WHAT DOES IT MEAN???
So, if you are in-country and very sick, have exhausted all resources available, and can’t be trusted to continue on with your service, Washington grants you a “medical evacuation”. This is basically a hiatus, where you are sent home to see your usual physicians and hopefully have a higher quality medical care team that can actually tell you what’s going on. This can last anywhere from a week, up to 45 days. If after 45 days the volunteer is still hella sick and can’t return to their country of service… they get “medical separation”, which is just a nicer way of saying discharged. So, not ideal.
Two weeks ago, after getting out of the hospital, I had a meeting with my medical team who basically said “we’re sending you back to site to pack up your stuff for a couple days because you’re either going to get medical separation or evacuation. Get ready.” So I headed back to my community and hunkered down in my house for a couple days attempting to pack, frantically checking my phone, and having my surrounding volunteer friends come hang out at my house in my time of need. They were wonderful support. Even though they were busy and exhausted, both Danielle and Sarah came and spent several days helping me work through my house, my to-do list, and emotions. One night we even piled on to a mattress and watched several hours of Will Ferrell movies~ exactly what I needed to relax and feel a little better about my life!
Then, a week later ( or a week ago), I got a text from my medical team. “We have to do a pregnancy test… can you go to the clinic and get that done asap?” Goddammit. I attempted to pull myself together and prepare for another blood test. It didn’t work out that well because I passed out anyway. Again. Just like I thought I would. But my result came back negative (wow what a shocker who could’ve told you that) so Washington could rule out that my bloody cough, pain behind eyes, and upset stomach weren’t due to being pregnant (because yeah, that’s would’ve made sense. Sure.).
“You are being medically evacuated. Get to the city by tomorrow morning.”
This text popped up on my phone as I was crammed into a bus headed back to my community, so I had about an hour to sit still and process what was happening. I was being sent home, without a real plan in mind. I was relieved, stressed out, excited, and full of dread. As soon as I got back to my house, I calculated my time: 4 hours to pack up everything, have a plan in place in case I don’t return, say goodbye to everyone, grab the overnight bus to the big city. I can do this.
I threw my most important things in a backpack (laptop, favorite sweatshirt, retainer), then ran around the community to say goodbye to a few people. It was my host dad’s birthday, so conveniently most people were at their house celebrating when I showed up looking clearly disheveled. I explained that I am still very sick, slightly out of it because I recently had passed out, and have no idea what’s going on but I have to jump on a bus in 3 hours so I can’t stay to party with them. They understood, gave me hugs, wished me luck, and I headed to another household~ the Gilmore Girl household, as I like to call them. A “witch doctor” grandma, her daughter who was a teenage mother, and her (now) teenage daughter. I had gotten very close to them, so saying goodbye was hard. All three of them cried and I hugged all of them several times while trying not to cough all over them. We exchanged phone numbers, promised to stay in touch, and parted ways. My last stop was my women’s group meeting, where I also hugged everyone goodbye and explained once again that I have no idea what’s going but I’ve been sick for months and I can’t recover here. They nodded their heads understandingly, examined my skin and symptoms for themselves, then gifted me candy and wished me luck.
I went back to my house to shower. I was emotionally doing okay. Sure, I was saying (a possibly forever) goodbye to a lot of people, but I felt okay. They all took it well and I was ready to get back to the states to finally feel better. Then I locked up the house and walked to the bus stop with my backpack… and Pinky.
That’s when I lost it. He was right by my side and so excited that “we” were going on an adventure together. I stood on the side of the road hugging this dog with a lot of locals staring at the crying white girl with a huge bag sobbing over a street dog. A bus rolled up and I got on, watching Pinky’s tail drop as we drove away. My heart still hurts thinking about how much I miss him.
I arrived to Panama City at 3 a.m. and slept really hard the rest of the night. I woke up to see Julia again, who was sadly also getting sent home (but she knew for sure it was forever). We had breakfast and got ready to head to the office. Some things don’t change.
Our day at the office was having meeting after meeting, filling out a thousand forms, looking over legal and medical stuff, filing reimbursements, setting up insurance, and discussing my plan of action. I was handed my plane tickets and told to go back to the hostel to nap. I went happily.
The next day Julia and I were able to taxi to the airport together since our planes left at similar times (extremely early). Security took forever (I was yelled at for having $15 worth of coins???), then I had to do another security to get from the main terminal area just to hang out in the gate area. Julia made it through a little later, so we stood on opposite sides of a divider until I had to board the plane. We high-fived since we weren’t allowed to hug each other and promised to meet up in Bolivia one day.
The rest of my travel day after leaving Julia was pretty terrible. My first plane (Panama City to Miami) left early and got in an hour early, but then we were forced to sit on the plane for another 75 minutes waiting for an open gate and ended up being late. Then I was forced to go through customs, collect my bag, re-check my bag, and go through another security (which took 45 minutes and was so backed up that about 150 people missed their flights. Then the screens stopped working, and I was yelled at again for having a lot of coins, and the TSA agents were so frustrated they started taking things like unopened chip bags, chapsticks, and duty-free presents bought from the exact same airport from furious travelers. You suck, Miami security.)
***I got Wendy’s for lunch which was SO EXCITING AND IT CAME WITH DR. PEPPER!!***
My second flight (Miami to Chicago) once again left and arrived early, but we were forced to sit on the ramp for another hour. I asked to be let off the plane first since I only had 5 minutes to make my next flight, but that was ignored, so I had to quickly run through the airport to my next gate. I was wheezing for air, but I made it just in time.
I was the last person on the little flight Chicago to Bloomington, and we landed super early, this time with no waiting (Yay Bloomington!). My parents picked me up and I got home and basically collapsed. I was barely surviving in Panama, so a full day of stressful travel was pretty rough. But I made it! Now, on to readjusting and recuperating.
I’m sure you recognize the best big boy in the world- Pinky! Here, I woke up panicking someone was in bed with me, just to turn on the light and find Pinky had somehow made his way around my mosquito net to snuggle. What a smart baby! I hope he’s doing well in Panama still. If I do get discharged, maybe I’ll go back to get him one day.