Overhead fluorescent lights flicker. The sad, old and hobbled security guard is laughable. He briefly glances my way as the elevator doors open.
I take a number from the glossy plastic dispenser. 117. Above it there’s a sign, “You are not just a number! You are an important person to us! Please take a number and have a seat and someone will be with you momentarily.” It can’t hear my growling at it.
There’s 4 spaces for receptionists and 1 person behind one of the desks for 20 something vets in the waiting room. She’s overweight and too bubbly. It makes me want to slap her repeatedly until that smirk comes off her face.
She’s wearing bright, shiny polished dogtags around her neck. They aren’t government issued. The issued ones are dull and pliable from all the sweat soaked days of mind numbing torture spent on the rolling tides of the Pacific Ocean. The shine taken and given to the deep indigo of the Indian Ocean. Held onto tightly while traversing the Strait of Hormuz.
I hate this waiting room and all the old, cane riddled seniors that provide the perfect snapshot of my future. There’s a line for coffee. Go figure.
10 minutes early and still waiting 10 minutes after. “Hurry up and wait” isn’t only for active duty, or so it would seem.
The nurse is friendly enough. He’s obviously never been in the service. Something in the shoulders when a person moves, the look in their eyes tells you they’re prior military. He doesn’t have any of the signs.
He’s curious about where I’ve been, what I used to do, how I got my injuries. We talk about the Vietnam vets briefly and I tell him I’m glad they’re finally getting the respect and help they deserve. He doesn’t respond to it.
The doctor eventually walks in and goes straight to his chair to type on the computer. Dude doesn’t even look up at me, doesn’t engage me personally. He just starts asking about my health and what’s wrong. He tells me I “have to” Get my flu shot every year and blood work done. I listen to him and sit there for a few minutes, gathering my thoughts on what I’m about to say to him.
“Last year was the first year in I don’t know how many that I didn’t get the flu shot. I didn’t get sick last year. Now you’re telling me I have to be poked and prodded and brooded over yet again by someone who so obviously cares. Yourself, I mean to say. Well,” I say as I stand up, “You can go fuck yourself. How about that?” I put on my jacket and walked out.
For anyone who’s reading this and doesn’t know me personally, I hate the VA. They’re a terrible institution that employs people that get jaded over time and turn into uncaring, unpassionate people that don’t remember that we vets almost always have no choice.
I am not a number.