Some people have wondered and asked why I was Medically Separated from the Peace Corps, especially since the current Peace Corps HIV Policy is not to automatically separate volunteers who contract HIV. Although I cannot speak to anyone else’s situation, this is a little bit more about how mine came about…
When I first tested Positive in
, it seemed to be assumed by everyone, including me and the Peace Corps doctors that I would be sent home and Medically Separated. I am not exactly sure why I assumed this, because I had read about Peace Corp’s changing HIV policy before beginning service. But, maybe I was just still in a little bit of the initial shock from it all. And, it was not explicitly talked about or stated that I would be Medically Separated, it was more just like “Okay, you have HIV. We’re going to send you home now.” I didn’t even question it at first. I just went along with it and started making the plans. I talked to my APCD in South Africa , and I wrote Goodbye letters to my village and to my fellow PCVs (which I will share some of at a later time). Zambia
It wasn’t until I arrived in D.C. that I started to wake up a bit from it all, and I first said, “Hey. Wait a minute. Who says I have to be Medically Separated?” I did my research and re-read the stories about Jeremiah and Elizabeth from a couple of years ago. And then I started asking questions… to my IHC (International Health Coordinator) and my doctors. I really wanted to know if I could return to country and continue my service, and for the first week I kept up pretty high hopes that I could. I pushed my IHC to bring my questions to the PC Medical Board that meets each week to discuss each Medevac case. She came back from that meeting saying that the Board’s response was an overwhelming “Not Right Now”.
Those three words “Not Right Now” crushed me at first. I felt angry. And sad. And lost. But, as my time in D.C. went on, my feelings started to change. With the help of my counselor, and my doctors, and just the way I was physically feeling, I started to realize that the Board was right- I would not be able to return right now. I came to understand that my health was most important, and that I really needed to recover from this initial illness. I realized that my body did not have the strength, energy, or immunity to return to
Africa right away. Thus, I finally came to accept that my Peace Corps journey was over, at least for now. I worked through the grieving process about this as much as I did about the HIV.
Before leaving D.C., I again pushed PC to talk to me more about what my “reinstatement” options would be, and how that process worked. (I don’t think they would have really discussed it with me much, unless I had pushed the way I did). I was told that I would have the option to apply for reinstatement within 1 year of my Medical Separation date. Furthermore, they told me that PC has some HIV lab requirements that I would need to meet (which to my knowledge, are not openly published to the public anywhere). They said that the typical requirements for HIV+ persons applying to become volunteers are that they are on a stable treatment regimen, with an undetectable viral load, and a CD4 of 500, for at least one year. I pushed (again) and asked how that would even be possible for me to meet those requirements within one year. They said that they would look at my case individually, and things would be a bit more flexible for me because I would be applying for “reinstatement” rather than as a “new applicant”. They said that they would still want me to be on a stable treatment regimen, with an undetectable viral load and a CD4 of 500, but may be flexible about what they considered to be a stable length of time.
So, this is how I came to accept my Medical Separation, and sit back and wait to see what the future brings. Although, with each set of lab results that come back not being at PC’s acceptable level, I feel my reinstatement option slipping further away…