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    It all started about a month ago, with the simplest thing.I couldn't trim the fingernails on my right hand.I hadn't the strength or control.Then I thought about it a little more and realized I had been dropping things from my left hand a lot lately.I let this go for about a week, because getting to the hospital is a costly exercise for me.If I have your kind attention there is much more to tell after the pretty squiggle.

    My room mate and I met last year while residing in a homeless program for veterans at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Facility (Formerly the North Chicago Veterans Hospital which was adjacent to Great Lakes Naval Training Station, but has since become the nations first combined health care facility for veterans, active duty, and dependents.) Shawn and I were roommates for a good 5 months and got on quite well.After 10 months it was suggested to me that my mental health issues were improving enough that I should look to move on.It should be noted here that while we were in a program called Psycho Social Rehabilitation, all Shawn needed was a job, he'd been getting by living in his car for the better part of a year.I on the other hand have battled chronic depression and PTSD most of my life.I should note here that although I am a veteran I never saw combat and my PTSD is related to childhood sexual trauma, I wish I could convey how far I have come, there was a time such an admission would mortify me.I moved on to a State run program in Manteno Illinois and within about a month of my departure Shawn had himself a job and offered to let me move in.So early in July of this year I was at long last out of the homeless program.His new job was a contract deal meant to last 9 months.His contract was ended after 6 months, not long after moving into the apartment his car was re-possessed.My job is to do the cooking cleaning and laundry.I have applied for and been denied Social Security benefits.I immediately appealed but have heard nothing back since May and I suspect I'll have to start all over again.One of the problems with chronic depression is that sort of setback can be very difficult to over come.I have various physical ailments as well, including COPD, degenerative disc disease, diverticulitis which resulted in a temporary colostomy.The colostomy and reversal damn near killed me on three separate occasions.

     My last job was working as a custodian for suburban Chicago school district.I experienced back problems, saw my doctor (I had Blue Cross Blue Shield back then) and was not getting good results.The school district insisted that I go to an industrial clinic which any of the blue collar workers reading this will know about.I was prescribed a course of steroids which I took as instructed, the problem with that was I didn't read the warnings as thoroughly as I should have as one of the listed side effects was depression.Well it kicked my depression into high gear,I quit eating slept all, day no showering, no answering the phone and no leaving the apartment if I could help it. It wasn't long until I was out of a job.I was already behind in rent due to illness (and a pile of unpaid medical bills despite having supposedly "good" insurance.The school district also insisted I paid their share of the premiums while I was hospitalized which cost well over a thousand dollars.) soon I was to be evicted.The night before eviction I called the suicide prevention hotline and wound up in the psych ward at North Chicago VA Hospital.Even though I was from the south suburbs that was the only bed available.After two weeks I was released into the PSR program.

      I qualify for but am not eligible for non service connected disability from the VA by virtue of the fact I served between the end of Viet Nam and the Reagan adventure in Beirut.Bad timing something I excel in.I did have an excellent social worker while in the PSR program who convinced me to apply for SSDI and told me in no uncertain terms that I probably should not expect to work for others again and continue to get well.So I have spent the last 5 months quite contentedly cooking (I am on food stamps so I do make more than just a labor contribution, but that is my only income) cleaning and getting by with Shawn.We have a couple of futons a kitchen set 3 computers internet and TV.That is it.I suppose the internet could be considered a luxury but otherwise it is strictly subsistence for us.When Shawn has a job interview he rents a car and we go to the grocery and stockpile.

So I asked Shawn to rent a car to take me to Edward Hines VA hospital.I can use public transportation but that requires a train and two buses and work out $11 round trip!Frankly I wasn't feeling all that well anyway.This is the good part.I walk into the Hines Emergency room with stroke like symptoms and was having a CT scan done 20 minutes later.A neurologist was looking at that scan within 10 minutes.I should note that Hines is affiliated with Loyola medical school.The neurologist explain I had bleeding and a mass.I was admitted immediately and the next day had MRI's talked with a neurosurgeon and was scheduled to have a golf ball sized tumor removed within the week.Next week I begin whole brain radiation to remove any free floating cancer still in my brain,Then I have a spot on my lung to be removed and perhaps chemo. I still have a fight in front of me but the prognosis for beating my Adenocarcinoma is good.I should mention I smoked for fourty years, damn it is tough going without but I guess I'm going to have to.So if your thinking about quitting your self let me encourage you.I like smoking myself, still do, but why should I keep paying RJ Reynolds to kill me?

Here is the point to telling you my tale of woe.The help I have received in this government run health care program is nearly beyond belief.Because of my financial situation I now get a door to door service for every appointment I have.When my family came to see me before surgery my neurosurgeon stayed late so he would have time to talk with them and reassure them.My brother asked about visiting hours  the surgeon laughed and said"There aren't any for you, come and go as you please"I have been to many clinics every technician has been unfailing polite and patient.My youngest sister is my next of kin contact and as I have a free state cell phone with limited minutes if the staff doesn't get a hold of me right away they call her, and she is also amazed by the true care and concern displayed constantly.When there was a mix up about getting a ride to the hospital for a pulmonary function test prior to surgery the neurologist that first saw me in the ER spent the morning in the pulmonary clinic waiting on me and making sure I would be tested right away.I had several MRI's and CT scans and lots of blood tests, and all the technicians  patiently answered any questions.The nursed after surgery treated me like a king.My last day I was meant to go to the pharmacy to get the drugs I needed and while I waited to get picked up my nurse went and got my drugs because  had been such a good patient.When I got lost trying to find the radiation therapy department and ended up in nuclear medicine the ladies there pulled me into the office and made me sit while they called around and could give precise directions and even offered to get a wheelchair for me, I think I might have been looking a bit pale right about then.the thing is the VA folks at Hines are eager to go that extra mile.My sister said"You know these people really seem to believe in what they are doing and really want to be here"We all know how rare that is in this economy.Yesterday I was fitted for a mask at the radiation therapy clinic and I will start whole brain radiation on the 15th.I had to wait around for a while to see a nurse about staying at the hospital during radiation because it sounds like it is going to leave me with serious fatigue.So I was at the clinic for almost four hours, and what do you think the clinic nurse did?Asked me if I'd like her to order me a lunch tray.Now I had crackers and peanut butter with me just in case but this demonstrates the level of empathy I get every time I walk through those doors.

I am no ones idea of a hero.I worked as an Army Medic in Germany for the better part of three years.It was at worst a working vacation.I was a lousy soldier though even I acknowledge I was a decent enough medic, and did care about the job.It was probably the best job I ever had.I also go to see Europe, skied all over the place and made friends that are still my friends to this day.But when I am at Hines I am treated like a hero.It maybe that my illness makes me a little more emotional than normal but some times I get a little teary eyed being treated that way.I think about my Dad in WWII and my older brother the Marine.I think about my brothers and sisters in uniform today going into harms way, whether I agree they should be doing so or not, I want them all to come home safe.

I know I am basically rambling and should probably go back and re-write this mess, but I know the what it is I really need to say.Don't let anyone tell you that a government run health care program cannot work.The VA proves that is a lie every day.You can look up the stats and see their low overhead but take it from this veteran the care and compassion empathy and treatment of all vets cannot be quantified.

Originally posted to MasterfullyInept on Fri Dec 09, 2011 at 12:17 PM PST.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers.

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