Less than a week after I received my nomination, a rather large envelope came in the mail for me courtesy of the Peace Corps. In this envelope was my medical packet. Being the (slightly) OCD person that I am, I had already made all of my medical and dental appointments and had prepped all of the doctors to the extensive evaluation that was required. In fact, I had a pre-physical exam appointment with my doctor a few days after my nomination and gave her a bunch of forms that I had printed off the Peace Corps Wiki website (super useful) to serve as examples so she would be ready. (Don't judge me, I like to be prepared!)
So, I opened up the medical packet and started looking through all of the documents: exhaustive physical exam, immunization records, blood tests, dental records including recent x-rays, eye exam, lady doctor exams, mental health exams, and so on. It was a lot. While I completely understand the need for the Peace Corps to be thorough (they are, after all, responsible for your health and well-being while in remote areas of the world for 27 months), it was almost overwhelming how much information they wanted. They truly wanted exams done and records sent of things that I never would have considered (some of you know what I'm referring to here and it's so not cool!). However, even after reading through all of the paperwork they sent and reading all of the exams and everything, the one thing that freaked me out the most: needles.
I am horrifically afraid of needles. When I had mono in 2005, the doctor literally had to sedate me in order to draw blood and diagnose me. The medical review required, I believe, six tests requiring a blood draw, one TB test, and two boosters. That's four needle pricks. I kept reminding myself to keep calm because this is worth it, oh so worth it, it'll be fine, but ahhhhhhh! Sure, I had known this was coming when I booked my appointments so I had already told my doctor that needles freaked me out but I was still nervous. What it came down to was that I had finally applied and I was finally at this point so I had to suck it up and do it. Plus, I reasoned, I had a few days to pump myself up and mentally prepare for "the day of the needles."
When the morning for "the day of the needles" came, I was feeling alright. My Mom had offered to come with me and hold my hand and my friend Shelly had offered me the assistance of her daughter's presence (I would have to be tough in front of her, right?) but I decided to be a big strong tough girl and do it on my own. So I marched straight to the Lab at 8:00 am and told them, with every ounce of courage I could muster, that I was there to get my blood drawn. The lady behind the desk called me up and, in a VERY hushed voice, informed me that because the Peace Corps required an HIV test that I needed to go see my doctor to get a form signed that said I'd had HIV counselling. Okay, this seems a little ridiculous considering the reason behind the test, but I obliged and went upstairs to my doctor's office. The doctor, slightly annoyed at the Lab lady for not having me just read and sign the paper down at the Lab, decided to run my physical before having my blood draw. Phew, I thought, I had another hour to prep myself. Ha, right.
Physical happened, not all glamorous but I got through it with a clean bill of health, and then came the needles. The doctor pulled out the TB test needle and said, grinning ear-to-ear, "I used to work in a TB clinic, this is my favorite thing to do!" Then, in that same moment, she jabbed my forearm with the needle. (Some warning would have been nice.) Then it bubbled! Who knew that TB tests bubbled like that?! I certainly didn't so I freaked. Noticing my panic, the doctor informed me that "it was fine" and that "the bubble will go away"... unless I had been exposed to TB, at which point my arm would "bubble up more and turn colors" and they would have to give me a chest x-ray... but "don't worry we will know in two days." Needless to say I freaked out more because A. a needle was just in my arm, B. my arm bubbled, and C. it could spread and become a rainbow of colors. (Gee thanks.) Seconds later, the nurse came in with a bigger needle, TDAP I assumed at that point. I looked her straight in the eyes and told her that I was a little freaked out. She pointed at the wall on the other side of the room and said "Hey, look at that, let me tell you a story about it... 'Once upon a time...'" and she jabbed me with the needle. (Tricky little nurse!) Yes, she treated me like a 5-year-old but it worked! It was done and I didn't have time to hyperventilate. Then I headed back to the Lab...
I got back to the Lab, they made me wait a few minutes, I peed in a cup, and then they sat me down in this sterile chair at the side of this long hallway. Even though where they sat me was bare and cold, the chair across the way had really pretty pictures so I pretended like I was sitting over there. I did not forewarn the lady with the needle this time that I was scared because I wanted to be prepared when the needle came at me. So I sat there and I took deep breaths and I thought very very hard about WHY I was getting this all done. In that moment, I got really calm and they took six vials of blood and I was okay - all while the Lab tech taught me about some Saint that she said nobody knows about but is really awesome (I can't remember the Saint's name because I was concentrating so hard on being tough!). I left with instructions to come back in two days to get my TB test read and pick up my labs. I made it! (And, honestly, it really wasn't that bad!)
Two days later, I went back to get my TB test read (my arm had returned to normal, thank goodness) and to pick up my labs. Once back in the doctor's office, we found out that the Lab failed to run half of the tests! So, you guessed it, I had to get my blood drawn again! The second time I was very tough. I walked into the Lab without a fuss, I rolled up my sleeve, and I sat like a champ (even when the lab tech screwed up and had to poke me again. I had a pretty good bruise for about a week and a half.) I did it (again) and the worst of it was over! (I'm actually sort of a pro at needles now. I am going to consider it all a blessing in disguise.)
After getting all my labs and reports and x-rays and exam information from all the required doctors, I finally was ready to mail in the Medical Evaluation Packet. I made some cardstock dividers so the Medical Reviewer that got my file would have an easy time looking through everything (insert comment about my OCD behavior here), I organized the documents, I made a copy of the packet for my personal records, and then I marched it to the mailbox and sent it on its way to DC. That was last Wednesday. By my calculations, I'm guessing it should be there some time in the next few days. Fingers crossed they find everything satisfactory (my doctors did!) and I get through Medical Clearance soon! Then I can breathe easy for a while!