Monday, March 31, 2008

V.A. Hospital

I spent the morning wandering the ninth floor of the Portland VA Hospital today. This is my fourth visit and they all go pretty much the same. I head to the volunteer work room to log in on the computer then ride upstairs.

The entrance to the hospital is like a big waiting room. Maybe I have commented on that before. Usually guys sitting with a woman both with a blank looks on their faces as they wait to be called for some type of test or treatment. I think to myself, that maybe there is a mission there just whiling away the time for those waiting. But I press on to the med-surge floor.

Every one of the patients has a story...or no story. I clean my hands with Purel-like substance before entering each room. You are supposed to clean them when you come out too. And I do that...probably more assiduously on the exit than the entrance, especially if I shake hands. I don't offer my hand, but some like to shake hands.

I announce my name and why I am there...they usually say something like: isn't that nice. I ask them if I am interrupting them from sleeping, tv, or reading. If they don't want a visit they say, very quickly, thanks for stopping in a tone used for departures rather than welcomes. Mostly you get...sure, come on in.

Some rooms are singles and some are doubles. There are some four bed rooms, too. Those are hard because if you walk in there you are going to disturb, to some degree, everyone. But in this one case, one guy in the far end spoke up..."sure I want to talk." This was an east facing room and if you recall my earlier description, the hospital is located on Pill you are up there overlooking SW Portland. On a clear day you can see Mt. Hood from the east facing rooms. Today was one of those days. This younger (than most) man was from his own description, homeless. He had multiple arrests, he said, and sometimes lived in a group home. "I drink too much," is how he started. It seems that last night he checked himself in and they put him in a room and he was awaiting evaluation from the doc. As of 10:00 a.m. no doc had showed up so he was antsy. His clothes were thrown in the chair...his winter coat was there too, so he looked like he just got there.

He had trouble understanding why I was there. "Are you from research?" he asked...two different times. No. I allowed as how my mission was just to talk to those that did not have any visitors. I commented about the view of Mt. Hood and he responded that he didn't know anything about the mountains and that I would have to talk to the other guy (as he motioned to one of his room mates) about that. Which is what I did next.

This is not the psych ward. I am not permitted there, but this was not your usual patient.

I talked to two women patients, today, too, which was a first. Usually there is a sign on the outside door that a female patient is knock first. I stay clear of them, usually, but in this case the door was open (no sign visible) and you can only see feet under covers from the hall, but as I walked in two gals were a WWII vet and the other a more current server. They were polite and interesting.

I also talked to a Catholic chaplain in the hallway. She was wondering what I was all about. I did not have any questions for her since she talked and talked and talked. She said that one of the things she has learned to do better in her training is to listen. Well....maybe with patients, but not so much in general conversation. But hey, we all need someone to talk to. Oh did I know she was Catholic? She made it clear that she was trained in religious work, but was not eligible for ordination. I took the bait..."you must be Catholic"...says I. She smiled.

The time goes by quickly at the hospital. There are so many Korean War era vets there and a few WWII guys...but fewer and fewer as they die off. I met my first Iraq War vet today. His wife was walking him around and we did not talk much more than to say hello. Most of the guys I talk to are Vietnam era vets. And it would appear I am older than most of them. One thing they all had in a person...they liked their VA hospital experience. One guy even spoke right up. "Get your DD214 (separation papers) out Tom and put it in a safe place. That's all you need to be admitted here." I smiled and said, "Thanks, that's good to know."

To a person, I thank them for their service, which always gets a smile. What a wonderful way to leave them.

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