Looks can be deceiving. The George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City appears dated, gloomy and war-torn. Our visually oriented society may not take the time to look beyond a shabby interior. For most, if it’s not polished and new, it simply doesn’t register as having worth.
The mere mention of the VA makes some of my friends wince. Clearly, many feel it’s the worst place imaginable to send a loved one for a hospital stay.
I’m glad I am able to disabuse them of this belief. I met some of the finest medical providers in the valley and witnessed an unparalleled commitment and passion to patient care. Many of the doctors and nurses working at the VA are vets and care deeply for all veterans. The VA medical system has vastly improved its services over the past decade.
I learned this and more recently while my father spent a week in the medical intensive care unit and recovery for a serious gastro-intestinal issue. The moment we walked into the emergency room, my 85-year-old father received immediate and extraordinary care from excellent health care providers. Every doctor, nurse, technician, and aide introduced him- or herself daily and shook my father’s hand, thanking him for his service to our country.
While he was in MICU a group of traveling, uniformed military physicians observing protocol stopped to chat with my dad and patiently listened to his Vietnam War stories. Again, he was thanked for his service, and my dad beamed as he feebly saluted these fine men and women.
One highlight among many was during his last day. My dad, who suffers with terrible insomnia like most people with dementia, had finally dozed off and missed the gift from an obedient service dog, a uniformed Scotty who stopped by his room and on command saluted my dad with his little paw.
That dog visited every room on the second floor and saluted every vet. Amazing grace.
My father has Alzheimer’s and when he was moved to a room down the hall from MICU for recovery, he was never left alone because of the fall risk. The VA provided health techs and nurses to be with him around the clock. This among many benefits allowed my sister and I to sleep at home, knowing he was in good hands.
Also during that week I learned that numerous patients rarely if ever receive visits from their friends or family. Many are homeless and disenfranchised from their communities and family life. It was heart-wrenching to observe.
I take solace knowing they receive the same compassionate, exemplary care as my father. Something is terribly wrong with a country that allows vets to be homeless. If not for the VA, many of these wounded and troubled souls would wander without receiving care or a kind word.
I make it a point to mention the VA whenever I can. I am happy to be a lone voice in the wilderness singing well-deserved praises. It is vitally important to understand what’s on the inside despite what you see on the outside. Put your trust in the VA as I did, and see for yourself the true meaning of the Hippocratic Oath in practice.
Jody Plant is a retired librarian and full time visual artist in Salt Lake City.
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