Do it Now

Words of wisdom for Veteran’s Day from my VA primary care provider, who should know.

Melinda’s a jock. She’s an endurance runner, the kind of tiny, tightly-muscled badass runner who can knock off a 100- mile race.

She’s also a nurse. My Nurse Practitioner, in fact, at the VA clinic near my house. I love working with her because after a lifetime of being referred to as “Mr. Hubbel” in the Veteran’s Administration, despite the fact that I have tits and a vagina, in Melynda’s office, I’m a woman. Not just that, but seriously engaged in my health care and being at the top of shape for as long as I can.

What breath of fresh air.

You have no idea.

Last week I went to see her with a laundry list of the usual: cranky knees, creeping arthritis, garden variety stuff that she and I deal with all the time as athletes who push hard. My guess is that Melynda is in her late thirties or early forties.

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Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash

“I see people all the time who are in terrible shape. They’ve abused their bodies (with alcohol, drugs, etc.) and they don’t have much time left. Do it while you can.”

Melynda was referring to my adventure travel. The nature of my work sometimes (okay, okay, OFTEN) makes getting proper care through the VA damned difficult. The VA system isn’t set up for athletes, nor people who are working. So navigating those waters can be frustrating at best, maddening at worst. Especially as I age, for at 67, the medical community all too often treats me like a doddering fool.

Melynda sees vets all day. When I am at the VA Hospital or the local clinic where she works, so do I. Some are often depressed, angry, resentful. Entitled, frustrated and self-centered. They feel the world owes them because of their service and sacrifices. That’s not all of us, but too many. Their days are all too often spent discussing their war years, their injuries and their health with other folks who have similar complaints. They wander the hallways of the VA hospital like untethered ghosts, looking for anyone who will listen to their stories.

As opposed to going out and creating a few more new ones.

While you and I owe veterans a massive vote of thanks (and thank you back, for I am eating free all day at my local restaurants for my service), at some point, they and I owe ourselves a full life. Not only the life guaranteed us by the sacrifices they (and yes, me too) made, but the one that is granted us by virtue of our birth as Americans, as well as and even more so, those who immigrated here and gave us the honor of their service.

Veterans, and I speak as one, pay a very different price from other Americans. Still, the military gave us gifts as well, and when we retire or leave the service, part of our responsibility is to keep living. Living well, living our best lives. That’s the very best revenge, whether our service cost us a leg, multiple limbs, our innocence, or pieces of our sanity.

In so many ways, especially as an aging female veteran, some wars never end. Getting proper health care, being treated with respect by doctors so accustomed to treating old dicks that they become one, and battling a system that is full of resistance especially to those of us who really are trying to live our best lives. We don’t want to be treated like “those poor veterans.”

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Deposit photos

Melynda sees it all day. Vets whose emotional and physical conditions are so deteriorated that they have lost decades of their lives. I almost did, too. However, what happened to me forty-plus years ago also made me a warrior in many other ways that couldn’t possibly be anticipated. That’s what she respects.

Modern medicine has made it so that thousands of vets who otherwise might have died on the battlefield now live, although those lives are truncated. They live with horrible disabilities and mental issues, which is part of the price that they paid for signing up: that they might end up like that. All those bright happy faces that were on television during yesterday’s Fox NFL Sports broadcast from West Point?

Those kids have no clue what’s in store for them. None whatsoever.

As young military people, we are all of us full of piss and vinegar and might and right. Until. A leg gets blown off, we get raped or both, or what we see devastates us to our core.

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Deposit photos

Melynda sees it all day. So when she and I meet, and we do our best to schedule more time since I am gone so much, it’s a bit different conversation. We talk prevention, health, prophylactic measures, how to manage an aging body as I push through extreme sports, how to stay in the game at a very high level.

She’s well aware that I have PTSD. But that’s neither an excuse nor is it my story, nor is it my reason for not living an out-loud life.

“I see people all the time who are in terrible shape. They’ve abused their bodies (with alcohol, drugs, etc.) and they don’t have much time left. Do it while you can.”

Precisely. On Veteran’s Day, you and I thank those who put it all out there and came home with less of themselves than before. Parts of them missing, offered up so that you can live the American Dream, however tattered that may have become. It still is a pretty damned good dream. Our job- as Americans and as veterans- is to live that dream, not run screaming from the very freedom and opportunities that veterans paid so dearly to provide us all.

Otherwise, folks, what the fuck did we veterans do it for? Why on earth did we sacrifice life and limb?

Your life, your country. Bought and paid for with our blood, our innocence, our efforts.

Don’t fucking waste it.

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Written by

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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