When I left you last, constant reader, I was headed out of the Regimental Aid Station and into the adventure that was my final physical. Despite the fact that my naive impression that I could knock it out in a single doctor’s visit was crushed by the freight train of medical reality, my ignorance was remedied and I had a plan (and another checklist) to knock it out. The good Navy corpsmen and regimental surgeon had educated me and set me up for success, and it was my responsibility to follow their lead. So off I went- first stop: Camp Pendleton’s Naval Hospital.
I had several appointments at the hospital, which makes sense because hospitals is where most medical providers hang out. I also had a few non appointments to make; a non appointment being a stop at a walk-in clinic. Appointments are good because you are inked into the doctor’s schedule, and as long as you show up on time you will be taken care of. It may take a while, but you’ll be seen. Non appointments, on the other hand, are much like Forrest Gump’s apocryphal box of chocolates: you never knew what you were gonna get. Maybe an empty clinic with bored providers eager to break the doldrums of a lazy afternoon by bringing you in for a checkup. Maybe a stuffy waiting room packed with dozens of exasperated people who were just like me with no choice but to wait. And wait. And wait.
My plan was to hit the appointments (arrive fifteen minutes early!) and stop in the various clinics between the scheduled stops. My first appointment of the day was with orthopedics, so I headed over to get my knees, feet, and ankle checked out. One of the interesting things about being a Marine is that you tend to use such things as knees, feet, and ankles a lot, and as a result they tend to get broken, sprained, and worn out along the way. In my case, almost three decades of tromping around coupled with four tours in combat zones had taken their toll. So I signed into ortho, found a seat in the waiting room, and waited. After a few minutes (and within ten minutes or so of my scheduled appointment) my name was called. The very nice doctor (a Naval officer) sat me down in the examination room and looked over her notes. After exchanging some pleasantries, she got down to business.
The importance of the visit was not to find anything new, but instead to ensure that all facets of my previously treated conditions were properly annotated. After reviewing my case, she brought everything up to date and assured me that everything would be properly recorded in my record. She had treated my ankle and feet, but not my knees. That was at another clinic- and she couldn’t re-evaluate what she hadn’t evaluated in the first place. D’oh- another appointment on the calendar!
After she was done she directed me to the registrar who was in charge of records. The registrar could make me an appointment with the clinician who had seen me for my knees over the years. Ok, thought I. Easy enough.
The registrar, a civilian who had been doing the job for a looooooooooooooooong time, asked if she could help. I explained that I had been treated for a knee injury and needed to make a final followup appointment. She turned to her computer and with a few efficient but furious keystrokes she looked at me and said that she had no record of my treatment.
No record? Huh?
I recounted my trips to the sports medicine clinic and the treatment that I had received.
“Ah,” she said, “that is Sports Med, not Ortho. You have to talk to them.” “Not ortho?” I meekly asked. “No!” was her emphatic response. Needless to say, after I left the registrars office I stepped outside to call sports medicine to make an appointment. Fortunately they had one available, but unfortunately it was over a month from now. Good thing I had a little time between now and my EAS!
I then headed off to various other appointments, the particulars of which I won’t subject you to. What was of note, however, was the kindness and flexibility that many of the walk-in providers exhibited when I attempted to squeeze in and get a signature on my medical checkout sheet. Some were more receptive than others, and fortunately I had picked a slow day at the hospital. There were few full waiting rooms, so I was able to see the right practitioners and garner the necessary signatures without too much hassle. My hat is off to the audiology department in particular, though, because I showed up outside their posted walk-in hours. The petty officer behind the desk looked up when I poked my head in the door, and asked if he could help me. I had hurried up to the clinic after my previous appointment but arrived in his lunch hour. He took pity on me, and beckoned me into the office. Whew, I thought. Great!
What I didn’t realize was that his wife and young child were waiting to go to lunch with him. Once I saw them, I apologized and turned to leave. “No problem, sir! I’ll catch up with them. It won’t take but a minute.” His lovely wife and toddler headed out to the car and the good Sailor took care of me. I felt like a complete jerk, but his professionalism and dedication to his duties were such that he could not in good conscience turn away a patient- even one as inconsiderate and boneheaded as me for intruding on his lunch hour. At any rate, less than ten minutes later I had completed my audiogram (the hearing test where they put you in a booth with earphones on and you push a little button when you hear high and low pitched tones). With the efficiency and politeness of a true professional he explained the results of the test, signed my checklist, and headed to lunch. I apologized again, but he told me not to worry about it because taking care of patients was his job, and lunch could wait. Man, did I feel like a total heel.
So, after spending a few days over the period of a few months I was able to knock out my final physical. Along the way I got to meet a lot of interesting people who all shared a common trait: each and every one was a dedicated professional, but in true Navy fashion, were unique in their own way. A young surfer dude corpsman talked about the beach as he drew seven vials of blood for labwork (“this’ll sting a little, dude, I mean sir…”), and a very pleasant young lady with bright red fingernail polish and a blinged out iPhone that contrasted her uniform took my x-rays. Another sailor talked about his upcoming vacation plans as he removed some stitches from my arm, mixing his anticipation of mom’s home cooking with the possibility of permanent scarring on my arm if I wasn’t careful with my newly-healed incision. They were all great Americans, and they took care of me. And, more importantly, they signed my medical checklist, which allowed me to finish my final checkout from the Marine Corps.
My hat’s off to them. Thanks, Navy!
1. Make as many appointments as you can as early as you can. It is important that you review your recent medical history (say over the last five years or so) and personally contact each clinic or provider in order to get on their schedule. I assumed that all of my appointments were set by the medical staff at the regimental aid station, but I was wrong. It wasn’t their fault- they didn’t know for example that my knees had been treated at sports med instead of ortho, but as a result I had to wait almost an additional month for my sports med appointment because I didn’t personally make the call.
2. Don’t be a jerk like I was- only go to walk-in clinics during their appointed hours. The providers will forego lunch with their family or stay at work late to make up the time they lost while taking care of you out of their professionalism and sense of duty. The best thing to do is not to put them in the position by showing up during their posted hours.
3. Be flexible. If you think that your physical will go with anything close to military precision you are wrong. I had to sit in waiting rooms for a long time to get all of the checks in the box, and you will too. I recommend making one appointment first thing in the morning and one right after lunch- if you are the first on the list then you will be seen promptly. If not, you run the risk of waiting because other consultations went long. This will also allow you to hit the walk-in clinics after you get done with plenty of time before your next stop. Don’t schedule more than one appointment in the same morning or afternoon or you will find yourself sprinting between floors in order to make it on time like I did. Save yourself the hassle and space them out.
4. Go with the system. Parts of it will make no sense, like my ortho/sports med confusion. It is what it is, and when the lady at ortho says you have to go to sports med, then save your breath and go to sports med. It may not make sense to you, but it is what it is. They aren’t likely modify their decades old records and appointment database just because you don’t like it. Trust me.