I was not prepared for Arthur Rivers.
A few weeks ago, I received a large padded envelope from Mr. Rivers. Inside was a handwritten letter of more than six pages, with almost every sentence expressing the most effusive thanks to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center – both the downtown division on 15th Street and the uptown division just south of Wrightsboro Road – for no less than what he called “the best of the best of the very best medical care one human can give to another.”
Mr. Rivers followed up with a phone call to find out if and when the letter would be printed. Then he called again. And again. He’s a very nice man, and I’ve probably talked to him more often in the past few weeks than most of my blood relatives.
IN APPRECIATION of the care he’s received, Mr. Rivers first considered writing his letter of thanks to hospital officials, but he feared it might be just filed away somewhere and it wouldn’t reach the eyes of all the doctors and nurses he wanted to thank.
“It was so many people, I just wanted to put the whole VA out there,” he said. “People like to give the VA a bad rep, and I was tired of hearing that.”
His story probably mirrors that of a lot of other veterans. Mr. Rivers enlisted in the Army, did a hitch in the infantry and left at the rank of specialist. When he and his wife, Patricia, were looking to move a few years ago, he wanted a home in the South; a place where he liked the people and the atmosphere; and a place near a VA hospital.
They chose Patricia’s hometown. “I just liked everything about Augusta,” he said.
By that time, Mr. Rivers already had back surgery, so he wanted to make sure he was near a VA if any other medical issues cropped up.
AND BOY, DID they. In the eight years the Riverses have lived here, Mr. Rivers has had seven surgeries – for a total hip replacement, for an ailment with one of his feet and to have his gallbladder and kidney stones removed. A VA eye doctor improved his sight. The VA’s dental unit improved his smile.
“The men and women there give more of themselves to ensure that veterans receive 150 percent quality care,” he wrote. “At the Augusta VA they truly put the veteran first.”
Mr. Rivers has a lot of stories like that. Meet him sometime and he might tell them all to you.
But he’ll save what he calls his best for last – when he was recovering from gall bladder surgery last August in Ward 4A at the downtown VA.
“There was a patient next to me who needed care. The nurse came in, drew the curtains and if she didn’t spend an hour and a half she didn’t spend a minute – giving the patient a bath, changing the bed linens and whatever else she had to do,” Mr. Rivers wrote. “Not only that, the nurse spent another 45 minutes explaining to his wife what all needed to be done for him.
“By this time, a male nurse walks in and said the doctors wanted the patient to use a device to help exercise his knee, which recently had surgery,” he wrote. “It was close to a shift change, but neither nurse spoke about shift-changing. Instead, the two of them continued working with the patient. By then the shift had changed, but they were not concerned about that – they were there for the patient.
“Then the charge nurse walked in to look at what was going on, but she didn’t say a word or break her stride. That’s 4A staff – just doing their jobs.”
He listed so many people to thank for professional, selfless performance. There’s the surgeon who played basketball in high school. A no-nonsense lieutenant colonel and his assistant. The entire critical care staff.
And his wife. But she’s not mentioned in the letter – Mr. Rivers thanks her every day. Throughout all his procedures and recuperations, he told me, “she was the greatest supporter ever.”
And to all the VA folks?
“I would like to give every one of you an award, but I can’t do that because there are so many of you,” he wrote in his letter. “So I’m giving you the next best thing – a ‘Silver Star salute’ for going far beyond your call of duty. I will always hold my salute to you. I will never drop my salute. I always will hold my salute high to you. While on the battlefield of pain, I’ve never seen you weary. When the going got tough, you got tougher. I just want to say: Thank you for your service.”
Monday is Veterans Day, and I’d like to join Mr. Rivers. To all our veterans, and to all the people who take care of them, thank you.