On March 30, 2011, my husband awoke to severe pain in the neck. Knowing he is a heart patient who suffered a TIA in December 2008, Phil phoned his primary care doctor at Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital. For those who are not aware, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini-stroke. A TIA is considered a warning sign that a true stroke may be about to happen. Time is crucial to receive medical care. Phil phoned the TAPS line to make an appointment to see his primary care doctor. When the nurse at the VA hospital returned his call, he listened to the symptoms, telling my husband he would receive a return call from the doctor within twenty-four hours. “Twenty-four hours,” I replied. “If you are having a TIA there may not be 24 hours We’re going to E-R!”
Arriving at E-R of the VA Hospital, I noticed a sign, “No cell phones permitted in this area.” I turned my cell phone off. We entered the emergency area, standing in line awaiting a simple nod from someone acknowledging our presence. We watched the employee answer the telephone, hang it up, answer another telephone, while placing it on the desk to answer her personal cell phone. Upon answering her personal cell, she motioned that she wasn’t assisting with patients and walked away. We crossed over to the other line, now filled with two people who arrived after we did. Finally we were serviced and my husband told them he was a heart patient and had a TIA in 2008. His neck was causing excruciating pain and he wanted to make certain he wasn’t having a stroke. Almost immediately, my husband’s vitals were checked. Within 30 minutes he was moved back to the E-R area, examination room 10.
For two-and-a- half hours we sat in the room. No one came to check on his condition. In the corridor my husband listened to the nurses and assistants chattering away about their lives, partying, marriage, while answering their cell phones and surfing on the Internet. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran with PTSD so patience isn’t something he tolerates well. After waiting for such a long time, I approached these people, greeting them diplomatically. “Could you please give me an estimate of how much longer it will be before my husband sees a doctor?”
Hannah, the young, attractive blonde dressed in orange scrubs glanced up from her laptop screen. “We have a lot of patients. Many are sicker than your husband, so we don’t know how long it will be.”
“You do realize my husband could be having another TIA. I am certain when the doctor arrives he will recommend an X-ray, and then we’ll have to continue the wait. Strokes demand a quick response.”
The nurse shrugged her shoulders. “We looked at his records, but I don’t know how much longer it will be.”
“Why is it always such a long waiting game every time we come here?” I asked. “My husband could be having a stroke.”
Recognizing I was getting nowhere, I turned back to my husband’s examination room. The nurse replied, “You can always go somewhere else…”
I spun on my heel, approached the blonde again and replied… “That is the wrong thing to say to someone, especially a Veteran. When the USA needed them, they did not say they could go somewhere else to avoid war…How dare you say that to a veteran. Perhaps you should go somewhere else to work…”
Arriving back at my husband’s room, I was so angry I was shaking. Within two minutes a doctor entered the room, introducing himself as Dr. Edward O’Bryan.” He examined my husband, testing his balance, doing all the necessary tests to determine he was not having a stroke. The diagnosis was neck strain. A shot was given, prescriptions written and a request for an X-ray was completed. While speaking with the doctor, I demanded to know the blonde nurse’s name. “Hannah,” was the reply. Dr. O’Bryan was 100% professional with a great bedside manner. I explained my concerns to him, along with the words expressed by the nurse. He apologized. I let him know I was taking notes, would write a letter to my Congressional Representative, and would write additional stories about this experience. He nodded. Later, I spoke with a nursing supervisor who reassured me that the nurse in question had been reprimanded.
Isn’t it a shame that sometimes it takes a bit of assertiveness to get the necessary care at a VA Hospital. When our veterans went to war the expression, “Hurry up and wait,” became a cliché. In 2011, it is not just a cliché, but appears to be a standard operating procedure at Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital. It is a pity that veterans are treated in such a way. Whatever happened to the promises made? Our veterans fight wars to protect our freedom. I find it inconceivable that when they need a little TLC and examinations they are told to “Go somewhere else.” Our Veterans deserve better treatment and medical care. They made our country proud, not a disgrace!