Saturday, October 18, 2008

What's Goin' On

Recently, a post by fellow blogger Bookworm outlined the importance of a mission, and how many military professionals differ from those in the business world. Here is an excerpt:

"A common thread tied together each of my encounters with our military: The people to whom I spoke (and who spoke to me) were completely delighted with their jobs. They found their equipment fascinating, they were proud of their responsibilities, and they enjoyed being part of the series of groups that comprised their lives: their team, their ship or unit, their military branch (Marines, Army, etc.), and their Country. Over and over and over, I heard from them their sense that each of these layers gave them a benefit, and that they in turn owed honor and duty to both the small and large entities wrapped around them."

"In other words, the people to whom I’ve spoken over the past few years have a sense of purpose in their lives. Because they believe in the organization for which they work (whether their team, their ship, their branch of the forces or their country), that belief imbues their tasks with meaning."

While a poignant and thoughtful piece, there's nothing new that we in the military, and our families, didn't already know. I'd like to write a bit about another aspect of the military; one that typically only gets bad press: Military medicine.

There are no shortage of horror stories related to military medicine. I cannot say whether there are any more than in civilian hospitals; I only know that whenever a serious incident occurs at a military hospital it quickly gains media attention (at least amongst the military community). This has resulted in many facilities gaining a bad reputation. Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu is jokingly referred to as "crippler" by the military masses here (most who have not been treated there).

My initial colonoscopy at Tripler resulted in my diagnosis of cancer. I had too much on my mind to even consider the quality of care I would receive. I knew nothing of oncology; certainly I had no idea of the quality of Tripler's oncology department.

In the military my specialty is operations. In the ops world, it is essential that things get done when they are supposed to get done. We ops types often have a hard time dealing with some of the other communities who don't share that ethic - particularly the staff communities (including the medical corps). My doctors at Tripler shattered that paradigm. My surgeon got me a cat scan within minutes of finishing my colonoscopy; within 24 hours he had me back in for an ultrasound and a counseling session to go over the results. There was no paperwork; no phone calls or any other issues: it just happened.

Radiation oncology stepped up as well. I went through their counseling and talked at length with the rad/onc doc the week after my scope, and they set everything up. I basically walked in every day and was treated within minutes. There was no paperwork, phone calls or anything else: It just got done.

Medical oncology raised the bar even further. The chemo pharmacy got me whatever I needed; if there was something they didn't have they'd get it for me from the regular pharmacy so I didn't have to wait in line. If I needed to see the doc but didn't have an appointment they'd get me seen regardless. Again - no paperwork, no issues - they just got me treated.

I can keep going and going. Surgery - smooth. Follow-on chemo - I got whatever I wanted, saw the doc whenever I needed and basically got "walk-in" service. Throughout all of this, other than consent forms for the surgery and radiation treatment, I've filled out zero paperwork and received zero bills. This is the military I signed up for, taking care of their own, in my time of greatest need.

I'm not saying everything was perfect - there are coordination, education and other issues that need improvement. So far, my input has been received well, and I continue to endeavor to make things better for folks who have to go through this in the future. Having the opportunity to reflect back on the past year, and considering Bookworm's thoughtful words, I just felt that I had to show that in return for our commitment to the mission, the military machine can really work for the individual.