My Peace Corps MedEvac- 45 days

As many of you may know, I was involved in a bus accident in February, just outside of my small town of Deneba.

I have just been officially cleared to head back to Ethiopia TOMORROW! This process of leaving, having medical treatment, and now returning has been an emotionally trying one. So I have not been blogging like I should. However, I felt it was time to fill you in on all that has happened in the last 45+ days.

After my accident in February, I struggled with traveling in Ethiopia. When I first moved to my town in September, after swearing-in, I had fairly scheduled trips to my hub town. I would go to Debre Berhan every two weeks for internet (I didn’t have any at my site at the time) and rarely deviated from that schedule. However, soon after the accidents, the demands for travel changed. I needed to go to Addis for medical treatment following the accident(about 5 hours by bus), weekend training in Debre Berhan(2 hrs by bus), and Female support meeting in Addis(5 hrs by bus). All of these trips seemed to fall pretty much back to back, allowing me little time to recuperate mentally from the accident. Once I arrived in Addis for the Female Support Meeting on the 6th of March, I received word that my Pops had passed away from an aggressive form of Lukemia, less than a month after his diagnosis.

It all seemed to hit me at once. I had been struggling with anxiety, building myself up for bus rides and then the 2-5 hour bus ride was mental torture. While riding a bus, I constantly felt that every jolt on the gravel road, was going to send us flipping over, as my bus did in February. When we passed a ravine or body of water, my brain went to every unimaginable place. So, when it was time to head home after the Female support meeting on March 8th, I realized that I couldn’t get on one more bus to travel the 5 hours home.

So, I spoke with the Peace Corps Medical Officer and was referred for counseling while I was still in Addis. During my two sessions with the Peace Corps therapist, we discussed my many issues, trying to figure out the cause of so much anxiety and ways to cope with it. We discussed the possibility of going home for a emotional break and for treatment for my other physical problems. For those who are not Peace Corps Volunteers, Peace Corps is beyond stressful. Sometimes, it is truly difficult to figure out what all might be the cause. Life in general in Ethiopia, or any Peace Corps country I would imagine, is extremely stressful for various reason.

On March 23rd, a Peace Corps Medical Representative in Washington D.C. called to discuss whether or not I qualified for a Medical Evacuation. This would mean that Peace Corps would fly me home for 45 days, treat me medically, and then fly me back to Ethiopia. She assured me that I did qualify but that because I suffered both emotional and physical trauma that my Medevac would be a little messy on the paperwork end, but doable.

I ended up staying in Addis for about three weeks between therapy and waiting for approval for Medical Evacuation. After my initial and slightly informal call with D.C., I waited patiently by the phone for any official word about going home. Meanwhile, I only told my parents about the possibility of coming home.

Finally, on Thursday at 2pm March 26, I was called into the Peace Corps office to sign papers, receive enough money to get to America, got my plane tickets, personal passport, and all of my travel information. I was going to America for medical treatment and flew out just after midnight that night! Since the window of official approval and my flight was so tight, I did’t get to go to my house to pack anything, say goodbye, or inform my school personally of my departure. I was able to send text messages to several people in my town to let them know that I would be leaving for America. I had only what I had packed for a weekend training, which I had already been living on in Addis for three weeks, washing laundry in the sink. I am, however, a Peace Corps Volunteer and very resourceful :-).

Unfortunately, Peace Corps wasn’t able to get me in to the airport closest to my home of record and my parents were in Florida at the time that I was flying in. Since I had no idea when, or if, I would actually get to come, I had told them not to cut their trip short. My awesome cousin, Chris, and his wife, Kelly, were gracious enough to pick me up late that night from the airport!

I quickly made contact with my IHC Nurse and began setting up appointments and getting initial approval for my primary care physician, physical therapist, and social worker. While home, I went to my primary care physician three times, my physical therapist twice a week, counseling once a week, paid out of pocket to go to my chiropractor once a week(Peace Corps doesn’t cover chiropractic care), and even got a dentist visit in for some sensitive teeth. But in order to get that much accomplished, I had to really get busy getting approval for doctors the second I hit the ground. As with any insurance, Peace Corps insurance is only accepted by certain doctors. So, you have to make sure you find places that accept it. The only trouble I had, was finding a counselor close to me, with the proper credentials, that accepted my insurance, who was currently accepting new patients. However, I finally stumbled upon the perfect one and she turned out to be the one meant for me!

I think counseling was the most beneficial part of my MedEvac. I was officially diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It wasn’t a big surprise or anything. I was involved in a car wreck back on April 22, 2010 that gave me pretty severe whip lash, causing migraines 24/7 for over a year. I went to two different chiropractors, three different physical therapists, took migraine meds for several years, and had two different types of injections in my neck, totaling 6. The last two of the 6 finally gave me enough relief that I could take my sunglasses off while sitting inside. I had two panic attacks while riding in a car and rarely bothered to drive a car. If it rained, I didn’t want to drive or be a passenger in a car. Still to this day, I really would rather not be in a car when it is raining but I am working on it and even drove in the rain while I was home. It wasn’t easy but I did it! Baby steps.

Now, I am pushing myself to return to Ethiopia. Where my form of transportation is a bus. The cause of my newest trauma. The rainy season is upon us. I am building up every bit of internal strength I can muster to go where I need to go, in order to do what I need to do and love.

Even still, my therapist and I have discussed preplanning-I plan to stock up and stay at my site for several weeks. This is going to actually be a requirement since elections are coming up and travel is restricted in Ethiopia. Preplanning is how I can avoid getting overwhelmed. I always had a routine for my bus rides anyway. They were preplanned since I had to wake up so early to get a bus.

We have discussed mindfulness techniques and working to guide my thoughts more activity. It sounds so simple when someone says that’s what you have to do, but it is one of the hardest things. Especially when you are used to having built in distractions; computer, phone, 4G, book, kindle, radio, friends, the list goes on and on. It is completely different when you are alone on a bus, stick out like a sore thumb, any electronics might make you more of a target or get stolen, the bus is too bumpy to read, and the only option is an mp3 player. Music doesn’t fully distract over the thumping Ethiopian music playing on the radio. Especially when the twenty something bus driver is swerving to miss a goat, while driving 80 MPH, talking on the phone, and flirting with two teenaged girls in the front seat with him.

But as my good friend has said to me, it is unlikely to happen again. So, I go with that comforting though in mind. I can’t stop living because something bad MIGHT happen. I am struggling every day with this but I can’t just lay down and quit.

So I am headed back just 24 hours after my official Medical Clearance. I have received so much love and support back home, I couldn’t have done any of this without my friends and family. I am headed back to my tiny town of Deneba. I am so excited to see some familiar faces. I can’t wait!

45 days has been hectic and crazy and at times stressful. But, I know that many PCVs would give anything for some time at home, so I won’t complain. It has been a blessing. We have squeezed it dry. I have been able to spend amazing time with family, eat great food, sleep in a comfy bed, take a hot shower, drink clean water, enjoy fast internet, and savor countless hugs.

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I hope this blog was helpful to anyone considering, needing, or experiencing a Medical Evacuation. If you have ANY questions about my experience, please don’t hesitate to ask. Of course, all MedEvacs are different but some of the logistics are the same.

Things to remember if you ever have to be home on Peace Corps Medevac:
-Stay on your IHC Nurse and the Medevac Specialist about everything! Medevac isn’t like your original Medical Clearance, there isn’t a portal with checkmarks. You will have to email, ask, ask again, make sure, confirm, call doctors, confirm with doctors, and double check everything.
-While you are home, if you are serious about going back to your Country of Service, treat the paperwork like your job. I was complimented by my IHC Nurse for making it so simple for him. Simple, meaning, that all my doctors stayed on top of submitting paperwork like they were supposed to, in part, because I stayed on top of them, like I was supposed to! I also have some amazing small town medical receptionists.
-Ask questions! If I hadn’t asked for a reimbursement form for milage to and from doctor’s visits, this wouldn’t have been provided. This form ended up reimbursing me about $500. Don’t assume that your $32 per diem covers everything. There may be other reimbursable items that I didn’t even think to ask about.

To read about my Bus Accident in February, Click HERE.

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