One of the downsides to being recalled to active duty is having to switch to Army medical providers, instead of the civilian doctors I've used with great satisfaction. It was with no little trepidation that I decided to "bite the bullet" and get integrated into the system at Madigan Army Medical Center, known to the locals as MAMC...or "MamCee", as Doctor Al Jolson would have surely called it.
While I knew my medical records were filed somewhere in the main building after I reported for duty last fall, I had not in-processed through the Tricare Service Center at MAMC, so I hadn't been assigned a Primary Care Manager or clinic. When my good old Iraq burn pit cough resurfaced a couple of weeks ago, I still resisted the idea of going to MAMC, and requested authorization to be treated by my civilian pulmonologist. I ended up seeing him anyway before Tricare ruled on my request, and got treated. When my cough persisted past its usual time, I figured that it'd be smarter financially, and also for documentation purposes, to get going with the Army medical folks.
The few experiences I've had with MAMC have been relatively positive. A couple of blood draws for my required HIV test and pre/post deployment medical exams were handled quickly and competently. On the other hand, I still remember how dorked up dealing with Army docs usually turned out to be, and the patient administration end of things was always a nightmare of bureaucracy...and you know how much I hate dealing with bureaucrats!
I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I called the central appointments phone number on Tuesday, in order to be assimilated into the "Borg (MAMC) Collective". While I got the anticipated initial response of, "If you aren't in the system, I can't make you an appointment!", the call-taker actually listened to my reason for needing an appointment, and got me scheduled for what she called an "Establishing Care" visit to one of the clinics. Not only did I get an appointment, but within 24 hours of my call...So far, so awesome!
Now one of the frequent horror stories I've heard about appointments at MAMC is the requirement to arrive at least an hour, preferably two hours, in advance of your appointment time in order to find a parking place. Those stories are true. I drove through four different huge parking areas without success. I ended up parking almost a mile away from the hospital. I didn't mind the exercise, although the streets and sidewalks were coated with ice, but wondered what a less-able bodied patient would do if stuck with a similar situation. Of course, if I had even briefly entertained any thoughts of whining about the trek, my route took me past the Warrior Transition Battalion buildings, and a morning formation of Wounded Warriors armed with canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. Nope, no whining from this guy.
I made it to my appointment on time, and was handed a relatively small bunch of forms to complete. Once those were filled out, I was immediately shown into the exam room, had my vital signs recorded, and within minutes met up with the friendly civilian Nurse Practitioner (NP) who was my new Primary Care Manager. Didn't take her long to get up to speed with what I needed, and so after an exam confirming my malady I was out the door with a referral to an Army pulmonologist, a prescription for super heavy-duty cough syrup, and a note permitting me to stay home from the Army for two days.
All this cost me a total of Zero Dollars, which certainly overturned the conventional wisdom of "You get what you pay for." (Yes, I know fellow taxpayers, we did already fork over the money for my treatment.)
Getting my prescription filled took close to three hours. The pharmacy waiting area is almost as big as a high school auditorium, and you take a number when you arrive. There were over 100 people ahead of me. (Thanks to the kindness of a friend from the American Legion who gifted me with a spare number slip which was over 50 spots lower, I got my prescription before my tour of duty expired...Thanks, Karen, I owe you one!)
So despite my dire predictions of uncaring military medical bureaucracy, I can honestly report that Madigan Army Medical Center provided me with competent medical care, and great customer service. While it might have been more entertaining for you to read about everything going horribly wrong today...and believe me, I would have ranted about that in great detail...this was a better outcome by far. Besides, there are enough dumb things going on with the other aspects of my military life to provide this blog with lots of snivel-ammo.
UPDATE: Knew it was too good to be true...Got a call last Monday, scheduling me for my appointment at the pulmonology clinic. Yep, it's for a MONTH from now. Hopefully my cough will have subsided by then, although that'll surely trigger the old, "Why did you request this appointment?" response. In the meantime, I'm still "sleeping" in the living room recliner, covered by my trusty poncho liner, alternately dozing and coughing a lung up every 30 minutes or so. Thanks to the sleep deprivation, I can handle about a half day in the office, doing my Val Kilmer "Tombstone" impression. Just waiting for the first person to call me "Lunger"...