We walked out of the single story building and into the sun. Well, I was rolling and my friend was walking. He’d come along for the ride out of curiosity because he wanted to see the place I was considering for hospice care when the end was nigh. So far I was in favor of going the distance at home, but my doctor had talked me into at least checking out the VA care center. Cancer was eating me alive, and because it was presumed that my involvement in the military was responsible for my condition, the VA was, by law, saddled with my care and treatment. I hummed along in my scooter as my friend spoke to me. “That was really depressing.” he said.
“Actually, I thought it wasn’t that bad. It a nice place, the people seem to be kind and considerate. It’s majorly different than one of the hospital rooms in the main building.” It was true. The care center didn’t look all that much like a medical facility. There was color on the walls, potted trees and flowers, and each of the rooms contained a nice bed, a desk, a chest of drawers and a few comfortable chairs. It was kind of homey with large windows that allowed lots of light, and there were both blinds and curtains that allowed the resident to darken things down. Each of the rooms we peeked into had an assortment of personal items brought from home that gave the rooms a personalized look. They had their own meal preparation facility, okay, kitchen, and the lunch it turned out was pretty darned good, with a menu of selections to choose from. I’d been an inpatient at the man hospital and I survived on food my wife brought from home or picked up at fast food places. I found the hospital food to be inedible. It was bland, smelled bad, didn’t look very good and tasted worse than the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and C-rations I’d consumed. My wife said she thought that the pudding they had for dessert wasn’t too bad; she ate a few of them but I didn’t. The only edible thing they served me was their apple and cranapple juices. Even the milk was 2% which to me wasn’t milk at all. Truth be told, I augmented the 3% milk from the grocery store with cream to jack up the milkfat content. Bear in mind that when I was a kid, the quart bottles of milk dropped off by the local dairy milkman had about three inches of cream that had separated after bottling. We had to shake the milk before using it. Now THAT was milk! As a joke, a friend of mine served me a glass of half and half expecting me to be grossed out. The prank turned around when I drained it and asked for more, along with asking where he bought his milk because I wanted to shop there. So it was important to me that it was a whole different kettle of fish when it came to food at the care center. Actually, if food were the only consideration, I think I might have claimed a room and stayed.
“Yeah, the food was okay.” my friend acknowledged. But the people ..they were pretty depressing.”
“Dude, those people are all dying. You don’t expect the place to be like an Elk’s club party do you?”
“Well, of course not. But they all wear hats and patches that commemorate their old military units and they all seem to relive their time in the military over and over again. Well, that and talk about how awful it is to have a black democratic president ruining the country. Don’t they watch news or read the papers? Obama’s done a damn good job considering how badly congress has hog tied everything. But the military stuff, over and over and over. I don’t think I could take hanging out there.”
“You gotta understand that these guys are dying.” I repeated. “They are weak and vulnerable and see the world as having left them behind as it zips along. When these guys were in the service they we alive and strong and vital. They were courageous and committed. Sharing their experiences, reliving them as you say, is a way to remember that they had a time when they were, in their own perspective, somebody. They take strength from the pride they feel from serving the country.” I said.
“Do you feel like that?” asked my friend.
“To some extent I do. But I take more pleasure in my recollections of the years just before I went into the army and the decade after it as much as I do my term of enlistment. I am proud of my service in the war, not so much when I was here in the states. Remember, I am naturally authority incompatible. Authority has its way and I have mine, and strongly believe mine is better. But I like my life between age 15 and 30 the best, and that includes my time in the service obviously.”
“So, it wouldn’t bug you to it around and listen to these guys tell their tales over and over again?”
“Make me crazier than a shithouse rat. But then, I’m not shopping for the immediate future here. I can see and feel myself deteriorate. That’s a really lousy feeling by the way, and I know that the time is approaching and faster than I’d like, that I won’t be able to do a lot for myself. I mean, right now I can control the pain I feel to a certain extent, but my pain med dosage has been rising to maintain my ability to function.”
“You mean keep comfortable. Right?”
“Oh, hell no. I’m always feeling some degree of pain and enough that it’s uncomfortable. I could take more pain meds, but I would have to trade off mental clarity and physical function. Plus that, it would tighten the tolerance cycle.” I replied.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, as you take drugs, the body gets used to them, and you have to take more drugs to achieve the same level of result. Sort of, the more you take, the more you have to take. So I’m trying to stretch the cycle as much as I can by taking the least amount of morphine I can without falling into the fetal position and whimpering between screams. I’ve ended up under-medicated a few times and it’s a fricken horror show. The thing is, I have had pain incidents that have been so bad it’s like I haven’t taken any pain meds at all. The pain goes into overdrive or something. That tells me I ain’t seen nothin’ yet, and so I want to have a low enough tolerance that I can control the pain without overdosing.”
“Jesus. I had no idea it was like that.” said my friend.
“It sucks to have cancer, that’s for sure. Every doctor has told me that unless something like pneumonia kills me, it’s possible for me to have so much pain they can’t do anything about it and so they’d have to put me into a coma. Look, let’s talk about something else.”
“I think I get it more now. Why those guys talk about their military time. It helps distract them from the reality of their situation while thinking about what to them were the good times.” my friend opined.
“Those guys are well aware of their situation. But they are also the type to think talking about it isn’t dignified. Or helpful. They consider it whining and inflicting their troubles on their friends.”
“So, how come you talk about it?” he said, grinning.
“Because you asked, moron.” I replied.
“Yeah, there’s that I suppose. So what do you think? Is this a viable option for you? Are you seriously considering living in that place?”
“Never say never. But there’s a lot to think about here. It depends on how much of a strain my situation puts on my wife. It also has financial ramifications. My wife depends on my income to live. If I go into a VA care center then they cut the money right off because it’s paying for my care. If they’re paying for it by hosting me, then they won’t be paying me anymore. It’s financially more accommodating for my wife if I stay home till the end and her survivor benefits can be applied for. ”
“Oh. Well, still. It seems to me it would be better to stay at home just to keep from having to constantly relive everyone’s grab for a testosterone moment.”
“Who’s to say when the time comes that I won’t be grabbing for my own testosterone moments?”
“Sorry, I can’t see it. You rarely talk about your time in the military.”
“You obviously don’t read my blog.” I snipped. My friend looked at me sideways.
“Well, uh. I’m usually pretty busy.”
“No sweat, I’m not offended. A lot of people don’t read my blog. According to that site monitoring company, Alexa, my blog is 8.1 millionth in ranking.” I said.
“Ouch. That’s gotta feel a bit humiliating.”
“Not as humiliating as the websites that are 10 millionth in rank or worse. At least I have a good daily turnover.” I said. “Anyway, it was good to get chance to see and spend the morning at the care center. Now I know exactly what I’d be dealing with if I chose to go there.”
“But you’re thinking it’s unlikely?” he asked.
“Probably, yeah. I’m a lot more interested in what happens to my wife. If it looks like it’s too hard on her to have me around, I’d be looking at an institutional solution. But frankly, I think I’d be more likely to keep the income and put myself in one of the retirement home situations with expanded care. Between Medicare and the VA, I could still come up with enough money that she could get along; not high on the hog or anything. Not that we live that way now. But it would be bit tighter. Once I do go, the house and my van are automatically paid for because I took out payoff insurance.”
“Yeah, and I have a few small insurance policies that would leave her with a little breathing room while she applies for survivor benefits.” I said.
“I have to say that the VA center was a lot better than I expected. I’ve read some horror stories.” said my friend.
“Damn contractors. Privatized contracted care. They think of the bottom like and the patients aren’t considered in the equation. One of the biggest problems, one of the biggest reasons that our country has a lot of its problems is because of the damn contractors. They cost a ton more than governmental organizations and none of them have any humanity to them whether it’s mercenaries of care givers. But America, it’s it’s infinite lack of wisdom wants smaller government and wants to cut departmental spending. So they close down a lot of the departmental functions and hire out to have the work done and the bill goes to the general budget. Voila! The departments are spending less money and are shrinking. Except they’re not. they’re getting bigger and way more costly than the entities they replaced. And like I said, they don’t care about anything but the bottom line. On top of that, they go in without many of the guidelines, worker qualifications and oversight that government departments had. There’s your lousy care centers, right there.”
“I didn’t know that. Well, I guess maybe I did somewhere in the back of my head, but it’s not exactly something I’d sit around thinking about.” said my friend.
“Well, it also takes a certain perspective to see it too. A lot of people are realizing the problems with contracting and the effective monopolies they create. That’s why you have books like Maddow’s Drift and others. David Cay Johnston. There’s a lot of information but American’s don’t like to read much anymore. They want the instant answers from Google.” I said.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Pffft. What’s right with it? They get a raw conclusion with none of the reasons, none of the nuances it takes to understand the conclusions. Google and the like is actually making us more and more ignorant all the time. Never mind that much of what you see on Google –or the rest of the net isn’t true. There are snippets and hints, but no rel facts. That is, unless you spent a few days Googling away and reading and thinking about what you’re reading. Study, my friend, is the key to knowledge. Without study, information can be misleading. It’s better to be completely ignorant of a given topic that to be sorely misinformed about it. Think about that. Tht’s the reason I’m out here touring care facilities and not looking them up online.”
“So, what now my studious compadre?” asked my friend.
“Time to go see what Google thinks of the VA care center.” I replied, grinning.