How to finally get the best treatment you could ever imagine
■ Bracha Sarah Meyerowitcz / Contributed
I’ve been blessed with 73 years of life, so I can’t say that I’ve been cheated out of any time. Even as I lie dying in the palliative care section at the Loma Linda VA hospital, I feel fortunate.
No one joins the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marines thinking that they will get wonderful end-of-life care; they just go out to serve. I thought I was going to be able to die in my own home, but with my being less and less able even to get out of a mobile wheelchair, I made the decision to go into the hospital because I just couldn’t survive at home anymore. As much as I hated that decision, it was the correct one.
The rooms in the palliative care section at Loma Linda VA are all individual, one veteran per room so you don’t have to deal with any of the problems of a roommate or privacy issues. There really isn’t much modesty left, however, when you get to this stage of life. You have all kinds of checks and procedures that everybody has to do, but they treat you with as much modesty as they possibly can. It’s not a whole lot of fun to be lifted up in a sling and transported to a wide commode chair to do your business, but they treat you with such compassion that you don’t really care who sees what.
They have both a refrigerator and a microwave in the palliative care section. If I want to have home-cooked kosher chicken at 4:00 in the morning, one of the staff will warm it up for me; all I have to do is ask. Not many people eat kosher meals, but they ordered them for me, and they are delicious. The meals are as big as anyone could eat, and a dietitian comes down to ask my preferences, then sends them on to the kitchen. You certainly won’t starve here from a lack of wonderful food.
I had been getting excellent care from the medical personnel at the Loma Linda VA in spite of the fact the VA bureaucrats don’t quite measure up.
I had asked the ambulance to take me to Loma Linda VA, and they checked me into the emergency room when we arrived. There were beds available in palliative care, but I came in too late to get checked into that and spent a couple days waiting for that section to start taking people again. It is incredible how compassionate these people are. I asked for a pain pump and in an hour and a half it was hooked up with a needle in my arm. Any time I would have pain I can press the button. Fortunately, I don’t need it very often.
The palliative care section has only four people in it, all are nearing the ends of their lives. The job of the staff is to make us as comfortable as possible. Visitors are encouraged to come any time, 24 hours a day, and they are encouraged to bring any comfort food from home that we might want. What you hear over and over again is: “Our job is to make you comfortable!” They know here that you have only months to live—or less— and somehow it seems like the best of the best want to work here. Somehow, they always wear smiles.
If you want to shower, there is a whole team of people who make that happen—never just one or two. If you want ice in the middle of the night, you just push the call button, and in a couple of minutes, you have ice. There is no waiting 20 minutes or an hour for what you need. When you first get here, they interview you for about an hour asking every possible question to see how they can make you comfortable—what temperature to set your room at, what food do you like, when do you want to go to sleep, do you want to be woken up for breathing treatments… such things as that. I have a large-screen TV and headphones that you can plug into the call button so you can easily turn them off during commercials instead of having to hunt for a mute button.
There are people here still doing dialysis, trying to live every day that they can. And there are other people, like me, who just want to finish getting their affairs in order and be done because it’s getting so hard just to survive. I’m on a high oxygen dose, and even that doesn’t let me talk for very long periods of time.
If you know of any vet who is dying and could use the most excellent care in the world at no cost, the palliative care center is a hundred percent free for veterans. Please let them know. You’d be doing them the best favor ever at the end of their life.