Peace Corps: Getting Cleared to Go

This is the second post of a two part series. For part one of this story, check this out.

We were ecstatic to receive an invitation to Peace Corps Namibia. However, getting invited to join the Peace Corps is only the first of many steps to make the dream a reality. Once you accept your invitation, you are given a laundry list of items to complete in order to be cleared to go. These tasks include applying for a Peace Corps passport, applying for a visa to Namibia, updating your resume and aspiration statement, completing several online training courses, getting fingerprinted and filling out a form for a legal clearance, and getting a litany of tests done for a medical clearance.

The First Steps

Eric and I were diligent in completing the first few steps of the process in the allotted time. We sent in our passport and visa applications immediately (they make you mail everything through UPS or FedEx so that you can have a tracking number for everything), updated our resumes and aspiration statements, and worked through the online training rather quickly. Our first big hurdle came with the legal clearance.

Preparing for the Peace Corps involves a lot more than just packing your bag.

Legal Clearance 

I had gotten fingerprinted before starting my job with the Navy in 2013 look at these guys. So first, I asked if I had to get re-printed since my files were already on record. Unfortunately, I did. Then, we had to figure out where to get the prints done. When I got them done in 2013, I walked into my local police station in New Jersey and asked them if they could do it for me. It was a quick process and the cops were very helpful and did it at no charge.

In Maryland, the police stations have a specific finger print person that comes in a few times a week for a few hours a day. Each station has different days and times and it doesn’t seem consistent at all. So after calling multiple police stations, the Peace Corps headquarters in DC, and a correctional facility, Eric finally found a station that had a person that could take us. We drove 15 minutes to the Rockville police station, went inside, asked to get printed, and then the police proceeded to tell us that we couldn’t get printed in Maryland unless we had Maryland driver’s licenses that said we lived in Montgomery County. Frustrated beyond belief, we left and formulated a new plan. By this time, we knew we were going to be late getting the forms in, so I contacted the Peace Corps and told them about our hold-up. They were understanding and suggested that we go to a private company that does finger printing. Later that week we found a private company, made an appointment, and paid $30+ each to get two sets of fingerprints. Then it was back to the UPS store to ship more things to Washington, DC – a ~30 minute drive from our apartment.

With the legal clearance under our belt, it was time to tackle medical.

Medical Clearance

Since I am still on my parents insurance, I was traveling from Maryland to New Jersey for all of my doctors appointments. It was a big inconvenience and I believe that I ended up driving up to Jersey almost every weekend for two months in order to get all of the tests done. The medical clearance includes a physical, extensive blood work, several vaccines, a full dental exam + x-rays, a pap test (for women), and for me – a trip to the allergist.

The Doctor

I got my physical done as soon as I could. I told the receptionist when I was making the appointment that the physical was for the Peace Corps and that I had a ton of paperwork to fill out, but when I got to the appointment, the doctor did not have enough time with me to go over all of the forms and she told me that she would have to keep it to fill it out later. I got a TDaP and Polio booster while in the office, but the doctor said that I would have to get a yellow fever vaccine somewhere else because they did not carry it. I planned to get the blood work done the next day, but the doctor said that she would have to see if the lab could do the G6PD test because it is not a common test. Every delay meant another 8 hours of driving for me (but mostly Eric, thanks Eric).

I got bloodwork done far too many times.

I finally got the blood work done (I hate blood work), but when I saw the results, I realized that it was missing half of the tests that I needed. I called the doctor back and they told me that there was a mistake somewhere and that I would have to go back to the lab to get the blood work done again for the things that they missed. Another 8 hours of driving. I got the second round of blood work done, uploaded everything to the Peace Corps Medical Portal, and realized that the doctor STILL did not get the order right. I was missing the G6PD test. I had to go back to get blood work done for a THIRD time, but finally, all of the tests were in. I got the physical paperwork back from the doctor and uploaded everything to the portal. Hopefully I do not need blood work again for a long time.

In the meantime, Eric and I were searching for a place to get the yellow fever vaccine. I called Walgreens and they told me that they had it and that it was going to be $150. I called a travel clinic to see if they had a better price and they said that there was a shortage of the vaccine and that no one had it in the whole USA – weird. Eric and I went to Walgreens and got the vaccine with no problems. Eric’s insurance covered all of his, mine covered $3.

The Dentist

Brush (and floss) yo.

Luckily, I have dental insurance through my work, so my dentist was located in Maryland. I went for my initial visit and found out that I needed two small fillings and a wisdom tooth pulled. I scheduled the appointments for those procedures and left the paperwork with them to fill out later. I came back to get my fillings done first. Everything went smoothly, but they did not have the paperwork ready yet. By the time I came back to get the wisdom tooth extracted, the due by date for medical forms had already passed. I notified the Peace Corps medical staff that I would be late getting the dental forms in and they were accommodating. I believe that they just like to know that you are working towards finishing everything even if you can’t finish it on time. I got my wisdom tooth pulled, got all of my paperwork back, and got the x-rays e-mailed to me. Compared to the doctor, the dentist was a breeze.

The Gynecologist

I found a gynecologist in Maryland since I did not have one in New Jersey already. I got the pap test done, got the results back, uploaded them to the portal and was done. Easiest task yet.

The Allergist

Here’s where things got tricky for me. When you first apply to the Peace Corps, you have to fill out a rather detailed medical questionnaire to determine which countries you can be placed under consideration for. When I filled out the questionnaire in 2014, I did not think that I was allergic to any foods, so I marked it as so. In January 2016, before we had been invited to serve, I started seeing a new allergist because my eczema was getting a bit out of control. I started a new round of testing and found out that I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and chocolate. Eating these foods had been causing my eczema. I immediately eliminated these foods from my diet and saw my eczema disappear.

These things make me itchy

I went back to the allergist (in New Jersey) to fill out the Peace Corps paperwork regarding asthma and allergies, but was also undergoing the next round of testing. It ended up getting very confusing because the Peace Corps wanted to know details about my history of asthma, allergies, and eczema, but my allergist had only been seeing my for 3 months, so she had to just go on my word. I ended up having to write personal statements regarding my asthma, allergies, and eczema to submit to the Peace Corps. I also had to have my allergist submit a transfer of care document, all of her office notes from our visits, all of my skin test results, and my peak flow test results.

During this time, the Peace Corps medical staff kept telling me not to quit my job or cancel my lease because they did not know if I would be medically cleared to serve. They told me that my case would have to be submitted to the Namibia medical team for special review because it was determined that I would need specific medical support such as access to an ER and availability to certain drugs and airway support during my service. At this point, I thought we were doomed. All of that hard work to get invited, and now I was going to be medically disqualified. The nurse told me that it could take 7-10 days to see if those supports could be accommodated in Namibia.

I heard back the next day. I was cleared!

So, that brings us to present day. Eric and I have both passed all of the clearances as of June 9th, and now it’s getting real. We’re going to Namibia in August!

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