Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Long Overdue Update

Although I feel everyone by now has probably been told several times, I'll state for the record on this blog that we are in fact going to Peru.  Don't ask where in Peru just yet; we don't know.  We'll be in Chaclacayo (a suburb of Lima) for the 3 month training period, but not even the Peace Corps knows yet where we'll be after that.  They'll be deciding that based on how the training period goes.  Here's what we do know at this point.  We'll be leaving Urbana-Champaign on the 9th for Aurora to visit family and friends up there, departing for DC on the 13th for Peace Corps staging, and flying out the next morning for Peru.

In Peru, I'll be working as a Community Health Promoter, which could entail anything from HIV/AIDS education to building latrines.  If I'm really lucky, I'll get to help people start vegetable gardens, but then again I may be talking to people about personal hygiene, so we'll see. Regardless, I'll be in Peru serving others, so I think it's pretty much win-win.

Amanda will be working in Protected Areas Management, which has an equally broad range of jobs. Ecotourism, conservation, national parks administration, environmental education, or pretty much anything related to the environment.

For those who haven't received verbal or email invitations, we are having a going-away party on the 8th of September at 301 Mongolia in downtown Champaign from 7 to 11.  Anyone can show up, so pass along the information to everyone you know who may be interested.  They have great food there, and I encourage you (if you should come) to try their small plates as well as the create-your-own stir fry, or just get some drinks,  but, just to be clear, we're not buying.  If people are still showing up closer to 11, we'll probably move things next door to Dublin O'Neil's (which also has incredible food, and their kitchens are open until 2 AM).

Thanks to everyone for all the well-wishes, prayers, and general encouragement.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Big News! (Wednesday, June 13, 2012)

... in the next week or two.

As of today, we are medically cleared for service, so now it's just a matter of waiting for Peace Corps to place us (probably by the end of the week) and the country to invite us (probably within a week or two).

So while you're all waiting to hear the final news, take the time to enjoy these vintage Peace Corps PSAs:

Also, Peru is a definite possibility for our host country, and in the midst of searching Peru on Google, I came across this gem:

What Happens When Healthcare Gets Sick? (Thursday, May 10, 2012)

Throughout the past five years during which I've worked at International Galleries, I've had the opportunity to meet and befriend a number of people of note. One of these people, the one to whom I've developed the closest bond, is a retired print-making professor by the name of Dennis Rowan. He counts among his friends not only young framers but also a rowdy bunch of old men who specialized in anything from industrial design to sculpture. Once a week they wreak havoc on some poor, unsuspecting server at a number of different restaurants in town. This group was named by Dennis, The ROMEO Club. (ROMEO stands for Real Old Men Eating Out.)

I had the pleasure of accompanying this prestigious group on one of their outings last year, and although the conversation was lively, the behavior childlike, and the experience unforgettable for a variety of reasons, the thought that remained in my head for the longest time afterward had naught to do with any of the ROMEOs but with another guest Dennis had invited along.

This guest (whose name I do not recall) worked for his father. His father, however, does not own a local business; he owns a corporation that sends out efficiency experts to hospitals and clinics all over the country in order to inform them how they might better be spending their time and money. Efficiency experts?

Yeah, that's what popped into my head too. But here's what amazed me. This was someone who is maybe a year or two older than me, and he seemed somehow already completely wrapped up in the idea that the more money health care can make, the better. It's supposed to take decades of cynicism and greed to acquire a view like that, and yet, here it was.

At the time, I did in fact challenge the idea that health care needed to make more money, but I quickly realized that it was neither the place nor the time for such a discussion. I won't argue against many institutions being generally wasteful, but I feel it is money that more often than not is the cause of such inefficiency. For example: It used to be the expectation that doctors did more than just the required prodding, probing, and punctures of a typical check-up; there was an understanding that they were to both care for and care about their patients. A relationship is required for the latter.

One of the examples provided to me by this efficiency expert was increasing the amount of patients seen by doctors within a given period of time. It's pretty hard to develop a relationship with a patient that you've seen for under ten minutes. By taking more time to know and understand the situation in which a patient is set, money is ultimately saved, because a greater understanding produces a better diagnosis. (Also, if you've developed a relationship with a patient and they consider you a friend, they're not going to want to sue you if something should go wrong.)

If we are to go into a doctor's office and see them for only the amount of time necessary for them to glance at a chart, reaffirm what's already been written down by a nurse, and maybe (maybe) a little small talk, then we might as well not be there at all. Web M.D. can do just as good a job if the patient isn't really being utilized as a context. Sure, there are all the tests they can run at a hospital, but a lot of those wouldn't be necessary if they just took the time to actually be a doctor. Besides, who really needs a doctor to order a test? You want to streamline health care? Send in a vial of blood to be done by a lab without a doctor ever glancing at it. The hypochondriac in all of us will love it. They'll be able to tell us everything that could be potentially wrong with us for just a small fee.

Now for a little honesty; this is all really just an entry venting frustration for the now weeks-long process of getting all of Amanda's paperwork together to send in to the Peace Corps. Anything you can think of on a pretty standard piece of paperwork that a doctor could mess up has happened. Five boxes to date and initial? Just do three or four of them; the others probably aren't important. Did the vision test? No need to write down the results. OK, fine, I do have to write them down? I know, I'll flip which eye needed which prescription. And it goes on and on. The last struggle has been the most absurd of all though.

In addition to the usual physical scheduled with a family practice doctor, Amanda and I both had to have several different specialized doctors for areas where general doctors don't have the expertise for a given area (teeth, eyes, vaginas, et cetera), and that's all cool. That much makes sense. What doesn't make sense is having to make a separate trip back for every single one to have your primary care physician sign off on the results. What makes even less sense is when one of the specialists refuses to fill out and sign a sheet because it requires the signature of your physician, and your physician won't fill it out or sign it because they're not comfortable doing the work of the specialist.

This is the situation Amanda is currently in. Two doctors, two refusals, two weeks trying to figure out a single sheet of paper, even though all of the information is already there. Like I said in a previous post: You really have to want it. So, what happens when health care gets sick? You and I get screwed. I don't think pills are going to help this one; it's time to amputate, starting with the efficiency experts. Sorry, Bob, Bob.

No, I've never been asked that before... Why? (Monday, May 7, 2012)

If you're reading this blog, you know I've had long hair for quite some time. You're also probably somewhat aware of the fact that it's light brown and slightly wavy.  If you've seen me in the past couple years, it's possible you'd recall that I often have a beard. I'd be surprised if you knew I have blue eyes and a somewhat longer nose, but for the sake of this entry, I'll throw those details out there too. So, what does one get when all these physical characteristics are put together?

OK, I get it. The western depiction of Jesus (particularly that of Warner Sallman) bears a certain resemblance to my own appearance. However, I still find it incredibly bizarre when people walk up to me in public and ask, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Jesus?" I was asked that twice today, once by an older French couple and once by a middle-aged black guy. It just seems a bit peculiar that so many people are comfortable with asking a complete stranger if he is aware that he resembles the savior of mankind. It should be pretty clear that if you're comfortable asking someone that, others have probably done it too. I'm always tempted to answer such questions with, "No... why?" but, in the end, I never want to ruin their moment.

Probably the most jarring instance of this phenomenom that I can recall took place in a Walgreen's in Aurora, IL. A cashier at a different line first asked Amanda if she took care of my hair for me. (What?) She then proceeded to inquire which church we attend, and after Amanda explained that we didn't live there, she on her own offered up that I would make a great Jesus at Christmas, and she would just curl up at my feet.
First of all, at Christmas, Jesus is a baby. More importantly, you just told a stranger you'd like to curl up at his feet. That's weird! I could be a complete creep! I could have said yes!

I guess overall though, it could be worse. If I'm going to be told I look like someone, Jesus would be at the top of my list even if I didn't look like popular portraits of him. Who's going to be mean to someone who reminds them of Jesus? He's a pretty fly guy in most people's opinion, regardless of whether or not they believe He died for their sins and ascended to heaven three days later.

For those interested:
Popular Mechanics had a great article almost a decade ago that examined what an average person from Jesus' time would have looked like: The Real Face Of Jesus

The New York Times then followed up on that article about a year later and commissioned an artist to paint a version of that same model sans the stupid look on his face: What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

You Really Have To Want It (Monday, April 30, 2012)

As I started this blog to keep interested parties updated on our journey to (and through) the Peace Corps, I suppose I should probably actually use it in this capacity at some point.

As of last week, I sent in all of my medical forms to the Peace Corps. Amanda and I are picking up the last of her forms tomorrow morning and mailing them off soon thereafter. It's almost completely out of our hands. This good news has its downsides though. Although Amanda's medical bills came out to slightly less than mine, the total for me came out to $1013, with a $101 charge for a test requested by neither myself nor the Peace Corps. (Christie Clinic is supposed to call me back about that one.) My insurance might cover some of the costs but likely only the Td booster if anything at all. They didn't seem keen on covering unnecessary lab work and immunizations when last I spoke with them. So after I've been denied coverage, and I'm left with a roughly $900 bill, Peace Corps will reimburse me up to $125, which means I will hopefully only have to dish out 7 or 8 hundred to pay for everything. But wait, there is indeed a silver lining.

One of the prerequisites to making it this far in the application process is to write a personal statement regarding your financial situation if there are loans that are not deferrable in your assumed substantial student debt. Between my own non-deferrable loans and those of Amanda, we had a fairly hefty chunk of money to pay off last fall. However, we've been putting roughly half of our income toward paying these off since then and were even on schedule to have it all paid off... and then the medical bills happened. At this point, you're probably thinking that I seriously misused the phrase "silver lining." Well, it would be quite ironic to have spent tens of thousands on an education in English just to misuse so common a saying, and I assure you that is not the case. So here it is (the silver lining, that is): I called the Peace Corps, and I don't have to have everything paid off. In addition to the fact that I've paid more than three years in advance, I guess I can put up to about $200 a month toward loans while serving. Granted, if I don't spend that money, then I get it at the end of service, but I'll take one less hurdle to jump over if it's offered.

I think at this point the title of this entry is rather self-explanatory, but I'd like to elaborate a little nonetheless. You see, I heard several returned Peace Corps volunteers say something along these lines ("You really have to want it."), but I rather thought they were referring to the large amount of paperwork and lengthy waiting process. The last couple months have cleared up that misunderstanding. The Peace Corps is a wonderful thing, but you simply couldn't do it if you were poor. You need a college degree, which is of course accompanied by debt (sometimes non-deferrable), and enough money and/or good enough insurance to cover the multitude of tests and immunizations required. CLEP exams to determine language abilities run about $100 a piece, and fingerprinting costs about 40 bucks. And if you're working your way through all of these expenses, good luck keeping up with payments on everything when you have to take time off in order to get all of these things done. Put simply, a lot of people just don't have the means to get through the first year leading up to departure. Considering the boost having served in the Peace Corps lends to your resume (even if that isn't the primary motivation for going), it's just not particularly fair that only those with money have access to it...

 Which makes me start thinking long term: maybe this is a project for us when we return from the Peace Corps and start raking in the big bucks as a high school teacher and park ranger. It would be great to establish some sort of fund for underprivileged applicants that otherwise wouldn't have this door opened to them. Considering the immense success the US military has had in recruiting people who don't have the financial backing to further themselves, it would be a wonderfully stark contrast to send some of the same underpriveleged young Americans abroad in the only consistently good foreign policy this country has ever had. But I'll not get so far ahead of myself just yet; we haven't even received our official invitation to our country. I'll keep you all posted.