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A Piece of My Mind
August 26, 1998

The Veteran

Author Affiliations

Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor/

JAMA. 1998;280(8):692. doi:10.1001/jama.280.8.692

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.

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