Most people have to work for a living. Some people have more interesting work to do than others. As for me, I’m a secretary at a nearby psychiatric outpatient treatment center. My job duties are mostly taking calls from clients and scheduling appointments. A couple weeks ago, I answered what seemed like a normal call. “Yea, I’ve got an appointment with a doctor and I need to cancel it. I’ve been vindicated.”
I started with my normal questioning, “Do you know who your appointment was scheduled with?”
“I have no idea, I just know I’ve been vindicated.”
“…Okay…,” I replied.
“The VA set it up for me but now thanks to RAC I don’t need it anymore.”
“Okay, when was your appointment scheduled for?”
“I don’t know.” This guy sounds way to excited to cancel his appointment, I thought. He continued, “it was my first one, I’ve never seen him before. No one believed me, but RAC did their work, and now they know there is something wrong with me.”
“What’s your name sir?” He gave me his name and I placed him on hold. What in the world is this guy talking about? He just told me there was something wrong with him, he’s excited about it, and because something is wrong with him he needed to cancel his appointment. None of that made any since to me. I asked the man who works at the desk next to me if he had any strange calls that day. He hadn’t. So this one is fresh. At this point I have no idea what this guy is talking about. I love what I do, but that does not in any way mean I have any idea what is going on at any given moment. The staff at our office have quite a few interesting conversations with our clients in a day. In terms of my job, it doesn’t really matter what this man was talking about, all I needed to do was cancel his appointment. But clearly he was trying to say something and to get me to understand.
I picked the phone back up. “Thank you for holding, Mr. Smith.” (Names changed for confidentiality.)
“Have you heard of RAC?”
I wondered to myself, “Does he mean Iraq?” Our phone lines have bad connections sometimes. I hoped this guy didn’t think I live in a box, but if the VA set up his appointment he may have had some bad experiences with civilians and I don’t want to discount the impact that can have. At this point his excitement was catchy and I wanted to know what he has to say. “Yes,” I told him.
“I’m a Gulf War veteran. Did you know there are more veterans in this area than anywhere else in Indiana?” I had heard that before. He goes on to tell me what RAC really is. It’s an organization in the army that just spent a ton of money on all this research.
“They just released their report! I’m really sick! I have Gulf War Syndrome! Our government let me go fight for them, but I was sick, dear, I was dying, and America was just letting me waste away. I lost 100 lbs in less than 3 months. But I’m vindicated now, I know I’m not crazy. The RAC, they released their report in November… November 17th it was. I guess I should explain, I was needing a second opinion. I’ve been from doctor to doctor and they all told me I was just depressed and it was just a part of life. I was hoping that your doctors could tell me something different. I knew it wasn’t all just in my head. But RAC just did this research, you see? They threw all that money into years of research to see if Gulf War Syndrome is real. But it is. It is real, and I can finally get the help I need.”
“That’s great. I never knew any of that was a problem. I’m glad it’s been taken care of, though.” I knew it hadn’t been, but I hoped he didn’t mind me trying to be hopeful.
“Well, not really. They took too much time and money into proving it was real and couldn’t just believe us, and they haven’t put any plans out for discovering a treatment yet. But it’s okay, I’m vindicated now. They don’t think it is in my head.”
Our conversation continued like that for about 10 minutes; partially because I wanted to really understand the details of this situation, and partially because he really needed to celebrate. He encouraged me to read the report they put out. “It’s a bitch of a document, all 450 pages, but you should read it anyway. You might be getting more of us around there now that they will treat us. Tell everyone that works there, okay? They need to know what this is.”
By the time I hung up the phone I needed to just sit for a minute and think about what he had told me. That was significant information! I had a lot of mixed emotions to go along with it. The intensity of our conversation weighed on my heart. That phone call taught me it is never too late to be vindicated from demons. No matter how much time has pasted, efforts aren’t a waste. I know it is clishe butI believe it is important to hear people’s stories, you never know what this can do for a person. Trusting them and validating them can set a person free. Yet somehow I know he had not really been set free. The effects of serving had been Gulf War Syndrome, a psychotic disorder that although now validated as a real problem, was in his head, even though he thought other wise. I thought of all this as I cancelled his intake. Normally this would mean I crossed out his name in our scheduling book. This unusual experience led to write a detailed account as to why it was canceled, and the advise he had given. “You will get a lot more of us!,” he had told me at one point. That statement and his story left me feeling some ince of responsibility fot this information, and that was hard to deal with as I was bound by my position in the office. I could not provide this man therapy, in fact no one he would. He did not want it. I think he knows he needs it. I closed the file and my job was done. Yet I knew for him, this would not be the end.