I rolled into the hospital through the back door. The front entrance was closed for construction and signs directed people to enter through an alternate front entry a few hundred feet to the north. The front parking lots were jammed close to the entrances and so if I wanted to park in front, I had to do it a few hundred yards south. There weren’t many people way out there and so I would have room to extend my ramp to drive my motorized chair out of the van. The idea of handicapped parking spaces at the VA is a joke, hell, everybody is handicapped and has the placards and license plates to prove it. I decided I didn’t want to park in the south forty and then roll all the way to the north side, only to have to wind my way through the halls back south to the middle of the huge building where the ER facility is. I drove around the complex and parked in back in the employee lot, scarfing a handicapped spot a mere fifty feet from the hospital rear entrance. Distance from car to the ER was a quarter of what doing it the “right” way would entail.
I scooted up the ramp and through the magic doors that opened as they sensed my intention to enter. I rolled up the hallway and had to wait on a couple of orderlies having a conference over a gurney. There was a pillow on which sat a tray they were using as a coffee table. A file folder was open next to the tray and they chattered about something in the file and sipped their coffee. Then I realized there was a guy on the gurney. He was an older man, skin tallow and papery with bristles of whisker poking through the parchment surface of his face. His eyes were closed and he had an oxygen tube with the nose jets pointing over his cheek in the general direction of his right eye. “Nice coffee table you got there.” I said. The orderlies looked at me and shrugged synchronously.
“He don’t care.” said one of them.
“Is he dead?” I asked.
The other orderly looked at the old guy, leaning in on him. He stood up straight again. “Not yet, I guess.” They both took a sip of coffee and went back to their discussion. I navigated around them and headed off to the ER thinking of the number of times I’d been given anesthesia and wondering how many cups of coffee had been balanced on my body. Or forehead. Wondered if I’d been used as a doorstop. I thought of a number of different things my inert body could have been used for as I got into the queue at the ER check-in. I was lucky; there were only four other people ahead of me in line. I calculated that my turn would come in about ten minutes, based on previous experiences.
Someone was poking me. I startled awake realizing that I’d dropped off while waiting in line. I rolled to the window and the reception lady handed me a form. “Fill this out.” she said. I took the clipboard from her and used the pen tied to it with a piece of string to fill in the blanks. I read: ‘Name’ and began to write. “Name?” asked the lady behind the counter. I told her. Then this repeated itself for the rest of the form. My name, address, phone number, last four digits of my social security number and a brief reason for my visit. Each of my answers she typed into a screen form that duplicated the one I was filling out. When we were done I handed back the clipboard and she separated my form without looking at it and tossed it into a box on the counter marked ‘Intake.’ Then she asked for my VA card. She swiped it on a machine and the computer popped up all of the same information I just filled out and she typed.
“So,” I said blandly, “Why don’t you just ask for the card first and use it to fill out the screen form, and then print a copy of that to throw in your little box?”
“That’s not the procedure.” she replied. “You’re here for a breathing treatment.” I nodded. “It will be a while before we can get to that. Do you have any errands you might want to run downtown, maybe get a bite to eat?”
“Uh, no. I was just hoping to get in and out. The ER doc told me day before yesterday to come in and get one. I told him I had a nebulizer at home and could do it myself, but he said policy said I needed to come in for it.”
“Well, it’s going to be a few hours. Just go ahead and take a seat and we’ll get to you when we can, but there are a few actual emergencies we need to deal with first. She made the word emergency into four syllables with a tone that said I was wasting her time.
“Hey, I didn’t want to come here.” I said. “I was happy to do this myself at home and save the 40 minute drive over. Tell you what, I’m just gonna go home and do this myself like I wanted in the first place.”
“Well, wait a minute. You can’t just leave.” she said.
“Well, you need to fill out an AMA form if you’re going to leave.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a form that says you are leaving against doctor’s orders. Your condition is serious and you shouldn’t be abandoning the the expert care we’re offering you.”
“You’re shitting me, right?”
“No, ..I mean…”
“Jesus, you give me attitude because a breathing treatment is low priority, and here you are facing all these real ee-mur-jen-sees, telling me it will be hours before you can fit me in. If my condition is so damn serious, shouldn’t I be an ee-mur-jen-see too so I don’t suffocate here in the waiting room? Christ, lady. I am NOT signing a liability waiver. I’m just gonna go home and give myself the care I need and you can have my spot for your critical cases. Hell, I could have done a breathing treatment in the time we’ve just spent talking.”
“But… you have to be seen or sign the form. It’s policy!”
“Wow,” I said, ” I just realized I’m double parked. I have to get out there and put money in the meter.” I told her swinging my scooter around. As I rolled up the hallway I looked back to see her rubbing her hands on her face as though washing without water. No doubt I’d just overloaded her circuits. The orderlies and the gurney with the unconscious old man were gone as I scooted out the back door. At my van, a federal cop was circling it. I pushed the button on the remote and the side door opened and the ramp folded out. I zipped past him and rolled into the van. My scooter clicked into its hold-down and I pressed the door button on the remote and the van folded up and slid the door closed. I sat in the driver’s seat and put the key in the ignition.
“Excuse me, Sir.” said the cop. “Are you an employee? I don’t see a parking sticker.”
“No.” I said, cranking over the starter.
“You’re not allowed to park here. This lot is for employees.” he said.
“Wow. It’s a good thing I’m leaving, huh?” I said, smiling pleasantly. I popped the van in reverse and backed out of the slot.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Sir.” he said returning my smile. I waved and drove off and the officer walked the line of cars checking for permits. Thinking about it, I knew there wasn’t any signs that indicated restricted parking. Except for handicapped parking which requires a state permit that is. I wondered if he might be new and his boss was screwing with him by sending him off to find parking violators where there couldn’t be any. Of course, it could be that the restriction on parking was kept secret as a matter of national security. The feds are totally enthralled with secret security.
When I got home, my wife asked “How did it go?”
“I have no idea.” I replied.