Monday, December 07, 2009

Ah, It Goes On And On

Boy, I need to update this site more often. Yes, the deployment has been delayed and looks to continue its delay until 2010, maybe in the spring. While waiting I have had a few calls with the Placement Officer and her response has been toned down but encouraging. Hang in there and you will be placed since you have been waiting a while.

So obviously, I have had the misfortune of being placed back into the waiting game for my Peace Corps placement. The unfortunate medical incident at just the perfectly awful time made me sit out while others were sent in earnest across the globe. I just had to be patient. I had to keep repeating that to myself whenever another form would come across or another update would be emailed or phoned to me.

Now I am back in line with the Medical Office. They sent me the following letter:

"Dear "You",

Thank you for submitting your medical information to the Office of Medical Services. We have reviewed your medical records and determined that we must defer our evaluation of your medical qualification until you have completed your 3 month follow up visit for evaluation of the right zygomaticomaxillary complex fracture.

If you wish for us to reconsider your application at that time, we will need a report from you physician that includes current evaluation of this condition.

You may request review of this decision by the Peace Corps' Screening Review Board. You must make this request in writing within 60 days. Please send the request to your reviewing nurse. The request must be accompanied by some new information from your physician or other licensed health care provider not previously provided to Peace Corps. The decision of the Screening Review Board will be final, and not subject to further review.

If you have any questions, contact..."
From what I am gathering, it is stating that I am out until that 3 month follow up visit is received by them (they received the 2 month office notes because that is how they learned about the 3 month appointment).

What is getting me upset, and not a temper tantrum upset I should say, is that the 2 month office visit stated that I was clear to leave if the Peace Corps offered me a placement opportunity. The surgeon keeps putting me into the "how about we just see each other again next month" routine and I have yet to say no.

Either way, this leads to yet more back and forth-ing and I am contemplating a request to review this decision, but if it only takes a short office visit and a doctor's note explaining in plain english that is acceptable to put me on a jet plane then that is what I will do. A call on the 8th should help out.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Bump On The Road (And On The Face)

As of this writing I am uncertain if I will be leaving for Peace Corps at the time they had intended me to leave. I was interviewed on Tuesday, the 4th, and things went well with the Placement Representative until I had to disclose a medical injury to her. Unfortunately I took a punch or three to the head late Sunday and have to have a surgery scheduled to fix the broken zygomatic process on the right side of my face.

Honestly, I realize that patience and flexibility were all a part of the process here but this was distinctly NOT on my plan when getting into the Peace Corps. I will be alright I think, and the story that got my into this position is long to tell but suffice to say, all parties are being responsible and I feel it will work out. The aspect of getting deployed though looks likely to be put on hold for a while unfortunately. I have an initial examination with the plastic surgeon to see what they can do for my bones to fix the damage, and from there we figure out what can be had in terms of timing for Peace Corps.

I suspect this will be a longish delay, not weeks, but months. Then again, things have worked out for me without my understanding in the past so maybe I will be fortunate here and have things go my way.

Either way, it was neat to find out that my theory of when I might be heading out was pretty close. Not quite August, but not quite winter either. Now where is that ice pack?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Medically Cleared - Finally

After all those visits to all of those healthcare specialists I finally get to declare myself medically fit for the Peace Corps. Or more correctly, I get to report that the Peace Corps thinks I am medically fit to enter.

The letter finally came today and while not an invite to a country, it was a great relief just to get to this stage in the process. Now I need to wait for the last little thing - an invite to join.

More patience. A lot more!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Letter Is Coming

It has been a few weeks since I had an update for or from the Peace Corps to post about. I had my last medical questions filled out and returned back in early June. I received a notice that the Medical Office was in receipt of them and that put me back in the position of waiting.

That waiting may (or may not be) over soon.

I received another update on my account this past Tuesday, July 6th stating that I should look for a letter to come to my home in the next few days. I do not know what the letter will have and the status chance on my account now shows my medical kit has been fully completed so I know for certain that this letter is not more information that I will need to fill out with the help of my doctor. I just don't know what the letter has in it!

More patience. From my Peace Corps account, it read as follows:
"A decision has been reached regarding your medical review. Please look for a letter in the mail."
I don't know if the letter is one qualifying me for a position, disqualifying me, or something altogether different.

I am incredibly nervous but there is nothing that I can do but wait for the mail to come each day and be hopeful for good news.

We shall see, and I will write with the next installment of this Peace Corps saga.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I just finished a fascinating article in the Atlantic titled, "What Makes Us Happy?" written by Joshua Wolf Shank. An incredible digest of the 70+ year Grant Study of Harvard students and its longtime director, George Vaillant.

I am not sure that I had ever heard about it prior to reading the article, but it is truly worth the time to read and think things through. Since I've been trying to find my own slice of happiness in the world it should come as no surprise that many others have done the same and probably bounced around the same paths as I have.

Without permission, this one particular passage stood out:
case No. 218, continued

On first glance, you are the study’s exemplar. In Dr. Vaillant’s “decathlon” of mental health—10 measures, taken at various points between ages 18 and 80, including personality stability at ages 21 and 29, and social supports at 70—you have ranked in the top 10 of the Grant Study men the entire way through, one of only three men to have done so.

What’s your secret? Is it your steely resolve? After a major accident in college, you returned to campus in a back brace, but you looked healthy. You had a kind of emotional steel, too. When you were 13, your mother ran off with your father’s best friend. And though your parents reunited two years later, a pall of disquiet hung over your three-room apartment when the social worker came for her visit. But you said your parents’ divorce was “just like in the movies,” and that you someday “would like to have some marital difficulties” of your own.

After the war—during which you worked on a major weapons system—and graduate school, you married, and your bond with your wife only deepened over time. Indeed, while your mother remains a haunting presence in your surveys—eventually diagnosed with manic depression, she was often hospitalized and received many courses of shock therapy—the warmth of your relationship with your wife and kids, and fond memories of your maternal grandfather, seemed to sustain you.

Yet your file shows a quiet, but persistent, questioning about a path not taken. As a sophomore in college, you emphasized how much money you wanted to make, but also wondered whether you’d be better off in medicine. After the war, you said you were “too tense & high strung” and had less interest in money than before. At 33, you said, “If I had to do it all over again I am positive I would have gone into medicine—but it’s a little late.” At 44, you sold your business and talked about teaching high school. You regretted that (according to a study staff member’s notes) you’d “made no real contribution to humanity.” At 74, you said again that if you could do it over again, you would go into medicine. In fact, you said, your father had urged you to do it, to avoid the Army. “That annoyed me,” you said, and so you went another way.

There is something unreachable in your file. “Probably I am fooling myself,” you wrote in 1987, at age 63, “but I don’t think I would want to change anything.” How can we know if you’re fooling yourself? How can even you know? According to Dr. Vaillant’s model of adaptations, the very way we deal with reality is by distorting it—and we do this unconsciously. When we start pulling at this thread, an awfully big spool of thoughts and questions begins to unravel onto the floor.

You never seemed to pull the thread. When the study asked you to indicate “some of the fundamental beliefs, concepts, philosophy of life or articles of faith which help carry you along or tide you over rough spots,” you wrote: “Hard to answer since I am really not too introspective. However, I have an overriding sense (or philosophy) that it’s all a big nothing—or ‘chasing after wind’ as it says in Ecclesiastes & therefore, at least up to the present, nothing has caused me too much grief.”
That bolded passage above struck me - the very way we deal with reality is by distorting it. How can you know you are not distorting reality? And the subject's admission that "it's all a big nothing." Happiness is so elusive in its application to the human condition that it astounds me where other people find it, or how they relate to it in their lives.

Again, a fine article not only on the study itself but on what conclusions we can draw from it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A Fill-Up On The Enthusiasm Tank

It has been some time since I have had any word on my application to the Peace Corps and honestly, without any news the whole idea recedes into the back of my mind if there isn't something new to ingest. Over the past week or two I have been more preoccupied with my upcoming vacation than with an update on my medical kit from Washington, D.C.

An enthusiasm gap was settling in - will I ever get going with this? Do I still want to do this if it should come to pass? Without the wind in my sails I felt more adrift, and just a touch less ready to get to that next stage.

Tonight's get together over in Northampton changed my perspective somewhat. Past and future Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) were invited to a pot luck dinner and meet-and-greet at a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer's (RPCV) house. This was the fastest 3 hours I've spent at a pot luck ever. The time whizzed by as I was privileged to speak with those who have already been through the process and gone through the emotions. My very good friend (and RPCV herself) Rebecca was there, as well as my brand new RPCV friends Joe, Jill, Sara, and "Betsy". Many more were in attendance but once you get rolling with the questions and the answers come at you in waves it is difficult to talk to and meet everyone. Probably about 20 in all were in attendance.

It is hard to pinpoint what I gleaned from the evening as there were 3 suggestions and 2 intriguing stories for every question I had, all of which I wanted to memorize or do my best to store away for later use if I am so lucky to be invited, but the most important thing I got from this evening was that connectedness to something bigger, grand, and exciting. It has been quite some time since I felt like that, possibly even going all the way back to the night where I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about applying. Just tremendous fun to talk about this possible life.

I really took too much of Sara's time with my questions, but she had served in Lesotho (a pronunciation that sounds much more like leh-SU-too than how I was accustomed to saying it) and I was zoning in on those who served in Africa without realizing it. Great information from her as she described what it was like living there, getting used to the situation, making new friends, and even coming back and the difficulties that imposes on the volunteer.

I could go on but the picture is pretty much done there - a friendlier group of people it would be hard to find.

As the night of stories moved along I realized that some of those old comforts that I am so used to right now won't be here for long if I really were depart in July or August (who knows when the date might be), so I strolled over to the convenience store that is open 24 hours a day just for a whim such as mine and walked out with a pint of ice cream. I know I shouldn't do that, but while I still can...

I made the exception. It was delicious! Enthusiasm and blood sugars are at an all-time high.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spare Time And Evolution

Since there is no news on the Peace Corps front (patience... flexibility), I found myself wandering back to items in the political sphere again.

From another web log I was directed to an article written by Tamim Ansary who claimed deep experience in the educational textbook arena for K-12 education. It was published in the November 2004 issue of Edutopia under the title, "The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor". The copy of that article is online still, and sheds a bit of light on what, at the time, was the process of publishing a textbook in the United States.

This passage is the striking information:
"In textbook publishing, April is the cruelest month. That's when certain states announce which textbooks they're adopting. When it comes to setting the agenda for textbook publishing, only the twenty-two states that have a formal adoption process count. The other twenty-eight are irrelevant -- even though they include populous giants like New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio -- because they allow all publishers to come in and market programs directly to local school districts.

Adoption states, by contrast, buy new textbooks on a regular cycle, usually every six years, and they allow only certain programs to be sold in their state. They draw up the list at the beginning of each cycle, and woe to publishers that fail to make that list, because for the next seventy-two months they will have zero sales in that state.

Among the adoption states, Texas, California, and Florida have unrivaled clout. Yes, size does matter. Together, these three have roughly 13 million students in K-12 public schools. The next eighteen adoption states put together have about 12.7 million. Though the Big Three have different total numbers of students, they each spend about the same amount of money on textbooks. For the current school year, they budgeted more than $900 million for instructional materials, more than a quarter of all the money that will be spent on textbooks in the nation."
In effect, three states call the shots as to what gets in and stays out of curricula for the nation's students. Of these three, only Texas administers their purchasing agreement for all grades which obviously covers high school textbooks as well as elementary programs. Hence, if you can sell it in Texas, you hit the mother-lode for your sales figures and you can sop up bonus money by pitching the textbooks to the other states who don't follow the adoption process.

The author details the process by which the Texas Board of Education reviews textbooks submitted, and the open hearing process whereby the public may question and comment on the textbooks. It has been through this (and the conservative make up of the Texas Board of Education) that the curriculum held in the hands of students in the Lone Star State have received watered down versions of science for quite some time. Just as recently as March 2009 the Board succeeded in adding language which will require students to "examine all sides of the argument." Clearly a dive for creationism in the classroom at all costs by the board, several of whom are very vocal about their support (any statement by Barbara Cargill on science makes her views perfectly clear).

This is not to put aside Ansary's view on the flawed system of textbook publication in this age, with diluted facts and subtle self-censorship on the part of producers, but to highlight what places the stress on science education almost across the board: a fifteen member panel and vocal activists with little background in the sciences insisting that political and religious views be foisted onto the masses.

To be honest, they are playing the game fair and square (as fair and square can be in Texas). I wonder if colleges and universities might make it known that fewer scholarships for math and science will be issued to native-taught Texans for the foreseeable future; that if given the choice, maybe a student from Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania will have the background suitable for a rigorous education in the honest-to-goodness sciences more than a Texas senior would.

Then again, that probably wouldn't bother some Texans in the slightest. And that is a true shame for the next generation.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And So The Medical Kit Is Returned

After receiving my medical evaluation kit back in November of last year I have tallied the visits to the doctors, sifted through old medical records, scratched my temple to figure out what was being requested, done double and triple reviews of my documents in comparison to what the Peace Corps wanted returned; so finally today I sent the whole batch of papers back to their office. Hoooray!

The last official duty was making copies of everything that I was sending to them so I had a record of what I passed along. My hunch here is that this medical evaluation just serves as another step in the process to weed out potential candidates. Then again, maybe college graduates don't have much more then one visit to the doctor and the dentist to be finished with this part.

All in all, the ordeal is done and it treated me to a full battery of medical tests which is a good thing. I am sure my health insurance company can't quite figure out why someone would go for a Polio booster, but the Yellow fever shot my clue them in that I may be traveling soon. I'm hopeful that they pay for some of these things at least.

There is still a chance that Peace Corps receives my reply and finds something out of place which may delay the deployment. I hope this isn't the case. Another opportunity to practice patience and flexibility I suppose.

Onward and upward.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Back In The Clear

I neglected to post on Friday that the results so far of a more thorough eye exam is negative - that is the result was good for me and positive for my Peace Corps application. The ophthalmologist could not see anything on the retina other than a nevus that just should be looked at closely on further visits to ensure that it is not changing. That made me much happier. 

What I have left to do is some more writing, a few more references and then I can ship off a packet full of papers to the main headquarters and wait patiently for any follow-up questions. I may try to do a page count of what I am sending just for the humor of it all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our 44th President

Today was the inauguration of the Obama presidency. I happened to be fortunate enough to view the broadcast of the event while still at work but I certainly wish I had been there front and center to witness it with my own eyes. What an impressive day, more so for those who have felt the brunt of an oppressive society during the last century.

As I am an incredible devotee to the Presidency of Lincoln, it is very reassuring that President Obama has the same fondness for our 16th president. I really do hope that he can match the kindness and humility that Abraham Lincoln put on display in both public and private matters. Even if he falls only a little short of that superlative example, I am fairly positive that Obama's presidency would be a success.

We will find out soon enough; for now, it is a nice day to be alive.

The quote from Lincoln's second inaugural address:
"With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patient And Flexible

I was told earlier in the process, prior to the interview as a matter of fact, that using these words - patient and flexible - would get me places. They represent the need to understand that things operate differently in a different culture, that sometimes it takes all of your strength just to adapt to the most simplest and mundane changes that are bound to occur.

This ideal of patience and flexibility are already being used, and I am only at the medical portion of the application process. I am thinking of doing a new meditation technique where I only hear these two words looped over and over again to a new age sound track whilst I say aloud, "aum". It might just help.

More appointments today were made and met. I had to return back to my primary care physician to have her sign off on two sheets of paper that I had misread prior to my second visit to her. Just another sheet acknowledging past conditions and her signature. A second Hepatitis B shot as well (they are starting to hurt less now) for good measure. Just two more shots to go plus the Yellow fever and Polio boosters, and I'm almost done with the injections.

It was the second visit to the optometrist that threw me a curve ball. I needed new glasses in the worst way and before I go I need to have two pairs as a precautionary measure. Many hundreds of dollars later, I had the glasses I needed. Before I was out though, my optometrist dilated the pupils to take a good long look at my retina. He did notice something in the left eye. After far too much prodding on the eyeball, he could not get a good enough look at a small lesion in there. He then proceeded to tell me that this was more than likely nothing but a second opinion wouldn't hurt. 

Then the disconcerting news came. Something to the effect of, "If I saw this in a patient who had a history of melanoma, then I would definitely get this checked out." 

Yes, that would be me there mister. Back in 2001 to be precise. Any alarms and whistles at that?

While no horn fired off nor steam whistles blared out of his ears, he gave me a choice of specialists to visit so I am off to see one next Friday for a second look. I should say that it is a good thing that Peace Corps is this thorough with there medical checks for an old man such as myself, but I would have preferred to have news of the A-Ok variety. If it is nothing, then all I am out is an hour or two Friday. Better to be safe here, that is for certain.

And now on to practicing some more patience and flexibility.

A-u-m. A-u-m.