How a minor medical condition almost ended our chance to serve with the Peace Corps in Botswana. It was a roller-coaster ride, with a happy ending!
We received our invitation to serve in Botswana back in October. Right before Christmas, Tish noticed what appeared to be a re-occurrence of a basal cell carcinoma on her shoulder. She made an appointment with her dermatologist for January. Basal cell carcinoma is not a big deal, it just gets cut out or scraped off and that is usually all there is to it. Because I knew this, I didn’t worry about Tish’s health, but I did worry that it could get in the way of our Peace Corps service. I decided not to be anxious, since it could be nothing anyway.
Christmas came and went and then it was January and Tish went to her appointm ent. The problem was very definitely something, and it needed to be cut out. Afterwards, Tish dutifully called the Peace Corps and was asked to send in all the pathology reports and a form to be filled out by the doctor. Now we were starting to really worry. It turns out that Botswana doesn’t have a dermatologist. If the follow up required for Tish to be checked by a dermatologist, that could be a huge problem. Tish could not get the doctor’s form filled out until the next appointment when the doctor would remove the stitches and recheck, and that would be in ten days. At this point Tish’s toolkit showed “Hold” on her medical status. Ouch.
During this period the members of the Bots 10 group began to be finalized. There would be 40 of us including two married couples meeting for “staging” in Philadelphia on April 1st. A Facebook group had been started and we all were exchanging information. Members of the Bots 9 and Bots 8 groups, already in Botswana, had joined us on Facebook and were welcoming us and adding information. Everyone was so excited… and we were worried sick. We stopped planning for Botswana and stopped buying things for the trip. Two bon-voyage parties were in the works for us, and we had to tell the hosts to hold off the plans until we knew what was going to happen. I can’t tell you how horrible it was to be on the verge of starting this adventure that we had worked so hard for only to have it taken away. As Peace Corps applicants we endured the waiting, but to have the goal almost in our grasp and then jerked away was torture. We prayed a lot during this period.
When the ten days had passed Tish had her dermatologist appointment and got the form and reports. Tish faxed in everything and we waited. Two or three days later we noticed that her toolkit medical status was “Complete”. Hooray!! We were ecstatic. We breathed a deep sigh of relief and immediately resumed planning for Botswana.
But we barely had time to revel in the good news when the other shoe dropped one day later! This roller coaster ride was still not over yet. It turns out that the “Complete” in our medical status was only there because they had received the documents; no decision had been made yet. We found that out when the phone rang a day later and we were informed that the Peace Corps felt that Tish’s follow up would require a dermatologist and Botswana did not have one. There were two options:
- Cancel plans for Botswana and be deferred until a country with a dermatologist could be found, with a need for a married couple, with our specific skills. (How long would that take?)
- Go on to Botswana as planned and have the Peace Corps medi-vac Tish to a dermatologist in South Africa when she needs her checkup. For this option to happen someone higher up in the org chart would have to approve it.
The Peace Corps employee talking to Tish was extremely nice. She said she really wanted us to go Botswana and thought the second option made sense to her. She said she would present this to the decision-maker herself. It felt like she would be our advocate. The decision-maker would not be back in the office for four days, and so we had to wait until that day arrived.
The fourth day arrived and we got a phone call. Apparently the decision-maker must have said he had no problem with it, but wanted to be sure the Botswana medical person did not. So an email would be sent to Botswana and if that person is ok with the solution (#2 above) then we would be good-to-go. So we have to wait still another day.
The next day we were heading out to AID Atlanta for a day of volunteering. We brought along Tish’s cell phone, hoping to receive the call giving us the good news. We knew bad news was a distinct possibility as well. We were so unsure of the outcome we began to discuss what our “plan B” would be. Where we would live and what we would do if we did not get to serve in the Peace Corps.
The call did not come during the day. We assumed a decision had not been made yet and we would have to wait still another day twisting in the wind. It was a beautiful day and so when we arrived home I headed out on a bike ride. I had gone no more than a mile when my cell phone rang. I answered and Tish told me to pull over and read an email she had forwarded to me. I pulled over and because I have a Blackberry Torch I could put the phone on speaker and continue talking with Tish while I looked at my email. The email she forwarded to me was from the Peace Corps and in the subject was, “You are cleared for Botswana”. Wow, what a wonderful thing to read. Relief. I gave a few hoots and hollers and did not care who heard me. It turns out they have a dermatologist in Botswana after all.
The funny thing is the email had come in at 8:48 am. We just didn’t bother to check Tish’s email before heading off to AID Atlanta that morning. If we had we would have saved ourselves a lot of worrying.
As for basal cell carcinoma, I was the one that should have had this problem. I was the fair skinned red headed child who had terrible sunburns every summer, and continued getting burnt annually well into adulthood. I guess it is my fault in a way; I bought Tish her dream car. She had always wanted a convertible so I bought her a cute little VW Cabrio that she drove around with the top down for about eight years. She looked so cute in that car with the top down, sunglasses on and her blond hair blowing in the wind. She also was in the sun a lot playing tennis on the weekends. The lesson is to stay out of the sun or use a lot of sunscreen. Also, you can tell your worried friends and family that the Peace Corps really does a good job of taking care of the health of their volunteers.