Come visit a VA Clinic

I never know what I’ll encounter when I enter the Albuquerque VA hospital where I get my health care. But it inevitably uplifts. Take this morning’s visit, where I came with a question about my meds.

Once in the lobby I spied two dogs, a full collie and a miniature, both beautifully groomed, leashed to a pair of older women smiling as proudly as the dogs’ tails swished, both draped in red white and blue bunting, each bearing VA logos down the side. Strongly temped to stop and pet one or the other, I resisted, assuming they were service dogs not to be touched, and instead made my way to the open pharmacy waiting area.

“Go ahead and pet him,” smiled the woman holding the leash of the full collie, on my way out thirty minutes later, seeing I wanted to do just that. “He’s a therapy dog. He volunteers with me to visit patients. He likes vets.” So I stooped to stroke first his cheek, then his flank,” reassured by his wagging tail and the pressure of his full face against my petting hand. “These visits mean as much to him as to the patients,” she said proudly. And I enjoyed a similar exchange with the smaller dog and the woman leashed to him

As usual I found this visit gratifying. My pharmacy issue was easily resolved thanks to an attentive pharmacologist who knew what had to be done; a good-humored waiting-room conversation; a brief stop with the area receptionist, whom I thanked for her help scheduling a needed eye-exam during a visit a few days earlier.

Best was a parking lot exchange with a fellow vet, waiting behind the wheel of his vehicle for a spot to open up in the handicap section. “I’m just five or so cars down,” I stopped to tell him. “I’m on my way out if you want to wait.”

“Thanks, friend,” he replied, pointing to the car nearest where we stood. “But that guy’s about to pull out.”

Anywhere else that would have ended the conversation, but not here. “How’re you getting along?” he asked, his eyes focused on my cane. He was obviously at least as old as I. On the passenger side sat a woman younger enough to be a daughter or maybe a niece. She too smiled.

“Good,” I said. “What about you? You getting along okay?”

“Well enough, considering it all,” he answered, his good cheer confirmed by the sparkle in his eyes,

“How old?” I asked–a frequent question among us oldsters there.

“Ninety,” he replied, the smile holding firm, the pride evident. “World War II.”

“Good for you,” I said. “There aren’t enough of you guys left.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“Eighty-two,” I said. “Korea. We’re the old timers now. You’re the legends. Our role models. God bless you!” It’s a salutation I reserve only for moments like this.

Whereupon he stretched his right hand out the window to clasp mine firmly. “And you as well,” he said, with his enduring smile. “Take good care.”

The exchange had taken a few moments, but the driver in the car behind his showed no sign of impatience. There was no annoyed honk. We who make our way up and down the lanes of the parking lot in search of a spot there never get impatient. Fellow vets understand. We know.

Here’s the VA lesson. Little is bigger than big. The one upstages the many. When it’s time for the bell to toll, it resounds for each alone more solemnly than any politician’s declaration can, than any pundit’s smug generalization, than every self-righteous slogan imaginable. A single handshake says it all. Come visit a VA clinic and see for yourself.

Paul Zolbrod


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