Sunday, November 21, 2004

Conditional Love

Just as the woman from the Office of Medical Services suggested, a letter did indeed arrive Saturday. I have now been officially medically cleared; I have the letter to prove it! At long last, this part of my Peace Corps experience has come to an end and I can start on the next part, which is the Invitation/Departure. There are some... exceptions, however, clauses to my acceptance that I'm not sure how to feel about. Well, here is a transcription of the most pertinent parts of the letter, provided for the benefit of people who might be curious about such things (emphasis mine):

Thank you for submitting all the requested medical and dental information to the Office of Medical Services. You have been medically and dentally qualified for Peace Corps service in a country where psychological support services are available should they be required and where nuts are not a dietary staple.


You are required to bring a three (3) month supply of all your current medication/s to country with you. You are required to obtain and carry an anaphylaxis kit with you at all times. For your allergies, please wear a Med-alert bracelet at all times while you are in Peace Corps service.

Now, I find myself a little torn about this conditional acceptance. On one hand, I'm just glad they've accepted me and we can all move forward now. On the other hand, I can't help but sigh a little at the overcautious zeal to which they've approached my health status in these two areas. First of all, readers of this blog will remember that they treated my past counseling with kid gloves. When I voluntarily admitted I'd sought out counseling for various quite normal reasons, they nevertheless treated me as though I was mentally unhinged and might crack at any time. I'll come clean with my readers here. In high school I was -- how to say? -- very troubled. I don't know what my problem was, but I know I often had dark thoughts and turned inward with my feelings. One day in school I cut at my wrists with a piece of broken mirror I had found in the hallway during class. Yes, that's right, I did this during class. It was during art, my favorite subject and the class where I just happened to be seated at the same table as two asshole skaters who always gave me hell and never took me seriously. I didn't really mean it as a final gesture, not really. I just wanted to shock the hell of them and to relish in the looks on their faces as I cut my own flesh. Well, they took me seriously after that! I wasn't some lame geek; I had a troubled streak and it served to earn some respect from them. Problem was, my friends immediately went to my mother and ratted me out (well, combined with some of the morbid and disturbing drawings I had a penchant for drawing at the time), and next thing I knew I was in weekly therapy sessions and was put on Prozac.

Fast forward ten years. I am married, starting graduate school, I have just pathetically ditched the Peace Corps, and I have many more problems than just adolescent malaise and low self-esteem. Buckling under the pressures of a dying marriage and college courses that were not going as well as I'd hoped (to put it mildly; I actually got an F in one of my classes in my first semester at grad school, my first F since high school), I get a little despondent and feel not quite myself. "Easy," I think, "I'm depressed again, like in high school. I'll just get onto some Prozac and I'll soon be right as rain." No -- this time it wasn't working, which should have been my first sign that my problems weren't biological. I also sought out counseling as my marriage collapsed like a black hole. Who wouldn't? Or, more accurately, shouldn't I have? A couple years later I feel better. Moving on.

But the Peace Corps was concerned about it, and now they've taken steps to limit where I might be assigned to those places that have psychological support services available. I don't know what this means -- actually, I thought there were no psychological support services available in the Peace Corps. It might work in my favor; it might lean me toward the Caribbean or Pacific, areas that are more Westernized and are coincidentally the areas I'd prefer to serve. It might also put me in more urban environments. But what the actual ramifications will be are unclear and they make me very nervous.

As for the nuts thing: (sigh) yes, I am allergic to nuts, but I've been perfectly aware of this allergy for over twenty years and know how to avoid foods with them. I suppose enough nuts could put me into anaphylactic shock, sure, but long before I consumed that much I'd be aware of the changes happening in my body and I could stop eating. The reaction I get is a pulsating feeling in my mouth, along with throat tightness, a swollen tongue, sinus activity and chest constrictions. Classic allergic reaction stuff. I've never needed an epinephrine shot because it would be almost impossible for me to eat that many nuts without noticing the onset in time to minimize it. I'd have to willfully shovel mouthfuls of almonds down my gullet to activate a serious medical emergency. So again the OMS took a simple minor molehill and made a mountain out of it. I'm not going to carry around a bloody kit, nor am I going to get a wristband. It just isn't that serious of a problem.

The thing that gets me is, both of these problems were part of my life when I volunteered in 1998. Nothing's changed.

All this serves to once again enforce the rule of thumb: when in doubt, leave it out. If you don't think something is that big of a deal, don't mark it on your medical questionnaire.

Thanks for listening. Now let me say this, on a positive note:


Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Just a follow-up to my previous post:

I broke down and called the Peace Corps to talk to someone in Medical. I just wanted to know if they were waiting for me to do something... I was afraid I was waiting for them, and they were waiting for me, and so it would go with nothing being done forever.

Of course, I had to leave a message, but this time they were back to me in like 30 minutes. "It says here," the nurse said, "you were MEDICALLY CLEARED on Tuesday."

Me: "Oh."

Wouldn't you know it -- the two days I don't go online obsessively to check my status are exactly the two days when changes occur. Anyway, the good news I'm medically cleared, and right now my application is finishing its arduous journey over at Legal. I already talked to them a while back and they expressed optimism that it should rush through there, since even though I have a divorce on my record, I owe nothing to my ex-wife (in fact, it's the other way around!), I have no children, and I have only student loan debt to contend with.

Here's hoping I'll be hearing from the Placement Officers in a few days! Of course, you'll be the first to know.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Peace Corps Headquarters

Originally uploaded by hawaiianbrian.
This photo was taken when I was in Washington DC a couple months ago. I went down to see all the sights on the National Mall and HAD to take a side journey to check out the Peace Corps Headquarters. So this is it -- the humble building that serves as the "brain" for the operation. I was surprised; I was expecting something bigger, I guess. :)

I'll be back there for Thanksgiving to visit my ex-girlfriend (see The Way We Were). If I still haven't resolved this medical issue, I'll be dropping by to see them in person!


p.s. If posting this image is deemed to compromise Peace Corps security or confidentiality, I'll gladly remove it. In this day and age of paranoia and hyper-vigilance, I hope I haven't crossed some kind of line. :(

The Sound of Silence

I know, I know. I'm supposed to be exercising patience right now. But the fact that I haven't heard diddly from the PC in many weeks is starting to make me a little nervous. Actually, I wouldn't be nervous at all -- that's just the nature of the application, and that the PC is understaffed and overworked. But I got to wondering a little while ago if there was a miscommunication. You might remember I was requested to go seek out a psych evaluation, and that apparently got sorted out when the Medical Desk person finally got to speak one-on-one with my ex-counselor. OR at least that's what he said in an e-mail. What if he was mistaken and the Medical Desk is sitting there, waiting for me to do something I didn't think I needed to do?

So my paranoia go the better of me and I called on Monday, getting the infamous voice mail box, and of course I still haven't heard back from them. If I don't get a call by about 2 pm tomorrow I'll call again. I hear the PC actually wants people who are dogged and do not flag in the face of obstacles. I'm not about to give up my goal/dream/destiny of the Peace Corps over something like this. It would just be nice to get it resolved!

Anyway, you may be wondering why on earth I haven't posted in nearly three weeks. What happened was, my grandfather died (actually on the very night of my last TheToughestJob entry) and I had to go to the funeral right after that. Most of my family is from Texas, specifically west Texas, and so I had to spend a few days over there for the funeral. It was... surreal. I had been to a funeral only once before, for someone I didn't know, and I was about ten at the time so my mother didn't permit me to approach the casket. Up until a couple weeks ago, I had never seen a dead body in my life. Then the dead body just happened to be my own grandfather, which was very, very disturbing. I've read about such feelings before and never really connected with the sense of disconnection and disgust people have described feeling at seeing a relative or loved one in a casket. Now I know.

We held a "viewing" the night before, which for those of you who may be blissfully ignorant (as I was) is a sort of awkward ceremony where the family of the deceased stand around in a side room of the funeral home (another first for me) and other friends, family, and acquaintances drop by to chat and view the body. Hence the name. If you have ever heard the term, "elephant in the room," you will come to understand its full meaning at such an event. Everyone stands around and discusses who just got into college, who just had babies, who is on kidney dialysis, what to do about the Iraq war, etc. etc. etc., all while a dead body is sitting a few feet away. And the thing in the casket didn't even remotely look like my grandfather. It was like a Madame Toussaud's wax museum version of him, this plastic effigy of a man I once knew and loved. I am now of the firm conviction that I simply do not belong to the "culture" of America -- its consumerism, capitalism, religions, and lots more. And now I can firmly say this macabre ceremony runs so counter to my own beliefs that it has really driven home how out of place I am here.

Oddly, my mother asked me later how I would have felt about it, had I been in another culture. Say, in Africa in the Peace Corps or something, and a local bigwig from the village had died. Honestly, I probably wouldn't feel as dismayed, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I wouldn't be related to that bigwig. But nevertheless I think staring at a dead body and sobbing uncontrollably only serves to prolong the agony. I, personally, would rather never see them again and deal with the grief alone. And I desperately hope my own passing isn't marked by such a morbid and maudlin display.

Well, now that I got that off my mind, I can apologize for the long space between postings. As I've said before, though, this part of the application process is coming along at a snail's pace, and I have very little to report outside various personal issues, like the one above. I'm not sure how interested most readers of this blog are to read entries unrelated to Peace Corps matters. But you may find a few more from time to time as the application process crawls along. Hope you don't mind.


p.s. The purpose of the above entry was to rant, not to solicit condolences on my grandfather's death. I'm okay, I really am. Thanks, though. :)