Here's To The Really Nice People

There are some really nice people in this world. I found a few of them at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Durham, N.C.

Caring, kind staff can make a hospital stay less stressful.

As I write this Week-Ender, I am in the waiting room of the dialysis unit at the hospital. My brother, an Army veteran, recently had serious medical issues leading to his admittance to the hospital.

VA hospitals too often get a bad rap. Sometimes the criticism is valid, such as the Walter Reed debacle. But I can’t find anything bad to say about the Durham VA Hospital, and it’s all because of the people.

The VA Hospital here is affiliated with the Duke University Hospital, and the doctors and professional staff from Duke support the VA Hospital. So the level of medical treatment is as good as it gets anywhere--and better than most.

But in my brief experience here, I saw that the human element is what makes the place special.

Anyone in the medical profession these days can tell you how busy they are. VA hospitals are especially busy, between older veterans and those coming back from recent wars.

I’ve never had any previous experience with VA hospitals, other than what I had heard on the news or through the rumor mill.

So I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that my oldest brother was being admitted to the VA Hospital in Durham.

Since I happened to be working in nearby Jacksonville, I was in a position where I could get there quickly to help. I braced myself for the worst as I walked into the facility.

To my relief, it is a modern, clean, and “people friendly” facility. No institutional look here;  everywhere there are signs and posters with slogans that promote excellent customer service for the men and women who served in the military.

Good leadership starts at the top, but it becomes evident throughout all layers of an organization.  At the VA Durham Hospital, everybody I pass is friendly and professional--including most of the patients. This indicates to me that someone at the top is paying attention.

Most people I pass in the hallways, whether doctors, nurses, patients, or medical students, have a “good morning” or “how ya’ doin’,” even though they probably have other things on their minds.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been approached by someone saying, “Can I help you?” when I appeared to be lost trying to find one place or another in the vast facility.

Even the little robotic medicine carts that wander up and down the hallways like R2D2 on Star Wars are friendly, and if they get too close to a person they stop and say “excuse me” as they wait for you to pass. (The first couple times I saw these little robotic couriers it kind of freaked me out.)

If I had to use one word to describe the treatment I saw staff provide to patients, it would be “passionate.”

I’ve spent five days here almost non-stop watching shifts change, staff coming and going. And though the faces change, the attitudes remain consistently positive.

I watched one nurse named Tim work a double shift, go home for eight hours, and come back for another shift in the same good mood coming and going.

I watched the doctors, nurses, and even students coming over from Duke. They no doubt have many other patients or duties, but when they come into my brother’s room, we have their full attention. They spend all the time we need discussing my brother’s case, looking for solutions.

Watching my oldest brother experience critical health issues is disturbing, and it puts me in touch with my own mortality; it makes me appreciate how fragile life is. I will not take my health for granted anymore, and strive to keep it.

But the experience has been made much easier thanks to the staff and leadership at the Durham VA.

If I ever have need for a VA hospital, I’m heading to Durham.

But the good people there are just a few of the many men and women doing good things every day across America. If you have any stories about good people doing good things, share them here, now with other PRB readers.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Peachtree City, Ga.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email