Monday, October 13, 2008

Betsy In The Wind


Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD –


Betsy was all over the road, swaying in the wind, handling like a bucking bronc or a rear-tine roto-tiller as we headed north to the Hot Springs VA hospital. All of the rez and western South Dakota was encased in a cold drizzle, with grey, low-hanging clouds, out of which everything appeared as a ghostly mist, appropriate for this time of year of pumpkins, yellowing cottonwood leaves, and approaching Halloween. A half foot of snow is predicted tonight in the Black Hills.

As I sat in the reclining chair in the dental office, Marcia, a hygienist of twenty years, sounding like she could have originally been from Minnesota, rambled off quick, perky, routine, automatic lines in a cheery sing-song as she cleaned my teeth, with every sentence she produced ending with, ‘for ya’, as in, ‘Ok. Let’s get some more water in there for ya’, and, ‘Ok. Let’s get a little more of that plaque off those molars for ya.’

Three Teddy Bears sat atop a high shelf, looking out the window at chimneys, exhaust vents, and the roof of an adjacent wing of the hospital. Stick-on monarch butterflies adorned the plastic panel of one the six florescent ceiling fixtures. There was nothing else to look at for three quarters of an hour but the inside of my eyelids as Marcia scraped and chiseled a year’s worth of cigarette and marijuana stain from my teeth.

“Do you smoke cigars?” she asked.

Marcia wouldn’t allow me to keep the mood-altering amber splash goggles that made the grey day look pleasant and brighter, saying, “We haven’t got those to give away, but I’ve got some other things for ya.” She gave me free dental floss, plastic picks, ‘and a new toothbrush for ya.’

I left there with gratitude to Marcia, the VA staff, and my country, feeling satisfied with the work and level of veteran care, but in no way felt special, even though everything was ‘for me’, fully knowing she runs the same dialogue with every patient, never deviating from the script. As a test, I asked her what her day goes like, and what was the most annoying thing about her patients.

Lab Work Ups

It was okay with the techs for me to enter through the green ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ door into the lab to observe exactly what they do with the blood samples Marissa had just professionally extracted from my vein, but as she explained, the VA policy on confidentiality prevented my access. The lab results were copasetic, with everything settled comfortably within the parameters of what they should be for a guy like me.

Intake Nurse Screening

Carla was pretty cool, and very relaxed, especially after I asked her about her Akwesasne T-shirt, which led to an extended ‘small world, isn’t it?’ conversation about her Mohawk in-laws, her iron-working husband, and who knew who.

We talked about Dr. Phillips, the great psychiatrist who had taken a medical retirement, went east, then died. I didn’t know he had died. He was truly terrific. During one appointment, he spent half my allotted time excitedly talking about the Shania Twain concert he had attended in Rapid City the previous evening, and how hot she was. When he left the VA, all of us head cases suffered a tremendous loss and setbacks.

‘Dr. Dave’ gave me some memorable quotes: A practical, “Everyone ends up on meds if they live long enough,” and, “Whatever floats your boat,” in response to the use of self-administered medical marijuana, and, “The guy before you sat up all night with a .357 magnum on the coffee table,” when I asked him, relatively speaking, how I was doing.
I always left there feeling better than when I came in.

As Carla took my blood pressure, I told her, “I practice medicine, too.”

“What are you?” she asked with intrigue. “A medicine man?”

“No,” I told her, after pausing a moment. I didn’t want to ‘go there’.

“Chiropractor?” she guessed.

“No,” I replied. “I practice traditional western medicine.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“No,” I said. “I practice without a license. Thirty years.”

She laughed, and then began a series of questions, most of which I answered ‘no’.

“Do you smoke?”

“Yes,” I said. “Heavily.”

“Do you take any drugs?” she asked.

“I smoke marijuana, but no hard drugs,” I answered, adding, “No beer. A glass of wine every three or four months, and a half a marguerita about every six months. I like tequila.”

“So do I,” she said, taking notes. “I see where you were prescribed some antidepressants a few years ago, but discontinued their use.”

“Yeah, I didn’t like the side-effects,” I replied. “Now I just smoke pot, do yoga, and go to sweat lodge twice a week. And a Caesar salad every six months.”

“How does a Caesar salad work for depression?” she asked.

“I go to Chiang Mai, Thailand to get it.”

After the initial screening by Carla, I went on to see Dr. Rios, who had been on the job for just three days.

Dr. Rios was a friendly, slight, clean, and intelligent-looking man originally from Brooklyn, from a family of ten kids. He was the one to go off to med school, with the support of the entire family. After medical school, he began practice in San Francisco, and had three kids. He missed the west coast and the ocean, he said, and his wife was depressed in S. Dakota. The kids, the oldest who was 38, were still living in California in the Bay area.

I suggested he tell his wife to allow herself six months to form new relationships and social networks. Then she’ll be happier.

He turned the conversation around to me, and began his exam. Heart, ok. Lungs, two. Blood pressure, yes. White blood count, ok. “Do you have any objections to a rectal exam?” he asked.

“No,” I said without hesitation. I wanted to know about my prostate and colon health, you know, for a guy my age. They say you should have it checked.

“Whoaaaa, Doc,” I said in surprise. “Wow!”

“Prostate is good,” he said. “Everything is ok.”

That was comforting. He had me take off my shirt, and said, “You’re in good shape. What do you do?”

“Yoga,” I said. “What do you do?”

“I used to run,” he said. “But I’d like to learn yoga.” He asked about the scars on my chest. “These are from a childhood acne?” he queried, pointing.

“No,” I said. “Those are sun dance scars…offerings. I’m a sun dancer.” It had been several years since I had to explain those. I had arrived at the point where I didn’t want to show them off, or even care if people would ask me to explain.

I asked about the skin discolorations and small bumps. “We’re like trees,” he said, smiling. “As we age, we’re going to get some lumps and growths. It’s all normal. No malignancies.”

Carla knocked on the door, then entered and explained the computer filing system to Dr. Rios. “I see you gave him the rectal,” she said, looking over his shoulder at the computer screen. “We were going to give him the scope.”

Dr. Rios laughed. “I don’t think Mr. Glover cared too much for it,” he said.

“What did you do?” asked Carla. “stick your whole arm up there?”

“I’m from San Francisco,” said Dr. Rios, laughing. “Usually they don’t mind.”

Heyyyyyy! I’m not supposed to do this. Is there anything more boring than listening to old people talk about their ailments and doctor’s appointments? Is this all we’ve got to talk about? Is this all that is on our minds? Sorry. It won’t happen again.

- end