As I have mentioned, I was medically evacuated from Mexico. Since then, I have been fielding torrents of questions like: when can you return to Mexico; what have you been up to in the USA; and what is medevac?
Because of this, I thought that I should take a stab at answering those frequently asked and frequently fielded questions. Anyone who is interested about how Peace Corps handles serious injuries and illnesses, this is the post for you.
The basics: about medevac
* This information is based on policy as it exists in 2014
What is medevac?
Treated like worker’s compensation, this is when Peace Corps manages more complicated medical cases from outside of the host country. Sick or injured volunteers are transported to a nearby country with more appropriate medical facilities or to the United States where their recovery will be faster and more successful.
How does Peace Corps decide to medevac a volunteer?
There is a Medical Review Board in Peace Corps. Using information about life in the host country and the volunteer’s medical records, they collectively decide whether or not a volunteer can safely and successfully recover at their site.
Is there a time limitation for volunteers on medevac status?
Volunteers can be on medical hold for up to 45 days. If the medical condition is not resolved within 45 days, the volunteer can no longer return to the host country with Peace Corps.
I guess it becomes too difficult to re-integrate into former life and job responsibilities after so much time away.
The specifics: about my medevac
Why did Peace Corps decide to medevac you?
My injury was deemed severe enough to impede my ability to serve successfully. Maintaining daily life and work responsibilities at my site is pretty physical, so I agree with their decision.
When did you leave Mexico?
Life can change in the blink of an eye, or a step off of a bus.
A day or two after my injury, I realized that life was going to be too difficult to remain in Mexico during my recovery. I wrote an email to my Peace Corps Doctor and the Country Director, who then sent my case to the headquarters office in Washington DC. That day, I was cleared to return to the United States.
My flight was the next morning.
Have you been going to the doctor’s office a lot?
I had one emergency room visit in Mexico and another in the USA. Then I had 2 appointments with an orthopedic surgeon, 8 visits to the acupuncturist, and 3 trips to physical therapy. I have at least 6 more appointments in my near future too! For someone trying to stay off my feet, I sure get around.
What happened with your project while you have been gone?
Luckily, the major planning components had already been completed and the implementation stage had already started. Therefore, my co-workers have been able to continue working during my absence. Should my injury have occurred at an earlier stage in my service, this would have been impossible.
How did you decide what to pack?
It was tricky because I was not sure if I would be able to return. With a very short timeline and extremely limited mobility, I hopped around my apartment tossing sentimental items, treats from Mexico, a few clothing items, and important papers into my suitcase.
I left the majority of my belongings behind.
What are you doing while in the USA?
I have been adjusting to relying on others for almost everything, from getting food to taking care of my dishes and my laundry. I have to remind myself that I am not being selfish or spoiled; I am relying on my family to help me when help is needed.
I have been shuffling between the bed, the bathroom, and the couch and trying not to feel like a slug. I have been completing crossword puzzles, watching movies, blogging, managing my grant project from afar, catching up with friends and family, and enjoying good ‘ole comfort foods.
I have been watching the seasons change, appreciating the beauty of the natural world transitioning from winter to spring.
And I have been going to all 21 of those doctors appointments.
What have been the challenges of being away from Mexico?
1. Not knowing if I will return. It feels a bit like I have one foot in the USA and another (injured) foot in Mexico.
2. Managing my project via a busy volunteer who only sees my co-workers about once a week. Due to the lack of internet and challenges with phone systems, it is arduous, slow, inefficient, and hard on all of us.
The most complicated part was getting some of my grant money transferred to the other volunteer, given the way that Mexican bank accounts work. She needed money to keep paying my trail crew and supporting my co-workers as they bought materials for construction components of the project. Gracias mil veces to the Cashier in the Peace Corps Mexico office, we made it work!
3. Missing my friends and the mangoes.
The specifics: about my future
How much of your service is left?
I was in Mexico just a few days shy of one and a half years, and my medevac period is for six and a half weeks.
After my medevac period ends, what remains is seven months.
When do you find out if/when you can return to Mexico?
Everything is day by day on medevac. I will need clearance from my doctors as well as the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services. This will happen sometime between March 25th and March 31st. They might give me clearance or they might “medically separate” me from Peace Corps, meaning that my position would be terminated due to medical complications.
What do you think your life would be like if you return? What are some of the challenges?
If I am able to return, I know that the first few months would be hard. I would likely continue with physical therapy, but Mexico is not set up very well for single people who have limited mobility.
To complicate matters, my role in the project is not desk-based; I would probably have to adapt my role accordingly.
Do you want to return to Mexico?
The most important thing is my health.
If the doctors agree that my recovery can continue safely from Mexico, I will return happily. If I am not recovered in time, I will have to refocus my priorities.
One thing is certain: I will be happy knowing that I did the best that I could while I was in Mexico, and be proud that the national park has a new trail for school groups to enjoy.
How will you feel if you find out that you cannot return?
As a volunteer, you are supposed to work yourself out of a job. The idea is to build the capacity within the community to do projects on their own. It is the “teach a man to fish” development model.
My fellow volunteer Mary told me something on the first day of training that has stuck with me every day since: as volunteers, we often plant the seeds for trees we will never sit under.
I think that I was able to plant the seed at the national park and because of that, they can do the rest. And I believe that they will, no matter what happens.
If you cannot return with Peace Corps, what happens with your possessions, your bank account, and your project?
If that is the case, as soon as I am able I will return to sort out my remaining possessions, and to close out my bank account and the lease with my apartment. No matter what happens, I will say goodbye on my own terms, and I will see the trail one last time.
Making me smile
- Asia-dates with my mom. We like to go out shopping for Indian fabrics and get Chinese massages, followed up by Thai or Vietnamese lunches. I certainly enjoy the wonderful diversity that has developed in the USA
- Sometimes downtime can be great: reading in the sun by a pond and soaking in the hot tub with my stepdad are a nice way to pass the time
- Finally getting up on my feet enough to make a tomato and caramelized onion tart tatin. It is great to start feeling a bit more like myself, and it is nice to treat my mom to a nice dinner instead of the other way around