At the end of March, 2011, I had moved to St. Louis and wanted to update my address with the Veteran’s Administration. As I opened the door of the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, I entered the Twilight Zone. I told my representatives in Washington D.C. about my experience.
1 April 2011
Dear Congressman Todd Akin;
Dear Senator Roy Blunt;
Dear Senator Claire McCaskill;
A few days ago, I moved to St, Louis from Utah to be closer to my family. I also needed to consolidate my medical needs with the Veteran’s Administration. My initial appointment was yesterday with Dr. N. at the Jefferson Barracks VAMC. Things were running late and patients were stacked up in the hallway. It seems a staff meeting was underway about a new system (PAC?) designed to assign more resources to each veteran.
As Dr. N. called me into her office, she was very agitated/hyper. As part of my transfer from the Utah VA system, certain basics needed to be covered, including a blood test and an EKG. My appointment was at 1000, so I had not eaten anything, nor taken my morning medications since 2200 the night before. When the interview resumed, The doctor asked many routine questions, including my mental state. I have had mental illness all my life, and told her at that moment I was depressed. She asked if I had had suicidal thoughts, and I routinely answered I had, including the night before. Their was no intent to my thoughts, nor any plan, but she didn’t wait for an explanation and “pushed the panic button.” My EKG showed atrial fibrillation, which increased her anxiety, but which is normal for me at least since 1984.
As requested prior to my appointment, I had composed a list of medications and concerns. My heart problems and mental state were addressed on that list, but she had been too agitated to read it.
She ordered that I be sent to the emergency room – which is located at the John Cochran VAMC downtown. I was to be transported by ambulance. A young lady who had been shuffling patients about, was assigned to give me oxygen and start an IV drip. S – – – – tried twice to get the IV started in my right arm, but missed once, and the second one “blew,” filling the top of my wrist with blood. She tried a third time in my left hand and connected. I admit I had a bit of a panic attack.
I had to wait for the ambulance because none had been called for as requested, but it did finally arrive. By now, I had been able to take my medications, which calmed me down.
The paramedics calmed me down even further by telling me I was not the only patient to have been given this same unnecessary excitement. They said Dr. N. had the reputation for being “crazy.” They pointed out that “S” had not installed the oxygen properly as it had not been turned on. She had also failed to turn on my IV drip.
It took some time for a doctor to examine me at John Cochran. While I was waiting, an antique x-ray machine was wheeled over to the hallway in the general position of my room. A board was placed behind my back, and the entire room was irradiated. This had to be done twice, as the first attempt failed. I wear glasses, and hope they did not magnify the rays into my eyes. My face burns.
When Dr. J. examined me, he promptly gave me a medical discharge, saying I did not need to be there.
It took even longer for a psychiatrist to arrive. He also discharged me in short order. The paperwork was not as quick, and I just barely made the last shuttle bus that took me to my car at Jefferson Barracks. We got there at 1700.
The VA equipment and methods in St. Louis are old, understaffed, and scary. I have trouble seeing me returning. (Perhaps you could find ways to either fund it adequately, or find other options?)
I am so new to this area, I have no idea where to turn for a doctor or a clinic or a hospital. What can I do, Senator? My medications are running out, so I am quite anxious what to do next. Can your office guide me?
Thank you for your time and your consideration.
PS. The paperwork I brought with me, and the forms I filled out for my first visit, clearly stated I am allergic to penicillin. I also told them orally. My admission bracelet says, “Allergy? No.”
During my stops, I asked for a new VA ADVANCE DIRECTIVE FORM 10-0137. Not one person knew what I was talking about. I finally downloaded a copy off the Internet.
On 8 April 2011, I returned to have my prescriptions reviewed and filled. NO prescriptions have been filled, and I am out, or running out, of almost all my medications.
I tried to get an appointment today (18 April), and found my old address is still in the system!!
I’ve been trying since 31 March to get a live person to answer the phone and help me. Not possible.
Thank you for the phone call from your office yesterday following up on my horrible experiences at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. I filled out and mailed back the Privacy Act Release Form immediately.
My concern about the VAMC goes beyond my own nightmare. I am very concerned that other veterans are not subjected to any more x-rays from the old machine in the emergency room of the John Cochran facility. I have no idea why x-rays were ordered for me, or who ordered them. I was exposed twice because the first x-ray didn’t work properly. A room-mate was also x-rayed, so I had three doses in a very short time span. The machine does not focus its beam, but fills the entire room for each exposure. I am ashamed to admit I was too shaken by the entire experience to exercise my patient’s rights and refuse to have that machine used.
It should not take a special investigation to be created to verify the existence of this dangerous x-ray equipment. One person could make a simple visit. On behalf of other veteran’s safety, I hope you follow-up on this.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Remember, my sole reason for visiting the ST Louis VAMC was to change my address!