Red Tape

Next month, I’ll be doing my sub-internship at a veteran’s hospital near my home school. A sub-internship is supposed to be a capstone to medical school, a chance to behave “like the intern” in preparation for the actual ass-clenching panic of actually being an intern.

(It also means that I will be writing much, much less, which is probably a welcome respite for those of you not named Grandma.)

The VA, as it affectionately and simultaneously-not-affectionately known, is one of my favorite places in the medical universe.

I say this because having veterans as patients is fantastic. Not only are you *insert patriotic phrase about repaying honorable sacrifice here,* but vets are the best patients. Most of them have seen or experienced something much worse than whatever brought them into the hospital, as they will be quick to tell you.

I have seen vets in the VA emergency department who insisted they wanted to go home despite the excellent likelihood that they needed some variety of urgent surgery. I have seen a vet with a sodium of 112 (that’s gonna-die-soon low) get up and walk outside the hospital for a smoke, then calmly return to his bed and re-hook himself to the various probes and monitors attached to his skin. I have seen a vet with enough fluid in his legs to sink the Titanic ask his nurse if she wants to go and get a drink.

I. Love. Working at the VA.

Unfortunately, working at the VA also requires one to obtain access to the VA computer system. This process involves submitting paperwork to an administrator a ludicrous four months in advance of the expected rotation start date, including a set of fingerprints, an extensive background check, and an onerous online training module that takes eight hours and a Xanax to complete.


^that is my pithy picture indicating “drowning in red tape.”

Although I completed this ordeal during my second year when I rotated at the VA for medicine, some undisclosed deadline had long since expired and I needed to repeat the entire process all over again.

In October, I wrote up all the paperwork, submitted it to the Proper Authorities, and commenced waiting. Despite my reputation as a generally impatient person with no attention span, in actuality I have become quite good at waiting. This is because the four years and $250,000 in tuition required for a medical degree goes primarily toward teaching you how to wait for stuff, and also how to send faxes.

A required interlude: During my second year, access to the VA included a very complicated username and password, which I will refer to here as “codes.” Everyone else besides medical students had ID badges that could be handily plugged in to a computer station, automatically logging in.

Instead, we had an alphanumeric string of nonsense as a password.

The Powers That Be rectified this situation when I was a third year (and thus no longer rotating at the VA), granting ID card access to the classes below me. This will become important shortly.

Interlude over. I was summoned today to an unmarked office within the VA, which I found after wandering by accident into a restricted area and almost provoking my instantaneous death by Taser, to retrieve my codes.

I opened my envelope containing my codes, which included a password that resembled the following:


I then was instructed to attempt to log in to verify that the system worked. My login attempts failed as the computer instructed me, “This domain requires a smart card.”

I don’t have a smart card. I have codes.

Over the next two hours, Glory the office worker and I figured out what happened, although this included a call to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a congressional subpoena.

See, because medical students now have ID cards, the system is only set up now to accept logins using ID cards. However, because I already had preexisting codes, I was thus in a Different System than the ID Badge System. It was very important that those two systems never interact, or else we would become embroiled in a land war with Pakistan.

After more checking, Glory informed me that there was, in fact, a workaround.

The workaround involved calling the help desk and getting “an exemption” to use the codes. Without this exemption, my repeated login attempts would ultimately result in the automatic dispatch of a SWAT team to my location and my summary execution, so this would prove a necessary step.

This seemed simple, until Glory informed me that the exemption had an expiration. Okay. How long?

“48 hours.”

…Excuse me?

The exemption granted by the Help Desk lasted only 48 hours, after which I would be forced to call the Desk again for another exemption. This is because the existence of an exemption to use codes more cryptographically secure than the Enigma machine apparently constitutes a national security threat on par with the compromise of the nation’s power grid network.

I later found out that the Help Desk was centralized, meaning that no matter where you were calling from, you ended up with Doris from Kansas, or Ethel in Nebraska, ad infinitum, of course after hitting the following required numbers in succession to reach a human: 1, 3, 2, 2, 8. Para español, oprima el “9.”

This meant that I could not connive my way into obtaining an extension lasting longer than 48 hours, since a totally different person would be picking up the phone every time.

So, next month, when I’m on 36-hour shifts at the VA, I’ll have to call in every two days to the help desk to obtain an authorization to log in to the computer. This is the most spectacular display of bureaucratic red tape, I think possibly ever. I cannot recall a scenario where something this Kafka-esque has occurred outside of The Trial. I am prisoner to an office phone and a bored, anonymous government employee for the next month.

Have mercy on me, please, and pray that I don’t accidentally start a thermonuclear war with Russia.

2 thoughts on “Red Tape

  1. Pingback: The Coming Reckoning | STATUS HAZMATICUS

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