Sunday, June 28, 2009

Long Weekend

I woke up this morning and couldn't believe it was only Sunday. Usually weekends fly by, but not this one.

It made me think about the longest weekend I've known.

To give a little context, I was 23, in the Peace Corps, and living in a small city at the end of a dirt road that was pretty much always under construction. (It's paved now!) The road ran along the side of a big ravine, and took about 3 hours to get up to the "big town" on the bus, which was where the bus turned onto paved roads and headed either north for the Capital, or south for the south. There was another major road (also dirt) that ran north to another small city, from whence one could also get to the capital.

Because the ravine was deep, the road narrow, and the construction messy, the road was pretty much closed weekdays. You could, if you really wanted, get on a bus that would take you to the construction area, walk across (however long and muddy that was), and then meet up with a bus doing the opposite, get on, and go on up. But mostly people didn't. Mostly we waited for the weekend (see below), when the road would be opened, more or less (though sometimes that also meant a hike through the construction zone, if there were problems). Or you could take the other route, which added an hour or so, I think.

The provincial folks had decided that the best thing to do was to run our whole province on a different schedule from the rest of the country. Basically, we worked Tuesday through Saturday, and had a reduced schedule on Saturday so we finished at 2pm (with no lunch break). Saturday mid-morning, Sunday, and Monday the road would be open, and you could go up and transact business in the capital or whatever on Monday, and get back to work on Tuesday. It worked out pretty well, mostly. (Though the PC office never figured it out, apparently, and so never warned PCVs who were moving in or even doing site visits.)

The mail came in by motorcycle on Saturday, pretty much as soon as the road was open, but because it was motorcycle, they didn't bring packages. And then they'd take whatever mail had accumulated in our city mail office out.

So, you either got mail once a week or didn't. It sucked when you didn't. But there was no point in checking the post box during the midweek, so no one did.

Now to my long weekend. Every year, PC Volunteers were required to have a physical up in the capital. (If you said "no" you went home, simple as that. I didn't say "no.") A couple of weeks later, on Saturday when I went to check my mail, there was a telegram waiting for me. (Yes, telegram.) The telegram said, "Pap positive; call the nurses' office." But, of course, the PC nurses' office worked business hours, M-F, 9 to 4:30 or whatever.

So I spent the weekend fretting. I think I drove the other two volunteers in town nuts that weekend, because I was terrified. I didn't know if I should pack all my stuff, in case I was going to be med-evaced to the US for surgery or chemo or whatever. I just knew I was really, really scared.

On Monday morning, before 9am, I went to the phone company office, stood in line, filled out a form to make a call, and sat down to wait. You could wait a long time for a line, an hour easily, but I got lucky and didn't have that long to wait. Then the phone company clerk called me to a booth, and I picked up the phone and waited for it to ring.

I got the PC office, and then got put through to the nurses' office, and waited for it to ring. Finally, it rang and one of the nurses answered.

I said who I am, and said that I'd gotten a telegram saying that my Pap smear was positive, and to call the office. Long pause. The nurse said she had to check the file. Long pause.

Finally, she came back and said I had a bacterial infection, and I needed to go to the local pharmacy and pick up some antibiotic (because mailing it to me would take weeks).

I breathed a huge sigh of relief before I told her that I thought pap smears were a cancer check thing, and I'd thought I had cancer. But she said no (sounding like I was the stupidest thing to walk on two legs), I had a bacterial infection, and hedged around the what paps test are for thing. (Yeah, I'm still unclear.) I think I may have mentioned that a bit better communication was in order next time they sent out a telegram like that, because the extra words ("for bacterial infection") surely wouldn't have caused a budget meltdown.

I suppose I should have known exactly what all the tests were about, but I didn't have the resources to look such things up (even if I'd had a computer, there was no internet, and the high school library was minimal and my language skills inadequate to reading about medical tests).

That was my very long weekend.

This weekend is actually feeling lots shorter now.


  1. No, actually you are correct. They must have taken a culture or something too. Or smear for microorganisms. Pap is a cancer screen only.

    (That knowledge cost me a mere $110,000, thank you very much.)

  2. Well, even without spendiing $110,000 I knew a pap smear was for cancer. Why do medical people try to make you feel a fool? Or else (and I'm really not sure what the case is) treat you as if you are stupid. "You couldn't possibly know the difference between a pap smear and a bacterial culture so we'll just use the one you've heard of"?

    Anyway, it sounds like a nightmare.

  3. I'm glad this weekend is feeling shorter; that one does sound like a nightmare. Would it have killed them to add those few words to the message?

    Institutions (and I include airlines in this) that fail to explain things and then are annoyed/treat you as if you're stupid when you don't understand the meaning that they have never explained are one of the things I intend to change when I'm empress of the world.