What’s Your Pain Level Today?

Department of Veterans Affairs, VA story, Veterans Affairs, Veterans

That’s what they ask you when you arrive for an appointment at the VA. They’re trying to gauge just how bad you feel. If you receive treatment during the visit, they will ask you again before you leave. Hopefully, on a scale of 1-10, your score will be lower. It’s a win for you, and it’s a win for the VA. They are all about data and metrics.


A few years ago, I was having headaches, blinding, pulsing ones, usually over my right eye. I made an appointment to see my primary caregiver at the VA. At that time, they were rationing care; basically, they wanted to hear you say what needed to be done. If you didn’t, you weren’t going to get the right treatment, but they’d save money:


Me: “I’ve been having these terrible headaches.”


Doctor: “I see.”




Me: “Well, I’m concerned. There’s a history of strokes and aneurysms in my family.”

good idea Dr., Veterans Affairs Doctor


Doctor: “Uh huh.”


Me: “So, could I get a CAT scan, or an MRI, to find out what’s going on up there?”


Doctor: “Well, that’s a good idea.”


Me: “I KNOW that’s a good idea! But why am I driving the Good Idea Bus? I’m not the one who went to medical school.”



About 3 years ago, I was at the VA for an umbilical hernia repair. The surgeons would be using laparoscopic surgery and mesh to strengthen my abdominal wall, instead of slicing and dicing and suturing (I’ve had more than my share of THOSE operations).


At the beginning of the procedure, the tube containing the spy camera hit my Vagus nerve. Among it’s many functions is the control of your heart rate. They should rename it the Vegas nerve: if you go too close to it, you’re gambling with the patient’s life.


My heart rate dropped to 18 beats per minute.


My sister the nurse, heard this from one of the surgeons, and let me know that this happened. At my follow-up visit 2 weeks later, I mentioned it to the surgeon.


Me: “So, my heart rate dropping to 18 per minute wasn’t good?”


Doctor: “No. During an operation, we like to see it in the 65-70 range. Otherwise, you run the risk of heart attack, stroke, organ damage, or death.”


Me: “So in other words, it’s not a theory?”


Doctor: “No!”


Me: “Oh wow! That IS bad!”


I have to say that the VA is getting to be more veteran-friendly (which is good, seeing how their name contains that same word). They have become very, VERY polite. When I began physical therapy for my sciatica, the therapist called to set up my first appointment:


PT: “Hello, my name is Melissa, but everyone refers to me as Mel. By which name shall I address you, Sir?”


Me: “Um, you may address me as ‘El Conquistador.’”


Me: “Actually, ‘John” is perfectly fine….Am I on the radio?”



A few years ago, the VA outsourced my care to a private chiropractic practice. The doctors were husband and wife. I showed up for the first appointment with a huge knot on the right side of my back. The wife was the only one working; her husband was out of town. She told me to lie on my back, with my arms crossed in front of me. “I’m going to put my weight on your arms, and that will hopefully crack your back, and reduce that knotted-up muscle.”


I took one look at her, and had serious doubts: she probably only weighed 95 lbs. She tried and failed. She began stepping back and using her momentum along with her bodyweight. Before I knew it, she was like a pro wrestler in a ring, performing a Leg Drop. During all this, the door to the exam room was open, everyone in the waiting room could hear this commotion, and I didn’t like how the planets were lining up.


People will talk.


After repeated attempts, she was slightly winded and frustrated. “I can’t do it. You’ll have to come back on Thursday. My husband will be in the office.”


As I walked out to schedule my next appointment, 3 other patients in the waiting room raised their magazines to cover their faces. Great!


I came back within a few days. Avoiding eye contact with the office staff, I met with the husband in the exam room. He was a big guy, so within about 15 seconds, he’d finished up where his wife had started, and cracked my back. “While you’re here, I might as well, work on your neck.”



chiropractor story, VA story, I don't know




Finally, I hear his voice:


“Can you still feel your fingers and toes?”


What is it with you people?! For a family business, you couldn’t have picked landscaping?!

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