Making the turn into the unguarded Naval Clinic gate, I glance south at the long-abandoned buildings with crumbling soffits and vines invading their broken windows. The Naval Hospital closed in 1997, leaving the handsome brick buildings to ruin.

I turn away from the cracked concrete tufted with weeds and make my way to the clinic on the medical campus. Near the entrance stands a neat line of new Navy recruits, garbed in regulation blue sweats, waiting for a government van to take them back to base.

Inside I carry my ID card to the scanning machine. I grumble, seeing that the old machine I’d used since we’d PCSed here in 2013 was gone, replaced by a newfangled model.

I hold my ID up to a lighted slot, but nothing happens. No bleep, no bloop, no nothing. After waving my ID around, I see another lighted slot a foot lower. I do a half plié squat to save my lower back from bending and hear, “BLEEP!”

The machine’s screen asks me a series of questions before spitting out #F361. I grab a copy of the free town newspaper, take a seat and turn to the sudoku puzzle.

Across from me sits a very old man wearing a cap emblazoned with “WWII Veteran.” A young pharmacy tech walks out to personally explain his medications. Everyone else has to wait to be called to the windows. He deserves special treatment. The tech talks loudly to the WWII vet, who takes shaky notes. “You gotta go to college to figure this stuff out!” he jokes. Behind the WWII vet stand a dozen more new recruits in blue sweats, waiting for their numbers to be called.

The Navy’s past and future rely on military medicine. I’ve relied on it, too, for three decades, but something seems fundamentally changed. Even with Tricare updates, Genesis systems and newfangled machines, military health care has become exponentially more frustrating and unresponsive.

While waiting for #F361 to be called, I recall my recent visit with my newly-assigned primary care manager at the clinic. I’d brought a list of my current health concerns and planned on asking my PCM to renew two expired referrals and assess pains I was having in my neck and back. Age 57 is no picnic.

First, the corpsman made a thorough record of my concerns. Then, my PCM entered the room, carrying only a pen and Post-It Notes. I assumed the corpsman had briefed her, but she stared blankly at me and said, “Why am I seeing you today, Mrs. Molinari?”

I reached into my purse, smoothing the written list I’d already crumpled, and rattled off my health concerns again. She thinks I’m a hypochondriac, I realized, then said, “I swear, I’m usually quite healthy, but I’ve been having a lot of joint and back pain lately.”

“Hot compresses?” she suggested when I explained the pain in my neck.

“A chiropractor?” she suggested when I explained my lower back pain, never writing anything on her Post-It Notes.

After leaving the clinic, I concluded that my PCM had declined to address my neck and back pain — for those issues, I was on my own.

Inevitably, my neck pain got worse, until it burned and radiated down my shoulders. A few weeks after my appointment, I felt a shooting pain in my left shoulder, which gradually got worse. “I’d better call my PCM,” I thought.

“Appointments are at least three weeks out,” the scheduler said. “Currently, she is the only provider available at this facility. If you can’t wait, you’ll have to go to Urgent Care in town to ask for referrals.”

Refusing to use Urgent Care as my PCM, I booked an appointment at the Naval Clinic three weeks out. In the meantime, my nursing student daughter fashioned a sling out of a scarf to support my painful shoulder as if we were pioneers.

At the pharmacy, a second old man stares at the newfangled ID scanner.

“What’s wrong?!” the WWII vet bellows jovially to his comrade, “Having trouble with that machine? You gotta go to college to figure this stuff out!”

“Ticket #F361 at window number four,” an automated voice commands, rescuing me from my melancholy.

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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