Friday's Weekend Column
Appointment at the VA

by James Glaser
October 3, 2003

Every time I have to go to the Minneapolis Veterans Hospital, I learn all over again why I live in Northern Minnesota. Thursday morning I got up at 12:30 am to head down to the VA. I leave that early because it is about 250 miles and I want to miss rush hour on the freeway.

The last thirty miles to the hospital is on interstate 94 and right through downtown Minneapolis. Well as soon as I got on that four lane. I knew that I wasn't missing rush hour. It was bumper to bumper. Some times we would just sit there and not move. There was a construction zone up ahead where everything went down to two lanes.

City people don't signal their lane changes and if you leave a space between you and the car in front, some one sneaks in. Traffic was moving along at about five miles per hour, but everyone had to speed up and then stop. It took almost two hours to travel those last thirty miles.

The Minneapolis VA is huge and has a parking for thousands of cars. Some lots are for employees, some are for handicapped. I know that I walked a mile from where I parked to the clinic at the far end of the hospital. Actually I kind of ran because I had coffee before I hit the freeway.

The hospital is always filled. There is a line of guys stretching down the hall waiting for their turn at Blood Drawing. I have been there and had over a hundred ahead of me. After living in the woods all of these years that place seems like total chaos, but the staff always treat you with respect and are happy they can help you.

Every clinic has its own waiting room and you know that it could take some time to get seen. You see veterans with one leg or no legs. You see them with one arm or blind. You see veterans that look a hundred years old and some that look like they should still be in high school.

It doesn't matter what war you were in, you are all veterans and everyone there learned how to wait, while in the service. Depending on the clinic, some are in pain and don't want to talk, in others there are groups of guys talking up a storm and as one guy gets called in another takes his place. Sometimes the cookie lady comes along and gives out cookies and coffee.

Lots of veterans and civilians volunteer out at the hospital because it is so understaffed. I met one disabled WW 2 vet that has over 40,000 volunteer hours in at the Veterans Hospital. He said he could never do as much as some of the veterans had done for our country. Giving your life for America is a great sacrifice, but I think giving your eyes and a leg and an arm is a greater one.

When you start talking to a person that has lost their legs and a hand and they have a positive attitude about life, it makes you think how really good life has been to you. Few times have I seen veterans yell and scream about their care. One time a guy was standing at the counter, banging his artificial leg, and yelling, "you think it grew back?" The government had canceled his disability with no notice. The people at the counter have nothing to do with compensation, but they knew that they were the face of the VA and this guy needed to vent his frustration out on somebody.

So I spent the day at the "Vets" and got done right in the middle of rush hour. Thousands of people at the hospital, more stop lights in one day than I see in a year up north, and hours of driving with drivers that are total jerks. About a hundred and fifty miles north I stopped the car along the shore of a lake and watched some little waves wash the sand. I skipped some stones and could feel my body start to relax.

I got home about nine and told Charmaine I was beat and needed to go to bed. I drove eight hours to and from the city and over four hours during the thirty mile drive to the hospital and back to the edge of the metropolitan area.

When I was about thirty miles from home I stopped the truck in the Avenue of the Pines, just south of Squaw Lake. This is a area set aside with some pretty big pines that the state thins and keeps kind of park like. It was quiet. No wind, no sound as the birds were all in bed. I walked around a bit and got my back stretched out. I drove those last thirty miles home alone. No other car or truck on the road and all I had to watch out for were the deer.

People in the cities can make more money than up here and they do have entertainment close at hand, but I wouldn't trade places with them for any reason. Quiet solitude is entertainment. The stars out on a clear night are entertaining as are the deer (when they aren't eating my flowers or garden) and all the small animals running around getting ready for winter.

Each and every time I have to go to the cities, I have to get myself psyched up to go down there. Then there is the period of readjustment when I get back. Those trips exhaust me, but they also make me feel just great about being home.

Up here, any noise is my noise, people wave to you as they pass by in a car or stop to talk if they are walking. Because it is so quiet, you can hear the smallest bird sing and the squirrels yelling at each other. Did you know that squirrels are constantly making little noises?

Yes, that trip to the cities really pooped me out, but I feel great today. The sun is just coming up and I can see it hitting to tops of the trees. Everything is in bright fall color. I just watched a bird land on a branch outside my window and three bright red maple leaves floated down. I am going to get a lot done today, but first I will plant next years garlic, check out the yard for pre-snow clean up and tie up the raspberry plants.

I will then spend hours in the workshop sanding an Eagle I am working on and get tired out. To keep down the dust I will sit out on the workshop deck and hand sand. Quiet work, for a quiet place.

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