A couple of things have inspired this blog post. One being Director Williams’ question, “Is PC taking care of you?” (During my speaking event, a future volunteer also asked a similar question.) Another being a fellow Medevac’s blog I was just reading, discussing some RPCVs/Medevacs having issues with Peace Corps. So… I figured I might expand a little bit on what I think of Peace Corps and their treatment of me so far… hope not to offend anyone too much…
PCMOs Zambia: When I first fell sick, I felt that the PCMOs were attentive in checking up on me. They also acquired transportation to bring me into the capital. However, once in the capital, I felt continually frustrated as I felt they were “underestimating” how sick I really was. It seemed they were making random guesses about my illness, and kept “waiting it out” rather than doing more. They kept telling me to eat and drink Oral Rehydration Solutions, and not taking me seriously when I said “I absolutely cannot eat”. I remember laying in the bunk bed literally thinking I was going to die and they were not going to do anything about it. At the time I even posted on Facebook, “I just wish they would put me in the hospital and hook me up to IVs”. FINALLY when I got to the point of throwing up constantly and developing a rash all over my body, the PCMOs sent me to the hospital.
Zambia Hospital: I finally felt taken care of. I felt the doctors were a bit more knowledgeable, and they were actually getting test results and talking with me. The PCMOs came in and out, but were overall not that helpful. I listened to them “argue” with the hospital doctor about flying me to South Africa. The hospital doctor wanted me on a private medevac flight. Peace Corps just wanted to put me on a regular commercial flight. Finally, I flew out, on a regular commercial flight, with one of my PCMOs accompanying me.
South Africa Hospital and PCMOs: The Regional Medevac Center and PCMOs in South Africa were wonderful. They were knowledgeable, patient, kind, and attentive. My care was mostly under hospital doctors/staff, but the PCMOs came each day to check on me and talk with me. I had no working phone, so they also allowed me to use their personal phones to call my mother in America. They helped me work through my diagnosis, and patiently discussed options for returning home to the U.S. They were in communication with DC and updated me on the plans. They made sure I had comfortable living arrangements until I flew out.
*** Note: I don’t know where/when this issue falls in the timeline… but someone somewhere (PCMO Zambia, DC Headquarters, or PCMO South Africa) chose not to tell me about my first positive HIV test result right away. They withheld the information, and I was “accidentally” told by the South Africa Hospital doctor instead. This little blip has continued to bother me…
Flight to PC Headquarters DC: I was a little off put that no one picked me up from the airport, as I was still pretty sick and weak. I was simply given an address of a hotel and told to make my way there.
International Health Coordinator: This person was extremely helpful, assisting me in every sort of issue- appointments, phone calls, insurance, etc. She has continued to be helpful even after Medical Separation, and still serves as a contact point for me within Peace Corps. I feel she genuinely cares about me and my case, and will continue to help me in any way I need.
PC Counselor in DC: My counselor was absolutely amazing! That’s all I can say!
Doctors in DC: They were very knowledgeable and up to date on research regarding HIV. I received extremely good medical care while there.
FECA (Federal Employee Compensation Act): Peace Corps Staff assisted me in writing and filing my claim for Federal Workers Compensation. I am lucky they did most of the work in filing the claim. My claim was accepted and approved very quickly, and I will have it to cover my HIV related medical care for the rest of my life. However, now that I am in the real world and attempting to use it, I have been running into constant issues. Doctors offices, pharmacies, etc. are not familiar with using this type of claim or forms, and are finding it to be difficult. I feel that it has and will be a continuous struggle and learning process.
Close of Service Process: There was a huge disconnect of information between DC Headquarters and PC Zambia. No one really took charge and told me what I needed to do to finish everything up and get closed out. I was passed around to different contact persons. I attempted to communicate with my APCD in Zambia on my own to take care of most issues. She did her best. It has been 5 months, and I still don’t have my belongings back from Zambia (though I think they might finally be on the way). PC Zambia has continued to give me no response about my money in my bank account in Zambia. As far as I know, my Description of Service Statement was never signed and returned to me or to Headquarters.
So, I hope that gives a little more information about my variety of experiences with Peace Corps staff during and after my illness. I can pretty much make the simple and quick generalization that Headquarters in DC and PC South Africa have been very helpful, whereas PC Zambia continues to be not so helpful.
So, as I answered Director Williams, “They are trying.”
I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.