Hello my faithful friends and dedicated readers. I'm glad you're here today. I've got a story to update you on.
If you read my previous blog than it's no secret what happened to me when I went to my appointment on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, at the Dermatology Clinic at the James A Haley VA Hospital in Tampa. If you haven't read that blog, you should do that now before reading any further. For the rest of you, here is what I hope is the "rest of the story".
When I got home on Tuesday, I had a migraine that didn't finally go away until I woke up this morning. It took a dose of imitrex on Wednesday night to finally be rid of it. It was no doubt brought upon by my encounter with Stanley Robinson, LPN. My Dermatology appointment had been rescheduled for yesterday at 1:40 and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frightened just thinking about it. I dreaded going back there just knowing there was the chance that I'd run into Stanley Robinson, LPN, once again. I knew I was obsessing but I couldn't help myself. I kept replaying the events of Tuesday over and over in my head. Could I have avoided that situation somehow? Was there something different I should have done? What did I do wrong? I was getting more and more anxious as the morning wore on.
There was a phone call. Isn't there always? The phone rang at 9:47 yesterday. I know the exact time because I checked my call history. Thank goodness for modern technology, right? It was Patient Advocate Patty calling to ask me to meet her and the "Director of Nursing" before my Dermatology appointment. She said that the "Director" was anxious to meet me to discuss what had happened on Tuesday. My regular followers know that I no longer drive due to the number of medications I'm on. Couple that with the fact that concentration is a huge problem for me. I have the concentration of a two year old. If I told you how long it's taken me to write just these few paragraphs you probably wouldn't believe me. That makes me a HUGE road hazard. I told Patty that my wife was driving me to the hospital that afternoon and I wasn't sure when she would be getting home from work or what time we'd be leaving our house. We agreed it was best to meet after I saw the doctor.
Oh yes ... you read it right, my friends. Terri took the afternoon off to take me to the VA Hospital. All I can say is thank goodness for my wife. She is truly a blessing in my life. You've never met my wife, have you? For starters, Terri and I both grew up in Chicago. Okay. That's not entirely true. Terri calls herself a Chicagoan. Have you ever heard of Mount Prospect, Illinois? You have if you are familiar with Chicago suburbs. For the rest of you, unless you know someone who lives there or you're from there, it's a bet I'm willing to take that most of you have never heard of Mount Prospect. For all intents and purposes, most Chicago suburbanites will say they are "Chicagoans". I am a true Chicagoan. I was conceived there, born there, raised there and stayed there until that day on October 5, 1976, when I boarded the plane to leave for Fort McClellan, Alabama, for WAC basic training. BUT ... this is about Terri, not me. I just felt obligated to explain the difference between a "real" Chicagoan versus a "faux" Chicagoan. (Terri is going to kill me when she reads this "explanation" .... she WAS born in the city of Chicago.)
Terri is protective when it comes to those she loves and cares about. She was furious when she heard what happened to me on Tuesday. I was almost relieved that she wasn't there. If she had seen how I was treated by Stanley Robinson, LPN, I have no doubt she'd have attempted to tear him to pieces. Seriously. Terri hates a bully. Stanley Robinson, LPN, is a schoolyard bully. That's the best way I can think of to describe him. On the other hand, I knew that between Rocco and Terri, no one was going to hurt me yesterday. Rocco doesn't bite but Terri does. I'm glad Terri is on my side. Still as the morning wore on, I was getting more and more anxious. Terri got home from work, changed into civilian clothes (she works for the Pasco County Fire Department) and off we went with Rocco at my side.
We arrived early for my appointment (it's a habit of mine developed in the Army) and when I checked in to the Dermatology Clinic I noticed an immediate change in attitude. The same woman who checked me in Tuesday, checked me in on Thursday but her demeanor was completely different. She actually smiled at me and looked me directly in the eyes. When I said to her, "Please mark my chart "No males", she immediately responded with, "Yes, no problemo!". Okay, I can handle the Spanish. I understand simple Spanish. I told her we'd be waiting outside and she said, "Yes, yes" and out the door we walked. A couple minutes later, a female nurse walked outside and told us that "Robin" (the PA I was there to see) had just started her 1:20 appointment and would be with us next. Terri and I just looked at each other. I told Terri I'd never been treated this well before. It was apparent that someone had actually talked to the staff in this clinic about my complaint. I was pleasantly surprised.
Ten minutes later, another female nurse came out to get me and escorted Terri and I back to the exam room to see PA Robin. PA Robin was, as always, amazing. She brought in Dr Baldwin (a female) to consult and together they took care of my issue like the professionals they are. I've never had a problem with PA Robin. She's always taken spectacular care of me and Rocco likes her, too.
After I was seen and treated, we were escorted to the front desk to make a follow-up appointment. I was shocked at the VIP treatment. This was the first time I been treated with such respect by all the staff in the Dermatology Clinic. Once that was completed, we were escorted to the conference room where our meeting was to take place with the Patient Advocate.
Terri and I walked in and I was a little taken aback to see three women in the room. I was expecting Patty the Patient Advocate and the "Director of Nursing". I was introduced to Loreen Doloresco, MN, RN, NEA-BC, Associate Director, Patient Care/Nursing Services and Pamela H. Smith, MSN, ARNP, Women Veterans Program Manager. I introduced them to Terri, "my wife" and none of them blinked an eye. They welcomed her like a long lost friend.
Once again I was asked to tell the story of what happened to me on Tuesday and I did that. Yes, it was upsetting but I had Terri with me and the ever present Rocco at my side. They got to see first hand how Rocco responds to me when I get upset. Rocco jumped up in my lap and began to kiss away my tears and lick my face as if to say, "It's okay, Mom. I'm here for you." They asked Terri what he was doing because I had stopped speaking and Terri explained it to them.
I can't tell you how much time Terri and I spent with those three women but I assure you it was quality time and it was productive. They didn't just hear me. They listened. They were interested in what I had to say. Not only that, they were interested in what my wife had to say. Terri told them that the kind of day I have at the hospital effects her, too, and she's right. She doesn't know which Wendi she is coming home to after I've been to the VA Hospital. If I've had a "good" day, she's going to have a good night. If I've had a day like Tuesday, she's going to spend the next few days trying to calm me down, pull me out of a hole, she's going to try to reach into my darkness to try to find me, she's going to stand by with a box of kleenex. She knows she can't touch me when I get like that because I can't tolerate it. The slightest touch and I'm jumping clear out of my skin. She has to speak before coming up behind me so I'm not screaming in fear.
They promised me that corrective action would be taken and judging from the way I was treated when I walked in the door of the Dermatology Clinic, I believe them. They seemed sincere in wanting to rectify the situation. For that they have my thanks and gratitude. It may just start in one clinic but hopefully, with expanded training, it will spread throughout not just "my" VA Hospital, but other VA Hospitals across the Country. No Veteran should suffer the humiliation that I did last Tuesday be they male or female.
The Women Veterans Program Manager told me about lunchtime seminars she is trying to get started at the Tampa VA Hospital. I've promised her that I will help her spread the word. Her goal is to get 100 female Vets to show up for the seminars. I'll start attending. Will you? Let's show her there are 100 women Vets in the Tampa area willing to listen and learn about programs that can help and educate us. Stay tuned to this blog for further updates. I believe the next one will be held in August or September. I'll announce it here and on the new VAWATCHDOG Facebook page.
Let me tell you about the power behind those three women. When we met, they repeatedly mentioned that they'd read my blog. I had given the Patient Advocate, Patty, one of my business cards and it lists the URL's to this blog and to VA Watchdog Today dot Org. I was impressed that they had taken the time to read what I had written. How many of my blogs they have read I can't say, but they've definitely read the blog prior to this. AND ... they took action for me.
Do you remember my rant about the cancellation of all my psychology appointments? Someone with the power to change things at the VA read it. I got a phone call this week regarding those cancellations. I now have appointments with my psychologist scheduled every week through the end of October. In my heart I know that came from my meeting with those three incredible women. Thanks to all of you for making that happen. You've probably saved my life. I am sincerely grateful to you for making that happen.
I've learned some valuable lessons from all this, my friends. In my case the system worked. I had a dear friend with me on Tuesday who witnessed my humiliation. She refused to let the offender get away with it and forced me to go see the Patient Advocate. I had the good sense to get the offenders name. Without that, there's nothing the Patient Advocate can do for you. The next time you have a run-in with a VA employee, it's okay to get angry. Don't scream and yell. That won't do any good. As difficult as it is, do your very best to remain as outwardly calm as you can. I was in a barely controlled rage, I admit it, but somehow managed to hang in there long enough to get his name. Stanley Robinson, LPN. Take that name and go straight to the Patient Advocate. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Don't scream at the Patient Advocates. They are there to help you. The more information you can provide to the Patient Advocate, the better off you are. If you are complaining to the Patient Advocates at the Tampa VA Hospital than you are damn lucky. They care. They really do. Just look at how quickly they acted on my case. Look how quickly changes were made. Look how quickly I got all those psychology appointments. Yes, they care, Friends, they really do. They went to bat for me and I got help. Does the Patient Advocate help in all places and in all cases? Probably not. I'm sure you all have your "horror" stories to tell me. Where are those of you with success stories? I know you're out there. I can't be the only person in the history of the VA that the Patient Advocates have helped. Speak up. Let me hear from others the Patient Advocates have helped. Let's give these hard working folks some credit that I know they deserve. Email your stories to me and I'll publish them here in this blog.
I'm also blessed to have a wife who stands by me no matter what. Thank you, Terri. You are my angel and I love you. I don't tell you that enough. For those of you out there lucky enough to have a spouse or significant other as wonderful as mine, take the time to say "thank you" and "I love you". I don't do that often enough. Through thick and thin, Terri is always there for me. It hasn't been easy for her. Those of you with PTSD know how difficult we can make it for our spouses. If you're a spouse, you know first hand how rough it is living with one of "us". I owe a lot to Terri and every day that she stands at my side is another day that I am grateful for. Even though I have my days that I can't stand to be touched; I don't want to be next to her; or she frightens me just by walking up behind me, I know that she loves me and she's here to support me through the best of times and the worst of times. I am loved.
Until the next time .....