Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor/
They usually arrive early. Half an hour, an hour, sometimes more before
their appointment time. And today, as usual, we are running late. My next
patient is already in the examining room. I hurriedly pick up his chart, open
the door, and say, "Hello." He doesn't hear me. His eyes have closed in sleep
while he waited for me. He is tall, thin, hunched over with shoulders sloped
with fatigue, with age. His face is softened in sleep but I can see traces
of the soldier. His hair is kept short, barely showing under the baseball
cap with an insignia and words that proudly proclaim him to be a Vietnam veteran.
I take in the cap and the sun-damaged cheeks and make a mental note to remind
him to wear a wide-brimmed hat. His short-sleeved shirt is tucked neatly inside
slacks held up by a khaki cloth belt with a brass buckle that has been through
more than a few scuffles. The shirt exposes his arms, still strong and capable.
Just under the sleeves I can make out the fuzzy blue-black of a tattoo. His
hands are large, with gnarled fingers folded into his lap.
Nguyen C. The Veteran. JAMA. 1998;280(8):692. doi:10.1001/jama.280.8.692