA-equivalent of the military Base Closing and Realignment Commission. CARES (Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services) had an “independent” commission of some distinguished individuals such as its chairman Everett Alvarez. “Ev” as he is known, was a Navy fighter-bomber pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam. The Navy commander spent almost nine years in the notorious prison camp sarcastically-known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

There were a number of VA hospitals targeted by CARES for closure ranging from New York state’s Canadaigua VA facility to the Waco VA Hospital, now named after Waco-born Messman Doris “Dorie” Miller. Miller a black cook was one if not the first U.S. Navy hero of WWII. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroics during the Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbor. There has been a large admiration society over the years for Miller who believe he should have been a Medal of Honor recipient. However, his race is generally recognized as having kept him from that award.

When the news broke that the VA planned to close the Waco VA hospital, a cry to action quickly happened. A local committee made up of Waco leaders was formed. The then-Congressman for the area Chet Edwards, D-Waco, was on the rise in the Democratic party. He had been considered as a running mate for President Obama. Edwards position and his fervor to help veterans gave the CARES bunch and the VA quite a fight. Eventually the hospital was made a center for mentally ill vets.

The report tonight on Channel 6 mentioned that the U.S. House member representing Orange, Rep. Brian Babin-R, Woodville, had mentioned his willingness to help with the move to get a VA Hospital in Orange. The fact that the Baptist Hospital-Orange shut its doors as an inpatient center, the ER is still open, appears to present an opportunity for the VA to serve what was is estimated 6,000 veterans in Orange County and others in Southeast Texas.

An inpatient VA hospital in Orange, Texas, is nice as a pipe dream. The Strategic Plan for the VA through 2020 isn’t big, it isn’t even small, on more inpatient facilities. The department is still out to close long-established facilities.

I can understand an idealistic young war veteran elected as Orange County Judge, Brint Carlton, believing he can move heaven, earth and the U.S. Government. Congressman Babin is relatively new as a U.S. House member. However, he has been in politics for many years as a small-town mayor and running unsuccessfully for Congress.

Babin’s name became known in a negative light during his unsuccessful campaign against then U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett. As the National Journal reported during Babin’s election campaign to Congress, his Democratic opponent brought up:

” … Babin’s role in a notorious Texas campaign finance scandal, noting that he received $37,000 in illegal corporate money from his friend, (Orange) businessman Peter Cloeren, when he made his first House bid in 1996. Cloeren claimed the idea came from GOP Rep. Tom DeLay—the former House majority leader—but DeLay denied any involvement. Cloeren eventually pleaded guilty to campaign violations and paid a fine of $200,000, while the Federal Election Commission dismissed his claim that DeLay was responsible.

As for Babin, the FEC gave him a pass, ordering him to pay $30,000 in civil fines. The official who let him off the hook was Lois Lerner, the embattled former IRS official who recently was accused of giving extra scrutiny to tea-party groups.”

So Rep. Babin should know better, if no one else around Orange doesn’t. The odds on Orange being even considered for an outpatient facility — with a fairly large one 25 miles away in Beaumont and a huge inpatient hospital in Houston– seem pretty long-range.

Smoke up! Orange would have better luck getting pot legalized.

Flag pins only go fabric deep

Look at the photo below:

President Obama mugs it up with newly commissioned Coast Guard officers on May 20 at the USCG Academy in New London, Conn.

President Obama mugs it up with newly commissioned Coast Guard officers on May 20 at the USCG Academy in New London, Conn. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

What do you see besides new Coast Guard ensigns having what appears to be fun poses with their Commander-in-Chief upon the graduation of the 2015 class at the USCG Academy in New London, Conn. Well yes, there’s that. But what else?

Why no!! It can’t be!! OMG, IT IS!!!! If you look at the President’s left lapel, you will see, an American flag pin. (Well, I had to reduce the photo a bit, but trust me, go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/photogallery/may-2015-photo-day and look for yourself.) Heavens to Betsy! What’s the world coming to?

I saw a discussion on a relative’s Facebook page lamenting that ABC News anchors and those from other networks don’t wear flag pins. People also complained it was just as that Obama guy who doesn’t wear an American flag pin. Well, what’s with his photo taken last week?

If you look through most photos of Obama on the White House Web site when he is wearing a coat, you will find he wears a flag lapel pin.

Looking through the various comments about ABC having some new order not to wear flag pins, I found that President Richard Nixon was the first president to wear a flag pin. The practice kind of waned until George W. Bush started wearing them again. Whether that is true I don’t know. I have read on snopes.com and numerous news stories that ABC had a policy saying on-air people shouldn’t wear symbols such as American flags in order to show impartiality. Apparently, this had been a policy for decades, not after 9/11 or recently, as some claim. Other networks  reportedly have no such policy.

There were a couple of other comments on this particular Facebook post that I feel a need to address. First is that something is “happening to America.” Some say they want their “country back.” Another site said that Obama and network anchors not wearing flag pins were a “slap in the face to all veterans.” I remarked on this post that I am a veteran and it doesn’t bother me in the least.

Symbols, I said, are a sign of patriotism and should not be confused with actually “being a patriot.”

This Memorial Day is supposed to remember all those who died in service of their country. It isn’t a day to remember us of something that never existed. You want a real mess? How about the late 1960s and particular during the Vietnam War? And not only the war but its aftermath. I feel I must constantly remind people that when I served in the Navy, from 1974 to 1978, folks never came up and said to a military member: “Thank you for your service.” Some might say “F*** you very much.” I never had that happen. I did have people, mostly my age, who recoiled from you because you were in uniform or was sporting a military haircut. I’m not saying everyone was like that, thankfully.

I was lucky to find some wonderful civilian people, especially in Gulfport, Miss. and San Diego, when I served there in the 1970s. I still do find good people who sincerely appreciate our service. This Memorial Day I think of those people as well as those who sacrificed all for their country. It doesn’t matter whether you fly a flag, wear a flag lapel or have a flag decal or ribbon on your car. Those things don’t matter. It’s what’s in one’s heart. Like John Prine sings:

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A cliche will likely prove right in two weeks

We have all heard the old cliche about how things being worse before they get better. Perhaps that is what will be soon happening to me.

By no means am I saying I want my situation worse so I suppose I should explain.

For several months now, I have been a virtual prisoner in my own abode. The pinnacle of these months have been taking a trip, mostly by Greyhound, to Houston to see a doctor at the VA Hospital. I mentioned one such trip yesterday. Fortunately, most were better than this week’s trip.

I have been on light duty, phone duty mostly, at work. I spent about six months doing that last year with a torn meniscus and surgery to repair it. Then came physical therapy for a month. Hopefully, this episode won’t going to take that long. I hope.

What has had me tied down for a short time this year has been — ta da — my left, second toe. Is that not appropriate for a blog named eightfeetdeep?

As I have mentioned before I have Type II diabetes. Some time ago I found a sore on the bottom of that toe. It, the toe, and the two adjacent ones are afflicted with hammertoe. You can read all about it in the link. As a result, the toe keeps being hammered when walking. With diabetes, such ulcerations tend to heal very slowly, if not ever.

I have been seeing a podiatrist for a couple of months now. He suggested, and I tend to agree, that hammertoe surgery is called for. This is a rather long and technical look at the operation written by a podiatrist. If you know a little of the basics of medical terminology, then it isn’t all that difficult. But basically, I will have some bones cut on in the toe and they should heal within a couple of weeks. I will probably need a week off after being “surged.” Isn’t that a better term than operated upon? No? Who cares what you think?

My podiatrist said he has done “thousands” of these surgeries and that they only take 10-to-15 minutes. Of course, there is the waiting around all morning, plus recovery, then figuring out how the hell I am getting home from Houston. I will figure that out and I better do so pretty damn quick because my surgery is in two weeks.

Oh my. Well, like I said. It will be worse before it gets better. Damned cliche!

People yell. Who cares?

These days I am still not running on all cylinders. Well, my truck isn’t. Perhaps I am not doing so as well.

I went for a routine, more or less, appointment yesterday with the neurologist at the Houston VA Hospital. I have developed a routine of traveling to the hospital by Greyhound bus rather than in my own vehicle. It can get expensive.

Luckily, the Houston Metro Rail runs near the Texas Medical Center. I can stop at one of the transit centers and catch the 1 bus to the VA Hospital. And vice versa.

The trip went okay, I made it back home in time to watch “Justified.” I did have one of those flashes of anger that kind upset my day.

I was at the Downtown Transit Center in Houston, just about a block from the Greyhound station. I was walking on the platform, going nowhere in particular, “just waitin’ on a train,” as Jimmie (the Yodeling Brakeman) Rodgers wrote and sang. All of a sudden, this loud voice boomed in my ear.

“HEY,” It was if this guy with the loud voice had a bullhorn in his hand.

When I turned around I saw this muscular black guy in his 30s or 40s — I will explain why I make that distinction in a moment. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because I was certainly puzzled.

“You were in my way and I hollered ’cause I wanted you to move,” said the guy, walking with a woman, not at all a beauty queen.

“You didn’t need to yell, I’m not deaf,” I said, yelling, not nearly as loudly as he.

I have no idea why this guy felt he needed to holler at me. His face couldn’t have been no more than a foot behind my ear. Catching a glance at this guy who was then standing on the platform with his companion, it seemed as if he was either angry or was perhaps just an angry guy.

Some guys are just mad or get mad at the drop of a hat. I was like that once, a whole lot like that, for a good while. It was a manifestation of depression, a psychiatrist told me, when I realized after spinal surgery that I was seriously depressed. “Depression is anger turned inside out,” the doctor said. Maybe so, but what is an umbrella turned inside out? Uh, don’t know that one either.

The wandering loud guy may have just had a bad day. Or a bad life. Maybe he just doesn’t like white people.

Race relations is a rather complicated matter in my case. I grew up in East Texas which is more like the Old South than the West. Hell, my great-grandfather fought in the Confederate Army. If you think about it, that’s pretty recent, relatively speaking. As I grew up, went to the Navy and worked with and became friends with people of all colors and ethnic groups, race became a bit less complicated.

But I also have realized some folks don’t like you because of your color. Wow! It took me a good part of my life, to discover a truth that millions others grew up knowing first hand. Stupid ass honky!

I don’t go around thinking about whether this person or that likes me or detests me. Well, maybe with some people. I have definitely been wrong about what people think. But here I am near 60. So I think: Why should I care?

It’s like the expression on a coffee cup my sister-in-law, Barbara, gave me upon graduating college some 35 years ago. I loved the sentiment then and still love it. It said: “Excuse me. You have obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit.”

There it is.

 

Thoughts from inside the noise maker

Yesterday I took that long, noisy trip inside the MRI machine at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. The best I can recall it was the seventh MRI I have had. All but two of those tests were for my problematic cervical spine. I was just reviewing my 60 pages of radiological reports on the “premium” VA website. Not all those pages deal with MRI reports. There are a ton of X-rays of knees, chest and feet. These results did give notice of previous bilateral C-spine problems that were treated by different surgeons on two different occasions and who worked from the back and front of the neck. The latter MRI picture exhibited:

 “Evidence of status post ACDF with bone graft and anterior fusion with endplate and screws from C5 through C7.”

That is to say the results of my last surgery was seen by the radiologist and it showed what is known as a “Anterior Cervical Diskectomy with Fusion (ACDF). That procedure was accomplished by removing a sliver of hip bone and using it to fuse with a titanium strip fastened with an endplate and screws from the fifth to the seventh cervical vertebrae.

The test is pretty simple. You are stuck inside a tube as an electromagnetic machine presents its cacophony of loud, erratic-sounding noises while it slowly pictures different levels of your inner-workings.

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A word of warning: If you experience a mental flameout while listening to all 33 minutes of this video, don’t blame me.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I imagine most others do as well at some point in time, just why this damn machine is so loud. Never mind that one might picture the different noises, which can sound like anything from a washing machine about to spin out of control to an alarm warning a nuclear meltdown. Rather than try to explain, I found an excellent article from Caltech than lays out the MRI mechanics as well as the why of the loud noises. This column from the American TInnitus Association goes more into the noise aspect and how there are some not-so-loud MRIs out there.

This trip into the tube is to look for possible reasons why I have developed a subset of new pain from my ol’ C-spine. Hopefully,  the radiology report might explain why I also suffer occasional tingling in my right bicep. I also hope that whatever it is causing the problems isn’t something too terribly dramatic. These days I would rather look for drama in a novel or on TV.

Happy 40 and 30: Celebrating the old, the older and the odd.

This year marks my 40th anniversary for graduating from high school. I could say the same for marking 40 years ago that I joined the Navy. On the other hand, I received my bachelor of arts in communication 30 years ago this year. That’s a lot of anniversaries for one year.

In a year that saw physical difficulty with a ba for a major portion of 2014, it sadly also saw two of my four brothers pass away within two months of each other. That is the way it goes sometimes, triumph and tragedy, or vice versa. The last time I saw my Dad was at my college graduation. I suppose that if there is a time when it is right for someone to last see one another, perhaps that time should be on the upswing.

But I sit here not to sound a melancholy note. Nor do I write here to praise one milestone as opposed to another.

The fact is I have been a bit more involved in the planning for my high school reunion than for that of my college reunion. The reasons include simple arithmetic. There were between 80-to-100 students in my high school graduating class. I wouldn’t venture a guess for the numbers who graduated with my college class. I do know that that during the spring semester of 1984, when I graduated from college, saw a record enrollment that has since been broken once or twice. About 11,800 enrolled during that semester at Stephen F. Austin State University. The college is tucked away among the “pine curtain” of East Texas. “Home of virgin pines and tall women,” we would joke.

I have a fairly simple role in my high school reunion next month. It is our entry in the parade. Yes, parade. Survivors of my class get to ride on a trailer of some sort pulled by some mean machine. My friends involved in the locomotion aspects are in the forest products industry and so the ride itself doesn’t seem like a difficult part to pull off. The hard part is to find out where we should meet our chariot and how should it be decorated. Oh well, it’s a small town. We will likely figure that all out by the time the parade actually takes place.

As for my college reunion, I have no immediate plans. The reasons for that is that my college friends seldom were in the same graduating classes. Most of these friends were younger than I was. I doubt many of my friends will attend festivities at SFA. There are varying reasons for that as well including wives, kids, and/or living in far away places like Tokyo.

My college days were not what you called traditional, to be honest. The fact that I was in the Navy for four years before going to college is a big factor. It wasn’t so much I was “an older guy.” I also got a job before starting school as a firefighter. All but two of my final semesters were spent working. I also didn’t worry much, if any, about finances. That was fairly odd for most of my college friends. Tuition was cheap back then. I received a stipend of around $200 a month from the GI Bill for those semesters I was enrolled. I didn’t do much in the way of summer semesters. It would have been too difficult to manage working and going to school every day, which basically entailed one’s day in summer school all five days of the week. I wasn’t a typical firefighter either, for that matter. Most guys got off work and would go to a second or perhaps even a third job. I worked one summer off-duty, before school had even started. It involved moving mobile homes and getting dirty, not exactly in that order. When I decided to take a week’s vacation, I recruited my best friend, Waldo. I finally left this part-time mess. Waldo, who wasn’t exactly working in his master’s in speech field, stayed on for a little while.

Even the days moving mobile homes was something to look back upon with, while not exactly fondness, amused memories.

All in all, I could not have asked for a better college experience. Oh, my final semester was sheer hedonism. I wasn’t working and we, as was the saying back then, partied like the proverbial big dog! There are lots of differences between looking backward at high school and taking the same long look at college. Especially when you come from a small town, school is literally growing up. It’s tribal. Although I haven’t seen some of my high school friends since we graduated 40 years ago, we are bonded by years, age and place.

But for college, it will always be about walking out into the field on a hazy, warm December morning and hearing Canned Tuna playing on the gigantic Klipsch stereo speakers a friend brought over for the weekend-long party. Or that girl who, no matter what happened between us, will always be your friend. And of course, throw in a couple of fires some that were to be celebrated and others to be extinguished …

Giving blogging the finger and my sleeping health

Live from tablet world! I don’t yet have a wireless keyboard to, hopefully, make this more blog-like. I have also not figured out how to get my WordPress platform–if that is the correct terminology–working on this particular Android operating system. It is a real pain in the ass to train my opposable thumbs to work on this quote-unquote “virtual keyboard.”

So what does a quote-unquote blogger do? Hellafino. I have to later shower, eat and drive uptown to a private medical facility for a sleep study. It has been about 14 years after I covered my own sleep study at a VA-DOD center out near Fort Hood and discovered that, yeah, I indeed have sleep apnea. My picture was on PI above the fold and everything.

A look at the computer chip in my head CPAP machine by the VA revealed I wasn’t getting as much sleep as was thought during the pregnant pauses in my breathing during night-night. An echocardiogram recently showed I have a slightly enlarged heart. The heart doc at the VA said it can be a byproduct of sleep apnea. So we will look and see eventually. If you see me writing about a stress test some later, you too will know. I kind of wonder about the VA sending me to a local private mini-hospital and that happening PDQ. Is it me or the scandal nationwide that this sudden burst of medicine is about?

My fingers or finger, one, index, right, is about to give out. So it”s off to hopefully a good night’s sleep, with a touch of weird science.

 

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.