Friday, October 29, 2010

(PC#4) Man walks out of a building...

arm in pain after getting shot in it, missing a lot of blood. Someone says, "Son, you need to see a doctor!" Man replies, "That's a hospital back there, buddy."

I don't really know how those jokes are supposed to go.

Anyway, the last two days were pretty active for Peace Corps business. Tuesday morning I went to the dentist, which went splendidly. The office was about five minutes away from my house, the dentist was a very affable fellow with friendly (and cute, I might add) assistants, and it went off without a hitch. I got my Panorex x-rays -- with bitewings, of course -- and Dr. A checked out my mouth. He complimented my hygiene and said everything looked perfect. And there's no sign that I'll ever have to get my wisdom teeth out, praise Allah. No cavities or gum problems, no further work needed. He just told me to make sure I take extra care of my teeth in Asia because the water will probably not be fluoridated. So dental is done!

Tuesday afternoon I drove up to the VA hospital in West Palm to have my physical. I thought I was going to need additional trips to draw blood, get blood results, do any immunizations, perhaps even an X-ray for my shoulder; I thought I might need an additional appointment with a specialist about my shoulder. But here's how it actually went down:

I got in there, gave the doctor the form with all the things that need to be filled out, and we got to work. He did the physical, ordered all the blood tests, ordered a tetanus booster shot, a PPD to test for tuberculosis, and ordered an X-ray for my shoulder. After the physical, I got the booster in my arm, the PPD in my forearm, then went and got five or six vials of blood drawn, peed in a cup, and got my shoulder X-rayed. All in one trip! I was a bit nervous with the blood tests because I hadn't fasted, and I've read a few horror stories about blood tests coming back screwy because people had eaten too recently. But the doctor assured me that none of the tests I needed would be affected by eating. I had an appointment made for Thursday (two days later) so that they could check the PPD to see if I'd reacted to it and so the doc could examine the results of the X-ray.

Well, I went back today, and my expectations were exceeded AGAIN! Except I did have to wait an extra 40 minutes or so past the appointed time, but that's small potatoes. I didn't react at all to the PPD (there's supposed to be some kind of induration in your skin as a response to the protein they inject, and the larger the induration, the more there is to be concerned about), which was perfect. The doctor saw nothing abnormal in the X-rays, so he cleared my shoulder. And as icing on the cake, almost all my blood work was already done! HIV, CBC, the three Hep B's, Hep C, and my urinalysis were all taken care of (disease free!). The only lab test still missing was the G6PD titer, which has significance for the kind of medications one can take against malaria or other blood ailments, the doctor told me. Tests also showed that I'm immune to Varicella and MMR. The only thing I'm not sure about is if I'll still need a Polio booster.

Sooooo, in about a week I'll call the hospital to see if the final blood test has come in, and if so, then I'll make an appointment and have the doc finish up my medical packet, pick up documentation of all the blood work and the X-rays (plus make sure the Polio is taken care of), photocopy EVERYTHING, and mail all this crap back to the Office of Medical Clearance. Just to think, this could all be over with in the next couple weeks! And even with delays, more than a month would be very unlikely. Then it's just a matter of OMC getting around to actually going through my file. Reading other applicant blogs, some people are waiting six weeks and more after submitting their paperwork before hearing a single thing. And then they might also send it back because something is wrong. But I think not -- things will be in good order.

Things are actually going according to plan! I don't feel rushed or panicked or nervous. But with each little hurdle that gets cleared, I feel closer to service and things feel a little bit more real. It's exciting.

As a side note: getting a tetanus booster is no walk in the park. Whatever chemical that is makes your arm bruise and hurt for a few days afterwards. I woke up yesterday morning feeling like I'd been shanked.

Monday, October 25, 2010

PC Update #3: A couple notes

Well, it's been a few weeks since I posted any updates on what's actually been going on with me.

I came back to Florida on the 13th, about a week and a half ago. I've been trying to keep busy -- setting up my room, doing some cleaning/rearranging in the house, taking care of whatever Peace Corps business I can take care of at the current time, helping with chores, setting up some tutoring gigs for $$.

As far as Peace Corps stuff goes, Tuesday is a big day. In the morning I'm going to the dentist for the examination and the x-rays. In the afternoon, I'm heading to the VA hospital in West Palm for my physical exam. I think I'll be able to schedule the appointment for the lab work at that appointment, hopefully as soon as possible. Last week I got a signature from a specialist that I needed, and I picked up my immunization history from my high school. Looks like I'm going to need quite a few new shots. Pooey.

Also, I checked the Peace Corps Wiki site, where there's a great chart of staging dates for known invitations/locations. My nomination is for Asia in early April, and I've spotted an April 4th date for Indonesia. I had already thought that the two most likely countries of my service were Cambodia and Indonesia, with Cambodia being the most likely. Well, time to adjust that. Indonesia is in the lead! I would be thrilled to go to either one. My job is to make sure the rest of clearance goes smoothly so I can actually GO there. ...Tuesday is a big day!

The "It Gets Better" Snowball

Back in February or March I started listening to the Savage Love podcast by Dan Savage. For those who don't know, Dan Savage is an advice columnist who has gained considerable fame and a quite devout base of readers and listeners. Anyway, I find him entertaining and insightful, so I've listened to the weekly podcast since a friend introduced me to it.

Recently there has been a wave of reporting on teen suicides, especially gay teens, that seem to have been caused by bullying. There were a large number of stories about teens who were teased and harassed because they were gay, or simply perceived as gay. Listening to the podcast about a month ago, Dan Savage opened the show by talking about gay teen suicides and announcing the start of the It Gets Better Project. He said that his heart just broke thinking about these kids feeling so hopeless and alone, and simply wished that he could spend five minutes talking to them. The Project encouraged Dan Savage's readers and listeners to make YouTube videos sharing their own experiences -- their difficulties with bullying or persecution or family hardship when they were young, and how their lives have turned out since then.

Since then, thousands upon thousands of videos have been uploaded by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and even straight individuals to share their stories and encourage youths to stick it out, because life gets better. People grow up and they leave their hometowns and they find others who accept them and love them, and they have the freedom to be who they are and find work that the love to do and so on and so on. Many of the videos are truly inspiring.

It has been fascinating to watch the Project snowball over the last four or five weeks. Pretty soon some celebrities took notice and contributed their own videos. News networks interviewed Dan Savage. Social networks posted links to videos. Gay politicians have come out with their own stories, including this one, which is incredibly moving. Recently, very prominent national figures have made their own "It Gets Better" videos, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the man himself.

The attention the Project is receiving is really wonderful. Awareness must be raised, for this is an issue that has been chronically ignored. The one disappointing trend in the snowballing of It Gets Better is how impersonal the videos are becoming, especially the ones made by bigwigs. If you watch the videos by Obama and Hillary Clinton, you see they are terribly dry. They share no personal experiences. I mean, I would love to hear about Barack's days being bullied because he was mixed-race or the time Hillary was shoved in a locker because she was a total nerd. Something more than a perfunctory, "Like all of you, I was shocked and saddened to learn about the recent deaths of..." followed by an uninspired speech calling for change. I would expect more out of a master of hope delivery. The soul of It Gets Better is the personal touch, and if all these insincere videos come out, it's going to become like the American flag pin on the lapel -- something you have to put on, even if you don't really care or mean it.

That's a pretty minor gripe. Overall, it's a fantastic thing that the Project has gained such attention. Hopefully it will actually inspire some change in schools to protect kids from bullies and give enough encouragement to kids who are going through hard times to stick it out and give existence a real shot.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Losing Sucks.

Okay, it was inevitable that a football post would make its way onto this blog.

Last week, my beloved Gators got beat down by Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Painful as it was to watch us get smacked around by a superior team, the result was never really in doubt after the first quarter. In the second half, we even showed improvement, moving the ball up the field and keeping them from scoring any offensive touchdowns. We failed miserably when we came close to their endzone, but with a few instances of better execution, the game could have been closer. And it's Alabama, on the road, so who was actually expecting to win? Losing to a clearly superior team on the road sucks, but it doesn't hurt.

Tonight we lost at home to LSU in exactly the opposite kind of game. A nail-biting, down-to-the-wire, make-you-want-to-choke-someone-for-every-little-mistake-we-make classic heartbreaker. Showing so much heart to come back and take the lead, then relying on the strongest part of your team, the defense, to simply prevent a touchdown...and they couldn't do it. Couldn't snuff out the fake field goal, even though that should have been the top priority when they were attempting a 54-yarder to tie the game. Janoris Jenkins went for the kicker instead of containment, and the step-and-a-half he lost allowed Josh Jasper to squeak over the line for a first down. LSU got lucky the ball bounced straight up, that the toss over the placeholder's head was perfectly lateral, that Jenkins went the wrong way...but what the hell, man?

And then they were still way far off from the endzone, and even a field goal from that spot would have been closer to a 50-yarder than a 40-yarder. But then another breakdown in coverage and inability to tackle, and they get a reception inside the 10-yard-line. No clock management issues, just calm execution of the same play twice. Safety didn't come out to help Jeremy Brown, even though he was in position to help, and should have because there was no way LSU was going to run the ball.

I know I get way too into the game. And after a loss like that, all I want to do is not think about football, and it's impossible. But it's especially hard when I've stayed up until 1:30am local time to watch the start of the game, sat faithfully at my computer staring at the live stream until five in the morning, and watched us give away a game that we might have won. And that with the knowledge that I've got to be up early tomorrow to go to my great aunt's birthday celebration. So I stayed up all night to watch us lose at the last second, ensuring myself both a miserable night and a miserable morning.

And losing to Les Miles sucks. There is not a luckier piece of crap coach in the country. Then again, we got pretty lucky that Patrick Peterson fumbled that punt. LSU got lucky that Chas Henry missed both tries at a field goal from easy range, and that after having had the ball on their 1-yard-line. Somehow, it's too much like the game three years ago in Baton Rouge, where they tore our hearts out in the last quarter.

When you win, your mind doesn't go back to all the missed opportunities. When you lose, it's impossible to stop the mental procession.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Returning to Florida

So, it's official: I'm coming back to Florida next Wednesday, October 13th.

It will have been 264 days away from the USA, or a shade under nine months. That's the longest I've ever been out of the country to this point. I'm hoping to triple it pretty soon :)

It's kind of a quick exit from Switzerland, considering I just got back from my trip five days ago, but it made the most sense. I've got to get back to the US to do my Peace Corps medical stuff (dental and physical exams will be free there), and there's nothing really tying me to Switzerland, aside from sentiment. Which is strong, to be sure. It's only starting to dawn on me that I will, in all likelihood, not see any of the people I care about who live in Europe for three years or more. It's more to digest than my metaphorical stomach can handle -- I think it will hit me harder later.

But, yeah, I'm going back to Boca. That's kind of a strange thing, as it's been more than four years since I moved away permanently. Now I'm going to have to reside there for six months. Most people I knew there are gone, either at university or wherever they moved on to after university (though there are some old friends still there, and a couple who are also temporarily staying with parents until whatever transition period they're in expires and they, too, shove off). I'll be living with my dad and brother, which ought to be a pretty good environment.

For my last nine days in Switzerland, I've just got a couple things to take care of -- deregistering as a resident, which should take no more than a couple of hours...and 30 Swiss francs; going to Orientation Day for the military on Wednesday, where they will hopefully dismiss me because of my circumstances (to which end I visited a doctor about my right shoulder's tendency to partially dislocate sometimes, and I got a nice note to show the Army); making a final visit to Tobel; and attending my great aunt's birthday celebration. Oh, and I need to see an optometrist. Aside from that, I just want to see some people, pack in an orderly and leisurely fashion, and not be stressed. It's been an invigorating nine months in Europe, and I'm taking time to reflect on everything that's happened, all the people I've met, the steps forward, what I'm leaving behind, what I'm heading toward, etc., etc.

Deep breath...