VA: Dallas to El Paso (long)

I called the VA in ELP to learn how to:

  • get my medical records transferred

  • get assigned a primary care physician

They gave me good info and I messed it up.  It was a hectic week (same week as the tire sensor stuff, etc) and I went to the wrong place.

I signed in on an unnamed roster in the waiting room and waited to be called.  When they called me back I explained what I was trying to do.  The worker gently bee advised that he had a different job.

Bee:  I work in Benefits. Me:  [misunderstanding]  I’m already enrolled in the Dallas VA system…

Bee:  No, disability benefits. Me:  Oh.  Sorry to bother you; I’m in the the wrong place.

Bee:  Did you have any service-related injuries? Me:   That’s not what I’m doing.  I am trying to move to the ELP VA system…

Bee:  But did you have any service-related injuries? Me:  Well I fractured my spine and had a nasty ankle dislocation, but….

Bee:  It takes five minutes. Me:   I’m not here to…

Bee:  You don’t have to do anything.  Just sign the request I draw up.  You’ll be out of here in 5 minutes. Me:  [tries to wrap my head around the error and subsequent turn of events]


I was offered a medical discharge at the time of the back injury, but I was all gung ho, hoo-rah, and highly motivated.  So I rejected the offer out of hand.

The back injury (a compression fracture of the T1, primarily) results in chronic pain but I don’t think about it much.  I make adjustments in how I stand, sit, and sleep to keep discomfort minimized.  I move around in chairs a lot, shifting and adjusting every few minutes.  I don’t roller skate and I move very slowly on ice because I have an unreasonable fear of re-injuring it.  I say unreasonable because it’s probably no more likely to get injured than any other part of me, but I’m a little paranoid about it.  Sometimes there is acute pain and it hurts to stand straight.  I use a walking stick and have a folding cane in the van.  It gets used more for my ankle crunchiness…

A couple of weeks before my enlistment was up I badly dislocated my right ankle stepping off a 3ft drop from a parking lot to the sidewalk below.  Kinda like Wile E. Coyote.  In my defense, when I walked onto the lot it was even with the sidewalk.  The street was steep and where I stepped off the lot the sidewalk had dropped away with the street due to the incline.  I should have been paying more attention.

By the time I registered what happened the ankle was swollen to grapefruit size and the laces in by Chuck high tops were visibly straining.  Luckily there was a taxi about 6 feet away. _ “Nach die krankenhaus, bitte!”_, I said as calmly as I could, fishing for something that might be understandable enough to get me to the hospital.  It was.

We went to the local (German hospital) and they put my foot into some wooden frames/clamps that separates (re-supinates?) the ankle so they could look between the bones for broken stuff with xray. It starts out conformed to the normal ankle shape then starts moving body parts around as the clamp screws are turned.  The clamps looked like they were woodworking clamps remade into medical instruments, very practical and almost beautiful in their pure functionality.  Germans do stuff like that;  they do not believe in changing technology (or anything else) without a good reason.   I should add that using the frame to pull the ankle open in the same direction as the original injury was not entirely pain-free.  There may have been cussing and/or begging involved, and that’s just when i saw the clamps coming my way.

When the the doctor started cranking them down, C-clamp style, my eyes bugged out.  The clamps were mechanically relentless, they were going to change configuration and bones and ligaments had no say in the matter. Each crank caused me to rework the calculus of how much I could take before injuring myself or someone else trying to get away from that torture rack.

The last crank left me shaking, right on the border of what I could take.  The staff  left the room to operate the xray machine;  I think that part lasted about 3000 years, although my estimate might be off due to pain-induced time dilation.

They didn’t find anything obviously broken and released me from the device.

The next morning I went to the army hospital where they did an MRI/CAT or whatever the tech was in the late 80s.  The ligaments on the outside of the ankle were torn, the worst one about 2/3rds through.  Surgery was advised, followed by a cast of some kind.  When I told them I was getting out in a couple weeks they advised that wasn’t going to happen.   No one could fly MAC with a cast or anything else that hampered mobility.  The rules stated every soldier had to carry their own duffel to and from the plane.  Gulp.

In retrospect I should have stayed in another month to allow the surgery and cast to do the job.  Instead I made my flight.  Members of my platoon taped and ace bandaged the ankle tight enough I could hobble on my own with the duffel.  There was so much wrapping we had to fight to roll a sock on.  We had to put longer laces in the class A shoe and it was about 2x as wide as the normal one.

The ankle continues to be weak.  It tucks/folds under on uneven ground sometimes, which reinjures the ankle and/or causes a fall.  I’ve worn high top shoes for the past 30 years to help support it.  I use a walking stick or trekking poles when I hike.  Despite these preparations, the ankle turned under 3x on my recent hike.  I caught myself with the hiking stick each time.

A more distressing symptom is is periodically I cannot put any weight on that foot.  It’ll be normal, normal, normal, then the next step will be OMG PICK THAT FOOT UP.  After a few minutes or hours it disappears as suddenly as it came.  The only explanation I can think of is maybe a bone chip is wandering around in there an sometimes gets stuck in the joint.

I’ll probably have the exam and review in February.  I doubt anything will come of it,  but the worker bee said it can have a positive effect on priority, decreasing wait times for appointments, etc.  That would be welcome.