I have been lucky enough in my life to have the opportunity to give a little bit back to the brave veterans who keep us safe and free. A lot of people know I made my living as a magician for a couple of years. With my background in advertising and marketing I mostly did corporate events and trade shows.
I also performed magic at local veteran’s hospitals. I volunteered my time and did several shows each month. I would start off by doing a brief stage show (not my strong suit), followed by close-up performances (cards, coins, etc.) to the audience in the theater and on the wards. All of this took place in the early 1980’s, when I was still doing magic full-time.
As you can imagine, it was extremely rewarding for me. The veterans enjoyed it. Most of the men (it was an all-male facility) were long term PTSD and emotionally disturbed patients. I was very heartbreaking to see these brave men trying to get their lives back. Some had been there for decades, some since Vietnam and even a few from Korea.
The theater at the hospital had a main stage and then tables and chairs on the floor for the patients. It was kind a cabaret-like atmosphere. They gave the men coffee, punch and cookies. They had so little enjoyment in their lives, you might have thought they were serving filet and lobster.
One table of guys always had me sit with them for a while. They even got me coffee and a couple of cookies while we chatted. It was a very special couple of minutes for me.
The nurses and the attending staff were very concerned with the welfare of the patients. The doctors seemed cold and distant to me, but they seem pretty much the same at non-veteran hospitals, too. One even tried to stop me form performing on the wards, citing the liability if I contracted some disease. Hell, if all the stuff I was exposed to on the farm didn’t kill me, a few germs didn’t have a chance. I had to do card and coin tricks wearing rubber gloves. I got pretty good at it, although a couple of sleight-of-hand movements were impossible. I was still able to pull off a competent performance.
One day I received a letter from one of the veterans. The head of patient services gave it to me. He told me he enjoyed my visits and couldn’t believe that I did an entire magic act just for him (he was one of the patients on the wards or whom I did close-up). After I dried the tears, I went to find him. Sadly, he had passed that week. There were a lot of men on the infectious disease ward who passed away almost every week. As it was 1985, medicine was nowhere near as advanced as it is today.
I was as much an audience as I was a performer when I was doing close-up magic. Many of the veterans would show me card and coin tricks after I performed. Some were very good. I even offered to come to the hospital to teach magic to some of the patients who really seemed to enjoy it. It was then that I learned one of many lifetime lessons about government bureaucracy. I had to fill out several forms and provide references for my “teaching ability.” I was going to be teaching card tricks not neurosurgery. While I completed all the forms, I never go the clearance to teach them. I did manage to slip in a few lessons during regular performances.
I performed for a couple of years until the hospital decided that they could no longer afford to put out the coffee, punch and generic cookies for the vets. I offered to bring the snacks but, again, government inefficiency reared its ugly head. I had to be an approved food vendor. I finally gave up.
When I hear stories about the serious problems our veteran’s hospitals are having these days, I’m not surprised. Even in the 1980’s, I witnessed a lot of real stupidity in the facility where I performed. Although I was only there a couple of times each month, it was clear to me that while there were a lot of dedicated people working with the patients, there was also a lot of dead weight.
Many of the doctors were young residents who looked as overworked as galley slaves in a gladiator movie. I saw a lot of doctors virtually sleeping while standing up. Many of the older doctors seemed to never leave their offices. Their desks were piled deep with files and reports. When I spoke with them, they seemed more concerned with proper procedure than patient care.
It’s easy to point the finger at the current Head of the Veteran’s Administration and demand his resignation. However, I’m pretty sure they will just replace him with someone just as incompetent as he appears to be. The change required to ensure that our veteran’s get the care they deserve is massive. A complete re-working of the government machine responsible for their care.
I have written to my U.S. Senators and Representative requesting immediate action. Not an email, but a hard copy letter. Public officials receive so many emails these days that snail mail has a much greater impact. With our military action coming to an end in Afghanistan, I am asking them to reallocate the funds to veteran’s hospitals.
It won’t happen overnight. Still, as citizens we have to keep up the pressure. Remember the days of $100 hammers and $200 toilet seats at the Pentagon? The continued efforts of U.S. citizens helped to bring that scam to end. Hopefully we can do the same to improve the standard of care for out veterans. God bless them all and keep them safe!
Happy Memorial Day! And if you’re veteran, thank you!