Thursday, September 30, 2010

PC, Update #2: Medical Kit

Soooo, today I finally got back to Zurich after more than four weeks of traveling. It was a fantastic trip, educational on many different levels. You learn just as much about yourself as you do other people/places/cultures when you travel.

Waiting for me on my bed when I walked in the door was my Peace Corps medical kit, which contains all the forms I'm going to have to get filled out and some guides about how to do everything most efficiently. Basically it breaks down into three parts:

  • Medical: This includes getting a physical (clinical exam); getting a laboratory evaluation (blood and w/ reports checking for TB, HIV, CBC, Hep B (surface antibody, surface antigen, core antibody), Hep C antibody, G6PD titer, and urinalysis); getting any missing immunizations (Td or Tdap Booster, Polio Booster, MMR #1, MMR #2 booster, Varicella #1, Varicella #2); and providing documentation for all immunizations I've ever had. In addition, and very annoyingly, I have to write a personal statement about any psychological/psychiatric treatment I've received. This is additional stuff, and the only reason it's included is because on the initial Health Status Review, I said I had been to see a psychologist before, like when I was 11. That was just a couple times after my parents divorced, because my dad wanted to make sure everything was all right. And I also have to get my shoulder checked out and diagnosed, since I reported that it has sometimes been dislocated. That might mean X-rays. which would be lame. All t's must be crossed, all i's must be dotted, all documentation must be copied and saved, all lab reports included, and absolutely nothing may be left blank.

  • Dental: I need to get a general dental evaluation, a periodontal evaluation, and have the dentist check for a specific list of abnormalities. I must also include either a full mouth series of x-rays or a Panorex with bitewing X-rays.

  • Optometric: I have to have my eyes examined to confirm a prescription, and I have to fill out a form for specific measurements of replacement frames in the event that the glasses I bring with me break or are lost.

That's the long and short of it. The medical part will obviously be the most complicated. My situation is also complicated with insurance. My insurance in Switzerland should cover the physical exam. But I'm not sure if it would cover blood analysis and urinalysis. On top of that, the Peace Corps put an addendum in my packet warning me of the perils of getting lab work done in foreign countries, which often do not have the same standards that the US has, and so are often not acceptable. I called my Peace Corps medical review assistant, and he said my best bet, if I'm set on doing it in Switzerland, would be to call the US embassy and see if their medical office has a list of approved laboratories whose results are acceptable by American standards. It's a very pompous position. I mean, this is Switzerland, not Swaziland. But this is their game, so I have to play by their rules.

For the dental, I know that I'm for sure not covered with my insurance here. Luckily, I have learned that there are dentists across the US (members of the International College of Dentists, USA Section Fellows) who volunteer to do the exams and X-rays for Peace Corps Volunteers free of charge. Not only that, but there are half a dozen of them who work within an hour of my home in South Florida. So I think I could get that taken care of without much issue, especially considering I have a healthy mouth and no history of cavities, no fillings, no problems with wisdom teeth, no gum disease. Hopefully that'll be one of those in-and-out procedures.

As for the eye exam, that should also be covered by my insurance in Switzerland, and shouldn't be more than a single-appointment deal.

I have also learned that at VA facilities in the US, some doctors will perform the medical stuff, including the blood analysis and urinalysis, free of charge, as a courtesy from one government organization to another. It's done on a space-available basis, so it's not the same guarantee as going to a private provider. But it's free, and you get the feeling that a publicly funded hospital is going to be less willing to point out (or invent) insignificant abnormalities than a private facility, which profits from your return business. That could also be an option. I'll be looking into that presently.

Writing this out is helpful for me to keep it all straight in my head. When I look at all the information like this, I see that it may be more sensible to go back to the US and take advantage of the free options. I also wouldn't have to deal with the hassle of these different standards in blood tests. Blood tests are the most expensive thing here, and if I have to get multiple tests, it's going to cost big.

So that's what I've got for now. More as the situation develops.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Peace Corps, First Update

So, as I wrote in the last post, I've applied to join the Peace Corps. Here are some of the raw facts about Peace Corps, for those who are unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with it:

Peace Corps entails 27 months of service overseas, where a volunteer works in and with a community in one of six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment. The work is not paid -- it is voluntary. The Peace Corps does, however, provide volunteers with a living allowance that is adjusted to the standard of living wherever they serve; they pay for the flight to and from the work destination; they provide and pay for any medical care necessary during the service. Peace Corps is strictly non-military, and has nothing whatsoever to do with United Nations Peacekeepers. You have to be an American citizen to serve. You do not get to choose where you serve, but you can indicate geographic preferences. Ultimately, the determining factor is what skills you have and where those skills can best be utilized.

So those are some facts. Back in June I began my application. I filled out the pages about my whole background, I got recommendations from Mrs. Legrand (my 12th grade lit teacher and NHS supervisor), from Mimi Miller (good friend who has known me forever), and from Craig Lancto (my supervisor at NESA in Washington, DC). I had to write a couple essays, and then fill out a long questionnaire about my health status and history. Soon afterwards, I got a packet of various forms to fill out -- I got myself fingerprinted for the security check, filled out a National Agency Check form, sent my college transcripts, and also completed a couple other forms asking about my skills and experience. I had the interview with my Peace Corps recruiter on August 16th.

The process with Peace Corps goes something like this: You submit all those application materials, then you have an interview with a recruiter. If, after reviewing your application and conducting the interview, the recruiter thinks you are qualified to move forward, he/she Nominates you for service. Nomination means that you are continuing on the track to eventual Peace Corps service, but it's not the same thing as an actual invitation to serve. With your nomination, you learn the general type of work that you will do, you get a (tentative) timeframe for departure, and they tell you what geographic region you will (tentatively) serve in.

My nomination right now is to work in Secondary Education/Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and the program would be in Asia, tentatively beginning in early April 2011. Peace Corps currently has programs operating in six countries in the region they define as "Asia" -- those countries are China, Mongolia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. So that's what I'm looking forward to at the moment: 27 months serving in one of those six countries, beginning in April 2011, which is about six-and-a-half months away.

Now, after you've been nominated, you have to be cleared medically and legally to serve. Medical clearance is the longest part of the process. You need to get clearance from a physician, dentist, and optometrist, as well as any specialists. You have to get blood and urine analysis. You need immunizations. You need dental x-rays. You need to get your sight and hearing checked. Anything that comes up as "abnormal" must be taken care of before medical clearance is granted. If there's anything wrong with your mouth -- cavities, wisdom teeth, etc., it has to be taken care of before you go. So, if it's not done smoothly, or there are irregularities, clerical errors, and/or miscommunications, the process can get very messy. Hopefully for me it will be a smooth ride, because I'm 22 and healthy, with no special medical conditions that would need accommodation.

My situation right now is somewhat complicated because I live in Switzerland and my insurance is here, so I may have to do parts or all of the medical clearance stuff here. I will not be insured in the US until January, when my dad will be able to put me back on his policy as a child under 26, thanks to the health care reform. I had originally thought to go back to the US in early October to do the whole medical clearance business, but without insurance it would be too expensive. Apparently you can get the medical examinations done at a VA hospital for no charge -- so that would be an option in the States. Still, I think I'm going to have to stay in Switzerland an extra month to take care of this stuff. At the moment I just don't have enough information about what specifically is being asked for and what my insurance will cover.

So, after you are granted medical clearance, then the Peace Corps can decide whether to actually give you an invitation to serve. You are considered for available positions and compared with other candidates -- but I've been told by my recruiter not to worry about this part of the process. The great majority of those who are nominated and cleared to serve are invited to serve. When you are invited, then you finally know specifically what country you will serve in and what date you leave. Then it's up to you to accept or not.

I'm now at the outset of the medical clearance process. I want to sort of keep a record of what happens throughout the rest of the application process in this blog, so that's what I'll try to do.

News Update

Well, it's been a really, really, really, ...really, really..., really long time since I updated here. It's not that I haven't been writing -- actually I'm probably writing more now than I ever have, but it's just been by hand in notebooks, rather than online. Still, I haven't forgotten about this blog, and now perhaps I'll recalibrate the purpose. When you split up everything I have to say, it can all be divided into categories of things I want to share and things that I want to keep private. This has got to be the public record.

So, to catch up anyone who hasn't known what's been happening with me the last few months...
Towards the end of July I went to Tobel, in northeastern Switzerland, to help with the art festival called Tatort Komturei, which was in its second year of existence. I was there for the two weeks before the Vernissage (opening day) to help with the myriad tasks that needed doing, and I remained through the end of the festival, which lasted three weeks. I was also taking care of the Pilgrim Hostel, responsible for keeping the place spick-and-span. We had some pilgrims, but most of the guests were either artists or friends/family of artists who were connected with the Tatort. So, in all, I was there for five weeks.

Afterwards, I returned to Zurich for about ten days or so before setting off on a month-long journey in Germany and Ireland. I'm writing this from Dublin, where I've had to stay an extra day because of airplane trouble. Tomorrow I'm flying to Berlin. At the outset, I used ridesharing to get to Munich, where I stayed for about five days with Michael, my friend and Couchsurfing Host Extraordinaire. I flew to Dublin with Ryanair, where I stayed for a week. I stayed with three different Couchsurfing hosts (or sets of hosts) -- the first two days with Piotr, a Polish fellow who's been in Ireland for a good long while; the second pair of days with Therese and Jonathan, a couple who were really great hosts with a kindred streak of nerdiness; then I stayed three nights with Carina, Maite, and Pedro, which is where I got the first real taste of "partying" in Dublin.

After that week, I went to Cork to spend time with my grandmother and my aunt Ita. It was wonderful to catch up with them, to learn about my Irish family, to talk and talk and talk. I spent a day with my uncle Maurice, and I briefly met my dad's cousin Ted to pick up a family tree tracing the Curtin quarter of my lineage. Made trips to Cobh and Kinsale (Cobh was the most important point of departure for Irish emigrants in the 19th century, and the last place Titanic ever picked up passengers -- it was very absorbing to be there). After five or six days of home-cooked meals, doting relatives, and fascinating exchanges, I took the bus to Galway. I stayed there two nights with Astra and his flatmates, who were a lot of fun. On Sunday, I took the bus back to Dublin, where I've been since.

Meanwhile, I've applied to join the Peace Corps. I will write about this in a separate post.