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:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No worries about the mental health services. You would be surprised how many of these services are available. Also, they do have mental medical evacs but if you take those you have thrown in the towel.

The health care both mental and physcial is wonderful! I could not ask for better. In short, it sounds like you are not going to PC Africa but there are many other wonderful places.

Remember, PC especially PST will bring you face to face with all your demons. Be sure you are ready to handle thoughts you have not had since high school.

Good luck with the process and I would highly recommend not cheating on the medical forms because if you ever want to do work for government or a government contractor they will read you PC application and if things do not match you can impact your chances by not being completely honest.