Ian Tramm, 131 YinD
Hi Pam, my name is Ian Tramm and I’m looking to schedule a physical as a new patient for a date within the next 30 days. I do have somewhat of a unique situation though; starting in January I’ll be serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, but I’m leaving the country at the beginning of October so I’m under a bit of a time-crunch. A Brighter Future came highly recommended by a former coworker of yours… uh… Chris. He said you may be able to help me out.
As yet again I go through the spiel that has by now become my daily routine, my hopeful timbre still manages to betray the desperation lacing my words. Despite my optimistic tone my hopes remain low as the second it takes for her to process my request seems to drag on for an eternity. Finally, the peppy voice of the HR representative beams through my phone:
Ooooh, Chris! We miss him! I hope he’s doing well! I can’t promise anything but let me check our availability.
With that, I hear the rapid clacking of a practiced typist for what feels like yet another second of forever. I await a response, already mentally preparing myself to add one more clinic to the growing I’m sorry, but as a new patient we wouldn’t be able to see you until at least mid-October list. This last-ditch call seems to already be following the same pattern as so many that came before it, and as I take a breath ready to dive into my disappointed, but grateful rejection speech I hear the following wonderful, beautiful, magnificent, five words:
Are you available on Monday?
When I finished my undergrad at Florida State this past May the question I got the most was definitely, Does it feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders? For the most part, I would answer with a decisive Absolutely!, but to my close friends I didn’t hesitate to confide that in fact I could still feel the same weight, if not even a bit more of it, as I was now a graduate and had, maybe foolishly, put all my eggs in a basket that I wouldn’t hear back from until September.
After my undergrad was officially complete, I drove for Uber on weekends, and during the week I split my time between attending TEFL courses and tutoring foreign students. The fact of the matter was, however, that I didn’t have a real, full-time job waiting for me. It had been nearly two years since I had decided that my path would lead me through a tour of Peace Corps service and had submitted my application in early April 2018. No more than a week later I had completed my interview.
Now I grew up as a military brat, so by the time I graduated college I had lived in six different cities across four countries. Our final move as a family was from Rota, Spain to Vicenza, Italy where I completed high school and my parents still currently reside. As such I was lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to return to Italy twice a year to see my family. Because of my parents’ government service, during my time living in Italy as well as my time as a college student I was provided with a Soggiorno, an Italian permit to reside in Italy granted to DoD personnel. This allowed me to stay in Italy longer than the allotted 90 days granted to anyone without some form of visa.
Typically, I would spend a couple weeks there in December, and then the entirety of my summer there working on the military base at the child youth center. Once I graduated however and was no longer a full-time student, I no longer qualified for a Soggiorno and thus could only remain at home for 90 days or less. I decided that this year I would not return for summer instead returning home in October and remaining there until Christmas, immediately after which I would fly back to the US to prepare for service. This was of course all banking on the acceptance of my application and how quickly I could be cleared for service as I wanted that process to be completed before leaving the country.
As my parents were still living overseas, I found myself with no home to return to once my Tallahassee lease expired at the end of July. Luckily for me, my cousin offered to let me stay with her in Fayetteville, NC, provided I pay a portion of the rent/utilities. Of course, I happily agreed. At the end of July, I donated the majority of my belongings, keeping only clothes that I might need for service and a few items of sentimental value, and left the city of my alma mater hoping that I would have good news soon.
I think every current and past volunteer can relate to the anxiety of checking your email every morning and hoping for something, anything, related to your application. By the time August rolled around and nearly four months had elapsed since I had had my interview, I was desperate for any kind of response. At that point, even a declination would have felt preferable to the not knowing. Finally, three weeks before I realistically expected a response, I checked my email in the morning on August 13th and lo and behold, there it was.
Congratulations! You have been selected to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, pending medical and legal clearance.
More than 90 days since I had graduated, finally it felt like the weight had indeed been lifted. I could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I had a job, and I had a new and exciting adventure lying before me. What I didn’t know at the time however was that the real adventure laid immediately before me in the form of the dreaded medical clearance process.
As other volunteers surely know, once I accepted my invitation to serve I was immediately provided with a slew of medical and legal tasks to carry out in order to be cleared for service. The legal tasks, being relatively simple, were completed within a few days of being invited. The medical tasks, on the other hand, were a bit more numerous, and for me personally, a bit more daunting as I was living in a city that I had arrived in only weeks before, and I had no primary physician or previous local care provider. Luckily, the dental and vision tasks were quick to complete as were the vaccination requirements. The real challenge came in scheduling a physical.
As is apparent common practice, physical exams are not offered to new patients; instead an appointment must to be scheduled first with a physician in order to determine whether they would take me on as a new patient at which point I could schedule a physical at a later date. Simple enough I remember thinking. Well not really. Every clinic I contacted informed me that the earliest they could take new patients was at the end of September or possibly even the beginning of October. Of course, if need be, I would have without hesitation postponed my flight home, but every day I would have to do so was one less day to spend with my family before service.
As the days passed and I called clinic after clinic getting the same response over and over, I began to feel that there was just no way I would be able to complete the medical tasks required for clearance per the timeline I had laid out for myself. It wasn’t until I found myself at the Cumberland County Public Health Department on a Friday in early September for a TB booster venting my frustrations to the technician updating my record, that a ray of sunshine seemed to break through the overcast that had been my medical clearance process so far. As he printed my new shot record, the technician casually mentioned that he used to work at a small clinic called A Brighter Future Inc., and that maybe they might be able to fit me in if I asked for one of his old coworkers in human resources and told her that he had recommended me. At that point I was willing to try anything, so I happily agreed, and he quickly scrawled his name, the name of his old coworker, and the number to call on a small pink sticky note.
Are you available on Monday?
Once I had scheduled my appointment with A Brighter Future, it felt like suddenly someone had slammed their lead lined boot down onto the accelerator as the process that had, up until that point, felt like it was crawling by at a snail’s pace was suddenly flying by at Mach speed. Within a week I had my physical completed and blood taken for the necessary lab work. Within two weeks I had my results back and submitted. Seemingly before I could even blink, I had uploaded the last of my medical tasks, sold my car, packed my bags, and was headed for the airport.
It’s now the first week of December as I sit on the porch of my family home in Italy writing this article. I’ve spent the last two months being with my family, shopping for my packing list, previewing the Thai language, and voraciously reading anything I can get my hands on about traveling in Thailand. I’ve officially been medically and legally cleared and my flights to LA for staging and to Bangkok for training have been booked. In less than a month I’ll be in Thailand starting this new chapter in my life, and still it sort of feels unreal, like it’s not really my own. With each email I get from PC Thailand and each new task I complete on Learning Space it feels like the fog clears just a bit more and I find myself thinking Wow this is all really happening. It’s both exciting and daunting.
I can’t keep myself from feeling appropriately nervous as service draws closer. Leaving everything and everyone I know behind for 27 months seems so crazy when I actually stop and think about it, but really that’s what excites me the most. A ship is safest in port, but that isn’t what ships are built for. My life until this point has been a series of goodbyes and new beginnings, but despite how much more immensely colossal this goodbye feels than any that have come before it, I can’t help but smile when I think about this newest beginning.