As any fanatic of anything would, I subscribe to the "Peace Corps/The Gambia" Facebook group. Someone posted in the group today an invitation from yet another returned Peace Corps Volunteer. The invitee seems to be suffering chronic health issues that relate directly back to her PC service. In short, she feels misled and not compensated enough regarding her chronic health conditions. She is led to believe that there are many RPCVs who feel the same way. I have chosen to reply to her invitation. The initial response is one merely of understanding and curiosity. I have not yet disclosed my own experience or opinions. That will come later. Thus begins the saga:
I am responding to a young woman who posted your invitation and email in the Facebook group for Peace Corps/The Gambia.
While the girl who posted claimed to not be in the situation you are in (having obtained a chronic physical handicap directly related to one's PC service), I have. Please understand that this email may be lengthy, but I am more than happy to share any and all of my experience and opinions with you.
I was sworn in as an Education volunteer in The Gambia on September 2, 2011. I moved to site (4 hours on a dirt road upcountry from the US Embassy and PC office) on September 5th Two nights later I developed a high fever and an overall sick feeling. I begged the PCMO to send PC transport the next day, and I left my hut on September 8th thinking that I'd be gone just through the weekend. Au contraire, I was in the city for less than 24 hours before they medically evacuated me to regional headquarters. I was at the regional PCMO for 4 weeks where I stabilized and the doctors ran out of resources to be able to diagnose me accurately. I was further evacuated to headquarters (Washington, DC) where I received a firm diagnosis the day after arriving back in the states. Final diagnosis: drug-induced hepatitis directly caused by the malaria prophylaxis I was taking per PC policy. Basically, the medication I had to be on gave me hepatitis.
Having hepatitis was a living hell. Praise be to God that our bodies are created to heal themselves, and mine has responded quite well since discontinuing that particular medication. I was eventually medically separated from my term of service and sent home to California. As a result of my COS physical, I found out that I had also brought parasites back with me from Africa. The average PCV would think, "no big deal; most volunteers contract parasites." However, parasites are kind of a big deal and they have left lasting impacts on my body as well. Ironically enough, I am currently reaping the destruction of the parasites more than I am of the hepatitis.
On the second leg of my med evac adventure I spent three weeks at headquarters in Washington, DC. There I met kindred spirits among the other med evacs. We all had our issues: a face bashed in by metal pipes, blood infections that caused permanent nerve damage and septic shock, "wack evacs" who were evacuated for sanity and mental stability purposes, an unwanted pregnancy, and HIV+ tests. We were the extreme, the really messed up.
There is no way to adequately communicate my experience to you without writing a novel. (Not to worry, I have already begun the outline for it.) However, I hope you believe me when I write that I have thought through, perhaps excessively, exactly what you state as concern. If I understand correctly, you think that volunteers such as ourselves have been treated and dealt with unfairly. We have been misled and ignored, and--for the most part--deserve better than how we have been treated post-service.
I have a couple of questions for you. Please answer as you feel led, and do not hesitate to tell me what information you wish to remain private:
1. Where and when did you serve? Which sector?
2. What chronic illness/physical condition do you suffer, as it directly relates to your PC service?
3. How do you think, specifically, PC could [have] better service[d] you regarding your answer to #2? In what ways do you think PC has failed you?
4. What is your goal(s) in "going public?" By what means do you plan on accomplishing this? You specifically stated that you want the media involved. Can you elaborate? How will the media help you accomplish your greater goal(s)?
I do have more thoughts to share but do not want to overwhelm you. I look forward to hearing your responses and further communication on the matter. Additionally, I am open to answering any questions you have regarding my own case. Please do not hesitate to contact me via telephone if you prefer.
RPCV, The Gambia
To be continued...
Thursday, January 26, 2012
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