For my parents, community and friends in Peace Corps, being Medically Separated from Peace Corps came as a large surprise, as my symptoms the day PCMO called where really no different than they had been since the 3rd day I arrived in the Philippines. Many people have asked and emailed about the process of exactly what is Medical Separation and how it is determined, and how much control you have over it. I don’t have all the answers, but I can only share my case, Peace Corps Medical Office Washington DC looked over my Medical File in the Philippines, upon looking at my file and seeing that I had been the hospital several times and that my symptoms had not improved they decided it was in my best interest to return to America.
Medical Separation happens very quickly, I could have been back in American about 4 days from packing my room to the plane; however I had two events I had planned in my town so the Peace Corps let me stay longer. I’m not sure this is normal, but I only spent one day in the Philippines Headquarters office to get my paperwork done and then flew back.
When I found out I was medically separated, I didn’t even know what day I would be flying back to America. When they called, I didn’t know specifically what I was being sent home for, and my imagination went wild with worry about the possibilities they might have found during my last hospital visit; a visit I had kept from my family. My sister was about to have a baby and I didn’t want to stress my family out knowing I was in the hospital. (Shout out to Jaron—we spent our 1year anniversary in the hospital—the same place we were almost a year ago when I was in the hospital the first time, funny that we ended up in the same place, a true anniversary).
At that time the doctors told me they didn’t really know what was wrong, that I have/had extreme exhaustion. They told me to take a break from my work, but at that time I was really busy with my HIV/AIDS Grant and some projects at the school I was working on; it’s really hard on my nature to take a break, but I rested in my room for about 5 days after the hospital.
I waited a week more and then I texted PCMO and asked them if they can give me anymore vitamins that I’m not already taking, because two weeks after my hospital visit I am still feeling awful. Apparently this text message was the tipping point. PCMO realized that there was nothing more they could do for me, and they sent my files to Washington causing Washington D.C. to make their final decision.
It is sad to say, but staying in the Philippineswas a battle of heart against my body. From the 3rd day I was in thePhilippines my symptoms never really disappeared. I had my own complex about not being a good volunteer because I had never been camping or was much of an outdoor person. I thought the reason I was sick and everyone else was healthy was because of my lack of outdoor training. I was fearful of being labelled as high maintenance because I was in my own opinion very different from the other volunteers. I didn’t complain to PCMO about my symptoms and tried to function without medical help. My Peace Corps Language Trainer was the one who first recommended for me to go the doctor in October of last year, upon going to the doctor I was immediately admitted to the hospital, this was the same case that happened a few weeks ago. However, no one could ever really figure out what was wrong with me.
During my 14 1/2 months I had to endure other severe medical dilemmas, I had a case of sore eyes where I went blind in one eye, and the doctor told me that it was going to be for 3 weeks, luckily that didn’t happen and recovered fully after 11 days. I also developed a heart condition in which my heart was beating at an extremely low number of 30-40 beats instead of normal healthy heart beat of 60-100. I thought I could be sent home for each of those, and was prepared to be medically separated in June, however I tried my best to stick it out.
In truth I am extremely grateful to PCMO for making the decision to send me home, I didn’t really know how sick I was or what I was doing to my body until I returned home. Although I am still exhausted, I feel 100% better in ways I didn’t even know I was sick. Now that I am away from the Philippines, and not dedicated to my work I realize how much sickness I was suppressing. It’s nice to be honest about how I really feel, because before I was trying to cover it up so I could do my job.
For those of you who are Peace Corps Volunteers and are worried about Medical Separation, it took many illnesses and the ultimate realization that staying in the Philippines and being sick every single day was too much for my body to handle. You can also reapply in 45 days if you are better, however I think in cases like mine that would be really difficult as I have many tests to run and doctors to see and I am only on appointment #1.
My advice, if you feel like your body is under severe stress, speak up, while I loved my work and the people around me, its hard to make the decision for yourself because you want to stay and help so badly. What I learned about myself through this experience, I don’t want to limit my ability to serve others to 27 months in Peace Corps, but a healthy long life of loving and finding ways to serve elsewhere. While going home was not something I expected, my community, friends and all my families have been extremely supportive, because the people around you always want what best, and all of them could see that I was sick.
I have to trust God on this one. I had no idea I was going to be separated and I have no idea what to do now, but I know when doors close, windows open so I’m going to get healthy and then look for windows.
Thanks for reading,
P.s. I am very determined person which means when I put my mind something it consumes me. I was really determined to make the most of my time in Peace Corps even if it meant suffering, every week I thought to myself, I can make it through, just one more day or one more week. I think many of my successes in Peace Corps was due to my sickness, since I felt so bad all the time I wanted to do as much work as possible so the suffering would be worth it. I would have never made the decision to return home on my own, although the people who knew me best were always supportive of putting my health first, and to all those people, OKAY YOU WERE RIGHT! Haha!! And now you can really say, “I told you so.’ Haha. Thank you for loving me despite my ambitions.