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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Medical Preparations

As anyone who has, is, or is preparing to serve in the Peace Corps already knows, the pre-departure medical to-do list is lengthy. Prior to even being invited to serve, I completed a huge medical form, explaining any and all aspects of my medical background. Because I was completing this form less than two years after my 2010 ankle surgery, I also had to get all of the medical records connected to the 25 months of living with the injured ankle, the surgical report, the post-operative PT, and most importantly, Dr. McKibben's assessment of the ankle after everything was said and done. This it turned out, was not enough information as a few months after I submitted all of this, the Peace Corps medical office asked for a one page statement of how this injury/surgery continues to impact my life. Although exhaustive, I can understand their concern when I consider how much the injury impacted my life and for how long!

This should have prepared me for the adventure of actual pre-departure medical preparations, but I am apparently naive at times.

Following my invitation to serve, I immediately began the process of making medical and dental appointments. I was nervous about seeing the dentist for the first time since I left Michigan (yes, I know, it's embarrassing!). Despite not noticing any problems, I was dreaming of being told I needed everything from caps and crowns to dentures. It turns out that my new dentist, Dr. Munson of Vermont only found one itty-bitty cavity. Thus, the dental preparations ended up centering around multiple phone calls to my former dentist in Michigan whose record keeper does not like to share. The first time I requested records and x-rays be sent to my new dentist, she sent a poor photocopy of my most recent x-rays; no paperwork or assessments. Dr. Munson was not impressed and coached me on the next series of requests from polite to threatening to turn the office into the ADA for failing to share my records. Finally, three months after my first request, Dr. Munson received my records and was able to sign off on the dental forms.

Finding a primary care doctor in northern New Hampshire would prove to be much more difficult. In hindsight, I should have started this process in September when I returned to school and knew that I had good insurance (Thank you Oliverian!). I procrastinated, mostly because I did not want to pay for an appointment only to then get an invitation to the Peace Corps and have to do it all over again. The Peace Corps requires all tests, etc to have happened no more than six months before departure.

Finally, in December, the Peace Corps shared the many pages of medical paperwork and I set about trying to make an appointment with a primary care physician. As I called various doctors' offices around the area, I learned that doctors in the area were either "not accepting new patients" or if accepting them there was a fifty-person waiting list. I have heard various references to not having enough primary care physicians available in the US, but did not realize how true it was until faced with the task of finding someone to be my doctor for six months!

Finally, after sounded close to tears while on the phone with a receptionist, she put me in touch with their Community Health Advocate, Suzanne. Suzanne was wonderful! Not only did she figure out which office and doctor could see me the soonest, but she also helped in the task of getting previous medical records. This turned out to be even more difficult than getting my dental records, as the doctor's office in Charleston simply never responded to our faxes and calls while the office in Michigan told her that I had never been a patient despite my almost four years of visiting their office. In the end, Suzanne went against their normal policies by making my appointments before having all of my records, which meant I could finally get going on the huge packet of expectations.

To be honest, I was pretty stressed going into my doctor's visit. When I was first applying for the Peace Corps, they were very honest about the medical issues that can preclude someone from serving. Obesity is not one of them, however, if combined with another issue such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc, it does. Despite not having had any of these things in the past, and my personal medical expert Aunt Nancy's reassurances I was unlikely to spontaneously develop them, I was still worried that something would appear to take me out of the game. 

And so, in the last two weeks I have:
  • Gotten a full physical in which the doctor said that I am clearly fit for a few years in Africa and have proven it with my jobs over the last few years
  • Proven that I don't have HIV, Hep C, anemia, high cholesterol, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, blood sugar issues, and more
  • Proven that I do have the antibodies for chickenpox, mumps, rubella, and hopefully measles (still waiting for that test to come back)
  • Received yet another Tdap inoculation because the records for the one I got three years ago hadn't come in yet
  • Gotten really excited that all my worrying was for nothing! 
And in the next two weeks I will get my yellow fever and polio vaccines at the travel clinic. That should finish up all the medical preparations, with three weeks to spare. That's not bad for not getting in to a doctor until six weeks before the deadline!


Jen Webber said...

I've thought about this kind of medical screening since I have so many friends who go down to the ice. The worry of, "what if they find something I should be worrying about?? I mean, I feel fine, but...."
It is totally stressful! I am so excited for you!

incongruous wayne's adventures in a foreign land said...

just be careful of your oral health. Wayne ended up with periodontal disease apparently from the food in Ethiopia and not flossing enough.

Beth said...

Wow, Wayne, if that isn't inspiration for flossing, I don't know what would be!