Today’s VA adventure encapsulated
»Van service scheduled to arrive at 8:40. Van actually arrived at 9:40.
» Report for bloodwork upon arrival. Receptionist cannot find order. Wait ten minutes and walk back up to window. Voila! The order magically appears.
» Two hours between blood and next appointment. Decide to get lunch. Choices include a desiccated salad bar, microwaved cheeseburger (possibly cooked this year), day-old pizza, a steam table full of unidentifiable mush and fresh-made subs. Opt for the sub. Discover the rolls might have been baked at some point since the Civil War. At least the Doritos were fresh.
» With still an hour to kill, I wander into the “Patriot Store,” which is about as well named as the “Patriot Act.” If I wanted to deal with self-absorbed and surly employees, and pay $80 for a $20 sweater, I’d go to Nordstrom. At least the selection would be better.
» Go to check-in for my next appointment. The VA is in the middle of a new efficiency drive, which means things are more mucked up than ever. (When the government says they’ll make things more efficient, you know things are really done for.) Instead of a relatively smooth 5 minute process, it now takes two employees 20 minutes to check me in. Of course, now I’m late for my appointment. As a thank you for my patience, I receive a “buy one, get one” coupon for bottled water… from the Patriot Store. It expires on Monday.
» Only need to wait 25 minutes to see the doctor. During that time, a nurse takes my vitals and asks probing questions. These include “Do you like my engagement ring?” and “Can you breathe?” No, I have gills like a fish. And to be perfectly honest, either her fiancee is cheating on her or honestly thinks Cracker Jack is a jewelry store.
» The meeting with the doctor goes fine. I have to admit, this VA hospital’s partnering with UMDNJ has brought some top-notch docs into the system. But the doc decides it’s time for my biannual colonoscopy – one of the little joys of Crohn’s Disease. So he asks me to wait for his secretary to schedule the procedure and walks me to her office…
» Uh, oh. The secretary is engaged in a VERY IMPORTANT CONVERSATION about her weekend plans. After a few minutes, she notices me standing outside her door and asks me to take a seat across the hall – she’ll get in trouble if somebody notices I’m standing there. I bite my tongue and take the a seat. After a few more minutes of hearing the virtues of one nightclub versus another, I walk into the office and ask, if it’s not too much of a bother, if she would kindly DO HER JOB and schedule my colonoscopy.
» Next stop, pharmacy. For those of you who’ve never been to a VA pharmacy, it’s something like a slow-motion shuttle run. First you check into the pharmacy. You then go to another counter, where a pharmacist reads your prescription off a computer screen back to you. Next, you return to the first counter, where you hand over a hand-written slip from the pharmacist. (Seriously. The pharmacist hand writes the prescription that the doctor submitted by computer. The Soviets couldn’t have come up with anything more ridiculous). You then take a seat and wait a bit for your prescription to be filled. For today, there was a new wrinkle: the check-in person decided there were too many vets in line and cakes everyone at once. Are you familiar with the term “cluster fuck?”
» My prescription needs to be kept refrigerated, but the pharmacy doesn’t have any ice. Perfectly logical, by VA standards. I return to the Patriot Store, but they’ve already closed for the weekend. I try the cafeteria. The doors are bolted – but a soda vending machine stands at the ready. I dutifully insert my dollar. The cost for a can of soda: one dollar. The machine digests my dollar bill, thinks for a moment, then displays “CANNOT MAKE CHANGE” and spits out four quarters. I insert the quarters, get the same message and four quarters. On my third attempt, I actually get a soda – and my four quarters. I leave my Patriot Store coupon as payment.
» It’s now 3:50 and the van is scheduled to pick me up at 4:30. I hang out in the main lobby, shooting the breeze. 4:30 comes, 4:30 goes, no van arrives. I consider heading over to the travel office, but decide against it. After all, it’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and the odds of finding anyone there (much less anyone who would do more than say, “Give it a few more minutes”) are somewhere between zero and none. The van finally shows at 5:30.