“You’re what?” I asked, horrified.
“I’ll be gone for four months starting in November. The army sent me a notice informing me that I had volunteered for another rotation in Afghanistan.” said my doctor.
“They volunteered you?”
“Yes. They do that. This is the third time I’ve been volunteered. I enlisted in the Army Reserve so that I could serve my country yet still be able to be home to care for my family. I expected to spend some time –they said five weeks a year– on active duty along with a number of weekends but this uh, disagreement in the Gulf changed the agreement. My wife is just thrilled.”
“I can’t imagine you’re too happy about it either.” I said.
“You can’t imagine.” he said with a sigh.
“I thought we were supposedly ramping things down over there. How is it that they’re still yanking people back who’ve already done their part? In your case more than once.”
“Stop Loss they call it. I think it’s just a way to spread the misery.”
“Yeah, keep rotating so that people over there don’t get to the point they join the other side.” I said. I was almost being sarcastic. “It’s not like our government has been making an effort to keep our country something one wants to defend. Hey! Go get killed so we can shut the government down and spend all of our time trying to screw over the president instead of doing our jobs. Just because we don’t honor our oaths doesn’t mean you soldiers get to violate yours. Now get out there and protect and defend.”
“You aren’t alone in your observations…” said my doctor.
“Well, the way I see it, I figure they owe it to those of us who suffer today because of our defending and protecting to do what it is we defended and protected. ” I said.
“I happen to think that when the country goes to war that the politicians who approve the action should be out there leading the troops.”
“Yeah, let John Boehner and Mitch McConnell defuse a few IEDs. Right now, all they want to defuse is IUDs.” I quipped. My doctor started laughing.
“I’m going to pass that along. That was good.” he said.
“So, what happens to those of us who are in treatment? They’re taking our doctors away from us and that pretty much leaves us hanging. I really don’t want to have to see my previous doc. I mean, I suppose he’s an okay guy and all, but I’m not too comfortable with him. Since I started seeing you he doesn’t even look at me when we pass each other, even if I say hello he ignores me.”
“Well, you may have to see him while I’m gone. I haven’t heard that they’re bringing in someone else. They might though, I just don’t know.”
“So, if I’m going to have that Intercostal thing done then I need to decide before you leave, right?”
“Well, another doctor could make the arrangements.”
“You said you were going to check and see if the VA had an agreement with a local specialist –a civvie. See? That’s the sort of thing you do, my other doc would just refer me to Seattle and let them figure it out. Then I’m over there in a motel for however long it takes. I’d rather cringe and suffer in my own home than Long Stay America in Tukwilla.”
“Well, your daughter lives over there, you’d get a chance to see her. There’s that.” said my doctor.
“See. That’s one of the differences right there. You not only know I have a daughter, you know where she is. That’s not been the case with my other doctor-patient relationships. I’m not just a blurred face and a computer entry to you. You are literally My Doctor. You’re my friend as well.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“Well, best care somewhere.” I said, mutilating the VA catch phrase. “So, will you be where there’s fighting? Wait, that was a stupid question. Obviously. Nowhere over there is really safe.”
“Well, I do stay in a green zone. It’s supposedly more protected but there have been incidents.”
“Really? Like what?”
“We’re not supposed to get into those.”
“Ah.” I said, switching gears. “I’ve been using about a third more morphine. That leaves me relying on more of the immediate release tablets and running a little short on the sustained action tablets. Do they make a, uh, twenty milligram tablet?” I asked.
“Let’s take a look at the magic pharmacy book of What They Have.” he said pulling his keyboard in front of him. “Let’s see. Uhhhh, no! They don’t. I can give you fifteen milligrams or sixty milligrams. If you’re taking four of the fifteens we can go ahead and turn that into a single tablet.”
“Hrmmm. I’d rather keep it in the smaller increments. That way if I don’t hurt as much on this or that day I can take less. It’s my theory about tolerance. If I take the least amount needed to do the job, then my body won’t get tolerant as quickly and make me have to use even more of it.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that. Sixty milligrams really isn’t that much, considering. I have a lot of patients who’re taking 120 milligrams sustained every twelve hours, some more than that. I want you to take what you need. There’s no reason for you to be more uncomfortable than you have to. The damage I see in your pictures is pretty considerable and you’re using much less morphine than other patients with similar damage. Don’t be macho and don’t worry that you’ll get too used to the drugs. We have lots of tricks up our sleeve for pain control. So quit trying so hard to manage your use. Manage your pain instead.”
“Yeah, okay. I guess.”
“I’m going to increase the number of tablets so you won’t feel you need to ration yourself. Are you going to pick these up or do you want me to have them mailed out to you?”
“Well, it’s four thirty so you should go ahead and have them mailed. They’ve closed up down at the pharmacy by now.” I said.
“Oh, no. There’s someone there twenty four hours.” said doc.
“Yeah, I know. But in order to get a prescription after regular hours I have to go check in to ER. It gets to be a pain in the butt. I’ll just use the immediate releases I have and the mail will bring the new prescription day after tomorrow.”
“That’s right. You do need to go through ER. Okay, mail it is.” he said. “And it’s only two weeks, but I’m going to bring you back in two weeks. We’ll get the intercostal block set up before I go.” He held out his hand and I shook it.
“Thanks doctor. I appreciate it. I’ll see you on Halloween.”
“Now there’s a scary thought. ”
“No, your going to Afghanistan is the scary thought.”
“Showing my wife my orders was the really scary thought. Brrrrrr.”
I shook his hand again and wheeled around and out of his office. I smiled for him but I was anything but happy. My doctor is one of the really good doctors and I’m fortunate to have him. It bugs me to think of him in Afghanistan. More than my doctor, he’s a friend and I don’t like thinking of him in a dangerous situation. He’s literally a kind and sweet guy who cares about his family, friends and his patients and I’m proud to know him. I respect that he gives so much. As a doctor he’s doing service to the country and the nation’s soldiers and veterans. To be doing it in a war zone, over and over, makes him a hero in my book. He’s giving a lot more than I gave. The guy could have retired from the reserve a decade ago but he stays in, well aware of the situation in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet most people just take men like him for granted, Lord knows that’s how the military sees him. Just another body for the rotations. Stop Loss.
If the so called public servants elected to office had his level of skill in their vocation and his level of dedication and generosity, his level of empathy and tolerance, I believe our Congress and Senate would enjoy an eighty to ninety percent satisfaction rating instead of the five lousy percent they do now.