Preparing for Departure: The Technical and Emotional Aspects

Typhoid.  Polio.  Measles, Mumps, and Rubella.  Hepatitis A.  Meningococcal Disease. Flu.

“We don’t typically give so many vaccinations to a patient in one day,” the physician’s assistant told me after he injected me with the sixth and final vaccine I would receive that afternoon. You’ll probably want to take it easy for the next couple of days.”

“I was planning on a bike ride tomorrow,” I replied, never having been one to consider lying around all day to be a form of relaxation (though sometimes I really wish I was!).

He chuckled.  We had already bonded — in our brief twenty minutes together — over a shared interest in travel, my curiosity about his service with the Peace Corps in Rwanda during the 1994 evacuations and genocide, and his almost brother-like insistence that I become skilled in self-defense if I was going to travel the world from now on.  “Why don’t you see how you’re feeling in the morning and go from there?” he responded.

Next morning, I felt fantastic!

My fiance and I have this running joke about which one of us will live longer.  We are both physically fit, eat healthfully, and have pretty good genes on both sides of our respective families.  When I woke up the day after my “massive dose” of vaccinations, I felt full of energy, rode for fifteen miles, and performed better than I had in awhile.  I texted him a photo of myself post-ride and boasted, “Looks like I’ll be the one who lives longest!”

There was actually one more vaccination I needed but couldn’t get that day.  This was the yellow fever vaccine (YFV), and in the process of planning for my shots, I learned a few things:

  • You should not be vaccinated for two live viruses at once because the immune response to one of the vaccines could be impaired, rendering the vaccine useless.  
  • YFV is only given at approved vaccination centers (I had to go to a county health clinic).
  • There is currently a shortage of YFV (My county was completely out and I was put on a month-long waiting list for a neighboring county).
  • Apparently, (according to the nurse practitioner who administered my YFV), the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the YFV ceased production in favor of a focus on the vaccine for Zika virus.  Why?  Because they could make more money that way.  The producer is claiming manufacturing issues.
  • Whatever the reality, the cost of the YFV is predicted to increase from the already steep cost of $180.
  • And — twist of the dagger — insurance typically does not cover costs for travel shots.
  • Fortunately, the YFV is good for life once you receive it.

Is that more than you ever wanted to know about yellow fever vaccines?  Well, me too, really.  I kind of just wanted to get my shot and be done with it.  After knowing what I do now, though, I realize how lucky I am to have received it.  Two months after my first attempt to get it, I am finally fully vaccinated and am in possession of my incredibly important Yellow Card.  I am one step closer to departing for Africa.

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Not surprisingly, in these last couple of months before my departure, I have begun to feel acutely aware of my limited time with people who matter to me.

Moments with my son have become precious.  Once I move away, I will be able to visit him every 2-3 months, but that time apart is going to be the most difficult part of this “new normal.”  It is difficult to even write about, so I will only describe that there is a frequent twinge of sadness in my heart during even the most joyful of moments I spend with him these days.  I know that our separation is coming.  This is something with which I’m struggling particularly hard this week and have broken down a few times trying to wrap my head around.  Logically, I know I have made the best decisions for both myself (finding happiness, being strong, and being proud of the example I’m setting of what it means to be brave, live fully, and love truly) and for him (giving him the space and time to bond with his dad, keeping him in his wonderful school and church, and not taking him away from a safe and comfortable life in a family-oriented, suburban city).  Emotionally, however, …he’s my baby, my little buddy.  

That’s all I can say about that for right now.

Spending time with friends has also gained urgency.  A few times a week, I try to spend one-on-one or group time with friends who I probably won’t see much in person after I move away.  When I do come back to town, I know that my time will be focused on seeing my son; so I won’t have much time for social visits …unless that time includes munchkins. 🙂  So, going out for dinner, seeing movies, going dancing, getting drinks, meeting for a chat, going for walks, weekend visits, and a night in with take-out and Netflix are activities that have populated my Google Calendar.  Plus, I’m ever so grateful to these people.

You see, this past year was a transition year for me: one of complex change to lay the groundwork for happier, more productive, and healthier years to come.  I had both personal and professional changes occur, and since I am your classic introvert, I often kept most of the details to myself.  Because of this, and because I’ve typically been the kind of person who is quite predictable, some people didn’t know how to deal.  They went silent or withdrew.  Out of shock?  Out of judgement?  Out of not knowing what to say?  With some of them, I could feel their looks.  For others, their silence spoke volumes.  For those individuals, I say: You think you know, but you don’t.  And you never asked.

Therefore, making time for these many wonderful individuals who reached out, didn’t take no for an answer, listened to my story and have since shown incredible support, love, and kindness has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  They are the ones who know my heart and my intentions.  They see how different — how full of life! — I am now that my heart is so full.  They are the ones who know my soul and understand that my life has always been meant for work that positively impacts as many people as possible.  I want to give, I want to help, I want to lift up, and I want to nurture.  I have always been called to humanitarian work, and the calling became so strong that I had to act on it.  (You can read more about my decision here in my first post.)  So, they are the ones with whom I want to make as many memories as possible before I move.

On the subject of memories, the issue of sentimentality has also arisen in deciding what to take with me as I move abroad as a trailing spouse in foreign service.  I’m not typically a sentimental person when it comes to “things,” and materialism does not interest me.  However, how does one plan for the comforts of home while anticipating life in government-provided housing?  I’ve been told that I don’t need to bring furniture, I know I’ll be dressing for a tropical climate year-round, and I will be merging my life and belongings with my fiance’s.  These days, I’m looking at everything in my apartment with three categories in mind: A) Take, B) Put in Storage, C) Give Back/Give Away.

Even with all of that on my mind, I also accomplished two critical tasks this week: submitting my background security check document and completing my medical clearance evaluation (a comprehensive physical exam).

In truth, having tasks like this to focus on is great for someone like me.  I am a planner, so the mental energy that it has taken to keep up with so many details keeps my mind off of the waiting.  Waiting is the hardest part of anything for me.  I’m impatient once I’ve made my mind up about something; I’m ready to act because I’ve already spent more time than anyone could guess thinking, considering, weighing, and planning.

So, I’m counting down to the next chapter in various ways, and I’ve been reflecting on one of the lessons this past year has taught me for sure: I have learned in the truest way to not judge another person’s story or situation.  There is always so much more than they probably let on, the story is always made up of dozens of interwoven narratives, and you can probably relate to at least a few of those narratives yourself.

Shout-out to those of you who have trusted me with your own stories this past year!  I’m so glad we could be there for each other.  Much love! ❤

6 thoughts on “Preparing for Departure: The Technical and Emotional Aspects”

  1. Regarding your vax portions….when I started school at N GA, there were some scares that came out, and it was recommended new students get vaccinated. I remember the PA saying, “so you must be going to Africa?” 🙂

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    1. Ha! That’s too funny! My nurse practitioner and I were laughing the other day about how once you get vaccinated to go to Africa, you can go ANYWHERE else in the world. 🙂 You’re covered!

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      1. 1. Living in NYC — tiny apartments, several moves — taught me to make better choices about what to keep and what to toss. I try to ask myself this: “If this were thrown away or stolen, could I get another? Would I cry about its loss? Did I smile when I looked at it?”
        2. Netflix and takeout! ❤️
        3. If you need tips on how to be lazier, I can coach you. I’m almost an Olympic relaxer at this point!

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      2. Great tips on assessing my stuff, Radhika! I like your system. 🙂 Also, being “lazy” with you doesn’t count because we laugh and talk so much that we’re still burning a ton of calories. LOL 😉

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