Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lab Rat

After months of silence, Peace Corps reminded me that I committed to being jettisoned off to a foreign country in approximately six months. I received an email while in Cheyenne for Thanksgiving telling me that my application status had been updated. Of course I forgot my damn password for my account log in, which led to about five minutes of swearing, annoyance and fending my family off of the computer. With my password successfully reset, I anti-climatically discovered that the change was a medical hold on my application. Meaning my application was finally being medically reviewed, which is good and bad news. The good news is progress is being made and my application hasn't fallen into an underfunded bureaucratic crack where its fate is like that of the Lost Ark in Indiana Jones, banished to a lifetime of dust collecting in some unnamed, not-on-the-map government warehouse full of coffin-like wooden crates. The bad news is that only 15% of applicants complete the medical review paperwork correctly the first time, which pretty much guarantees that I'll be getting back a form that I forgot to date, or even better, reconfirmation on a really expensive physical exam confirming that I indeed have two legs and two arms. What I got back was somewhere between those two extremes.

Waiting for me in Boise was a letter from the Peace Corps office in Washington D.C., telling me that I needed to repeat my urinalysis and send them lab work for Hepatitis C antibodies. Awesome. First, how the hell did I miss the lab work with everything else I had to be poked and prodded for? Secondly, I had all of my blood and urine tests done for free at the VA Medical Center in Cheyenne, so this letter would've been great to get, oh, about five days ago, when I was in Cheyenne. Fucking figures. The VA in Boise doesn't do Peace Corps medical stuff, which is really helpful. Primary Health in Boise, where I had a few tests done for the first rounds of paperwork, wasn't exactly the cheapest option and their receptionists are super awkward, making me want to avoid that place if at all possible. I enjoy awkward, but they take it to a new level, especially Pam. So what the hell is an uninsured, unemployed, total bum of a college grad supposed to do?

I spent about an hour combing the internet for alternate options, which is my typical response when I don't know what to do. Hopefully I will be able to problem solve in a country with limited internet access, but that is a whole other post. After thoroughly searching the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Central District Health and Centers for Disease Control websites, I discovered that the pathetic fiscal management by our government has made this country's health resources not much more than a website with loads of information. After typing in a search term that was basically a sentence, Google rewarded me with something that could not be true: a franchise of labs across the country who did professional lab work for fairly cheap, no doctors or appointments involved. It's called PersonaLabs. You set up an account, order tests online, print out the confirmation sheet, take it to their lab (there are 1700 across the nation), pee in a cup, and your results are emailed to you in a few days. Seriously?! It was like ordering a pizza online, only this pizza was being tested for STD's and blood-borne pathogens. This was way too good to be true.

I read every bit of text on the PersonaLabs website to confirm it was legit. And it was. They actually had a panel of tests you could order specifically for Peace Corps. Conveniently, there was a lab just down the street, right next to my old high school. I ordered my two tests, paid online and rode my bike over, which was an adventure in itself with all of the miniature ice skating rinks on the roads. I half expected 'the lab' to be in a cubicle by the dumpster in the back of a parking lot. Luckily, it was not. It was in a small office building, in a room with a small waiting area, an examining room full of blood drawing equipment, and a bathroom with a basket overflowing with urine sample cups. Oh, and one very friendly employee. We chatted about soccer as she stabbed me in the arm with a needle and showed me the cool little door-compartment-door contraption between the examining room and bathroom where I was to put my full pee cup after I was finished urinating all over my hand in an attempt to get a clean sample. I was in and out in a matter of about ten minutes. I was pretty sure I had entered some alternate universe, where health care was affordable, uncomplicated and actually pleasant.

It supposedly takes a few days to get results back from a blood or urine sample. So I was extremely surprised when I sat down to check my email this morning and discovered that my results were already posted to my profile. WHAT?! It literally took them eighteen hours to test my specimens and get back to me. This is too much, I can't take how easy this process has been. Nothing with medicine ever goes this fast. Is this the future of health care? Streamline the process, order online, skip the private insurance option because that shit clearly isn't working so well, go to a minimalistic but effective facility and ta-da, you've taken care of your needs. PersonaLabs, thank you for making at least one part of my medical review process simple and quick.


After a flurry of activity, the Peace Corps adventure will go back to what it has mostly consisted of: waiting. Which at times can be frustrating, but mostly it's been good for me to be able to digest this new adventure I will be embarking on in the very near future. And it will give me time to ski this winter, which I am completely ok with.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Irrational Fears of an Over-Exerciser

Being in the midst of a waiting period lasting for an undetermined amount of time, I have the time to sit around and worry about all the various unknowns associated with Peace Corps service. The majority of my fears deal with fairly inconsequential issues, such as 'How may pairs of shoes will I be able to jam in my bag?' and 'Should I buy a Kindle so I can bring along a ton of e-books that I probably won't read?' and 'How I am going to survive a ridiculously long airplane ride overseas without gouging my eyes out or punching my neighbor?'. These are very important issues, obviously. I mean, I need a different pair of shoes for every activity: sitting, running, extreme walking (otherwise known as hiking), biking, climbing things, working, kicking a soccer ball and drinking beer. I've also discovered that reading is a great way to quickly put myself to sleep at night, meaning it takes me about a month to read a 300 page book, reading ten pages a night before I totally lose focus and start drooling. As for trips by airplane, my body takes being in a small, enclosed space with a bunch of strangers for an extended period of time as a cue to start manufacturing a massive amount of noxious gases. So when I say I'll have to avoid punching my neighbor on an overseas trip, what I really mean is that I will have to figure out a way to defend myself from a potential onslaught of angry non-mouth-breathers. While I am moderately concerned about these problems, there is one thing in particular I am very concerned with. It is my borderline obsessive compulsive nature of exercising. Yes, exercise.

Being in good shape is something I have gotten used to and put a lot of effort and time into. When you're in good shape year-round, you can register for half marathons a week and a half ahead of time and not stress too badly about passing out in a pool of vomit before the finish line. You can also eat voraciously every few hours and not have a body that screams 'I fucking LOVE Ben and Jerry's Half-Baked ice cream, one whole pint at a time!'. In addition to the eating benefits, you can also drink calorie intensive local and regional micro-brews almost daily, which has the added side effect of transforming you from Keystone Light guzzler to beer snob almost overnight. Being in quality shape also allows you to run around in circles for no real reason during recreation indoor soccer games, other than to prove you have too much time on your hands and spend it working out. Basically, what I'm saying is that being ridiculously active is a major part of my life. And I am not sure how that will fit in with Peace Corps service.

One of the great things about living in the United States, especially the West, is the ample opportunities and resources to live a healthy, active lifestyle. I can go for runs by myself and not worry about being snatched, go biking because I have the income to afford to do so, rock climb because I have the leisure time to spend pursuing it, and hike because I have access to some of the most beautiful mountains on the planet. Am I going to have these sorts of opportunities while overseas? I have absolutely no idea. For all I know, I could be placed in an area where my only exercise options will be doing pull ups from the door jam and running up and down stairs. Don't laugh, I've been very creative on vacations before...yes, I exercise on vacations.

I have a feeling soccer is going to save my ass, literally and figuratively. Soccer is a sport played and loved pretty much all across the globe, so I am almost guaranteed to end up somewhere with pick up games happening daily. Not only will I be able to satisfy my need to run around in circles, I'll also instantly have something in common with my new neighbors. I will obviously be making room in my bag for a pair of cleats. Like I said, I am very concerned with the high maintenance nature of my footwear needs.

I haven't even left for my service yet and I am already learning to appreciate America for what it is. The ability to work out probably isn't at the top of the worry-list for most volunteers; however, for me, it is near the top of the list. Most people have rational fears about Peace Corps service, like communication with family and friends back home, eating weird foods and learning a new language. Nowhere on the Peace Corps FAQ is there a section titled 'What if I am an over-exerciser? Will I be able to go for a run and eat half of the pantry afterward?' Not knowing exactly where I will be placed or what sort of situation I will be in, I can't really begin to prepare myself for what sorts of creative ways to work out I will use to keep myself sane. I do know that I will have to mentally prepare myself to be okay with not being able to pull a half marathon out of my ass. I will have to adjust to a lower level of fitness and activity level. This might be a little rough and I might not like it very much at first, but it's something I will have to deal with. Plus, all of the other rewards of Peace Corps service will make being slightly out of shape seem like a more than fair trade. And I guess I will have to cut back on binge chocolate eating...maybe.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Progress!

Today was a historical day. A day I thought was never going to come. I MAILED ALL OF MY MEDICAL PAPERWORK BACK!!! Holy fucking shit, gathering all the necessary signatures, lab work, medical history, x-rays and prescriptions was seriously ridiculous. I am still brain blasted by the fact that I actually completed all of it, even with the complications of moving back home and traveling all over the place. I have signatures from doctors in Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado. There was a while there I lost track of time and space. This is about how the conversation went with the receptionist at Primary Health in Boise:

Receptionist: "What is your primary pharmacy?"
Me: "Well, I don't really have one...Osco, I guess."
Receptionist: "That's in Montana."
Me: "Right. Sorry, forgot where I was. Whatever the pharmacy that's inside of Albertson's."
Receptionist: "Sav-on?"
Me: "Yup, that's it."

Thirty seconds later

Receptionist: "Why don't you just go back to the original doctor and get him to sign off on this?"
Me: "I can't, he's located in Wyoming."
Receptionist: "Oh, ok..." (look of confusion)

Thirty seconds later, again

Receptionist: "So you know that you have to come back in in two days to get your TB test read, right?"
Me: "Yeah, I know. That means I'd have to come in...let's see, it's Monday, so..."
Receptionist: "It's Tuesday."

From then on she treated me like I was ten years old. I probably deserved it, because I was apparently totally out of touch with reality. I am going to be so out of it when I am old.

Now that I've finished jumping through the medical hoops, I get to wait some more! Waiting is just so fucking fun, I can't handle it. I have this sneaking suspicion that I am going to get back half of my paperwork with a massive stamp on it that says "INCORRECTLY FILLED OUT" and "WHY THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TWENTY DIFFERENT SIGNATURES FROM THREE DIFFERENT STATES? GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER. UNACCEPTABLE." All in caps, exactly like that, overwhelming and immature.

The end.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shocking, I know

As pretty much anyone who listens to me blather on about myself knows, I am joining the Peace Corps. After realizing that I didn't really know what the hell was going on in my life and that I had memorized the Peace Corps website, I decided to act on something that had been rolling around in my head for a while. Want to live in another country? Yup. Want to experience a lot of awkward situations? Yup. Want to learn another language? Yup. Want to adjust to potentially gut-wrenching foods? I have innards of steel, bring that shit on. Want to not be able to blow three hours on Facebook looking at some strangers' pictures of their seemingly kick ass ski trip to Aspen? Um, yes, please. Want to avoid working for the Man for two more years and do something much more fulfilling? Well, hopefully I can keep this up my whole life, but yes. Sign me the hell up, I have no idea what took me so long.

That being said, you're probably wondering 'But Sara, what about this whole soccer thing you have been pursuing your whole life?'. Answer: OVER IT. I will explain further in a future Frosty Llama blog post which will most likely be titled 'Divorcing Soccer'. Suspense.

I turned in my initial application mid-May, got an interview, and received my nomination in early June. Apparently that is sort of fast. I like fast. I am supposedly going to Eastern Europe for environmental education in May of 2011. I was given a choice between the Pacific Islands and Eastern Europe; I obviously went with the latter. Almost everyone I have told this has given me a look that says "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU??!!!?!!". To which I reply, "Have you thought about this for longer than five seconds? I don't like being wet, hot or covered in sand. Islands imply all three will be occurring all at the same time, all the time. Also, where the hell am I going to travel and explore when I have time off? I can barely stay in the same state for three months, I don't see myself doing too well stuck on a small land mass in the middle of a vast ocean. Eastern Europe is conveniently located smack in between two massive continents, which means I will be overwhelmed with exploration options. Oh, and I actually enjoy snow." And there's that.

Right now I am in the middle of the medical review process. I went to the VA in Cheyenne, WY yesterday for my physical exam. I didn't feel out of place at all, surrounded by old, white men in cowboy hats. I got called 'partner' within about three minutes of being there. I got poked, prodded, blood-letted and poked again. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was really excited when I learned I would have to schedule another appointment with the VA in Boise because I forgot my immunization history and needed a two day window of staying in one city to get tested for TB!

I also get to collect all of my medical history for all of the weird shit that has happened to me over the past few years. Hernia, hip surgery, mole removal, ovarian cyst...yeah, that's it. At least for things I can actually retrieve history for. I've always enjoyed paperwork.

That's about it for now. More later, when I am in the process of waiting for everything to go through the bureaucratic governmental machine that is actually a black hole that bends time backward into reverse.