“I think we need to go to the emergency room,” the text message read.
It was about 5:30 a.m. last Wednesday, and the text was sent before 5 a.m. I sprung out of bed quickly, terrified I would find my wife unconscious somewhere. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.
“I didn’t want to wake you up,” she said.
A proud Marine Corps veteran, she’s always been too tough for her own good.
This was the exact scenario that had played out about two years prior, and it led to her spending a few nights in the hospital.
It was an intense flareup of Crohn’s disease. About an hour later, we arrived at the emergency room of the Charles George VA Hospital in Asheville, right before the end of shift.
After living in various places around the country and experiencing several VA hospitals, I know the horror stories firsthand.
Between my wife and me, we’ve both had numerous experiences that left us frustrated, feeling like the hulking VA machine could never come through for us.
So that morning, certain we’d encounter a grumpy nurse ready to go home, I was pleasantly surprised when we were quickly ushered in by an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, caring nurse.
Within about 15 minutes of our arrival, my wife had her vitals taken and was put in a bed in the ER. After shift change, she was given a CT scan, and the results were predictably bad. She was going to get admitted; that much we knew.
A surgeon came down to check things out and set our minds at ease when he told us she wouldn’t need an emergency resection of her intestines. His anticipation was that she’d stay a couple days until the flareup cleared.
Over the course of the few hours we were in the ER, we’d occasionally overhear a nurse or doctor talking about my wife’s case.
We’d eavesdrop, helplessly hoping to hear anything that might tell us what the next step was. While we didn’t catch everything that was said, the one thing that stuck out was how much everyone cared about doing the right thing.
They labored and argued over the decision, which was refreshing after so often feeling like people at VA hospitals simply don’t care.
Once we got up to my wife’s hospital room, where she’d stay a couple nights, we were greeted by a couple of nurses and the doctor. All were friendly and patient. Perhaps most impressive, the head surgeon visited a couple times a day, always offering a frank assessment of where she was at.
“I want you to know that I can do this surgery if there’s an emergency,” he said. “You will probably have to get surgery on this soon, but we’d rather have a colorectal surgeon at Mission or somewhere else perform it. We don’t have any here.”
How refreshing it was to hear such a measured opinion coming from anyone at a VA hospital. It was a far cry from the Bronx VA.
Beyond the stereotypes, my wife and I both have had plenty of experience to back our initial skepticism regarding the VA, but we consider ourselves beyond fortunate to live in a place with such a good facility.
Kyle Perrotti covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Mountaineer. Both he and his wife are veterans.