On 28 November 2014 I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). On 29 November 2014 I was to gather up all of my belongings and move from my training community, Dobroshtë, to my permanent site, Arnaqi. The Peace Corps does not move us; we have to figure out how to get our belongings and ourselves from Point A to Point B. My new site mate, Beverly, had indicated that she would send someone to pick up the bulk of my possessions a couple of days before moving but that I would have to handle the balance of it on my own as she would be in Bitola celebrating Thanksgiving with other PCV’s. I can handle that. I kept a couple of outfits, toiletries, my technology pack, and my dictionary. I have shoulder bags that will handle all of this stuff. I’ll just play pack mule!
So Saturday morning I said a tearful goodbye to my family, strung my bags across my body and started walking the cobblestone streets towards the Kombie. As I approached the main highway, I saw the Kombie sitting there loading up people so I sprinted (Eileen sprints? Yes, on occasion–or at least I used to.) the last 50 yards or so in order to be a passenger on it. BIG MISTAKE! I twisted my knee. But I was a woman on a mission, so I just gritted my teeth and got on and headed for Tetovo. Upon reaching Tetovo, the Kombie turned a direction it has never gone when I have been on it. Ooops! I need out. I’ll just walk to the bus station. It is only about a mile. The sidewalks, where they exist, are not very even and in some cases there is no sidewalk. But I had to get to my new site, so I trekked to the bus station, and bought my ticket . By the time I reached the bus station and got on the bus, my leg really hurt but I figured the knee just needed to rest a bit–the bus trip should do it some good. However, when I got off in Skopje (did I mention our ride took twice as long because of mechanical problems?), it still hurt and was tender but I thought a weekend of rest, relaxation and aspirin would be enough.
I was wrong. It got continually worse and since I have had previous issues with aspirin, I knew I had to do something other than stay on a regime of more and more aspirin–I can’t keep taking them. So after about two weeks, I called the doctor (remember, this is the girl that doesn’t go to the doctor unless absolutely necessary) and she had me come in and gave me an elastic bandage and a cream to massage into my knee. But that didn’t seem to help very much, so now I needed to see the other PC doctor who is an orthopedic type. Dr. Darko wants x-rays, so off we go to the hospital–how many of you have ever had your doctor take you to the lab or radiology department? Now Darko is the kind of doctor I want to have as my permanent doctor. On the ride to the hospital he played tour guide and showed me where the symphony and opera are. On the way back he took me to the fresh pasta place and then went to a medical supply store and got me a new stronger bandage. The x-ray had shown some degenerative damage to my knee and possibly a torn meniscus. But let’s wait and see. He will schedule an MRI for sometime in January.
Fast forward about three weeks. In spite of rest and wearing the bandage, my knee still hurts like hades! There are times it hurts so much that I am in tears. So on one of my trips into Skopje, (which seem to be fairly frequent) I stopped at the office and he got an MRI scheduled for later that afternoon. PC staff escorted me back to the hospital, got me to the radiology unit who then slapped some headphones on me with some pretty rocking music (hard to hold still with some of that music but I did) and slid me into a machine for about half an hour. We were told the results should be in doctor’s hands the next day. Well, next day is our play day (see Peggy the Pint-sized Pirate.) and I didn’t hear from him–which was good as I didn’t have time to make it to the office. On Monday, 26 January, he calls me into the office to discuss my results.
Did you know that there are two meniscus in each knee? The plural is menisci! Turns out that both of mine in my left knee are torn. And since they haven’t healed on their own, arthroscopic surgery is indicated. Only problem is that Peace Corps Medical Office in Washington, DC has to authorize it and they determine when and where. So the options are as follows: Home , Washington DC or Thailand. Now I just have to wait to see where they will send me. I will not be gone very long and will more than likely have to go to physical therapy when I return but truly this is probably a three or four day trip. You would think they would do it in country but, no. So now I am meeting with an in country consultant to confirm Darko’s diagnosis, then he will send the report to DC via e-mail and hopefully by late next week I will know what the planned course of action will be. Oh, life as a PCV is so much fun. No control over your own life. But I knew that when I signed up and agreed to it. And really, it isn’t so bad. They take very good care of us.
I have seen the local specialist and he has a totally different take on the whole situation. Not only are my menisci messed up but the cartilage in that knee is pretty much shot as well. My little incident with the Kombie and walking just accelerated the issue. Women have this more often because of the way our pelvis is built and the fact that when we carry babies, the weight falls on the knee and causes problems later in life. (It’s your fault kids!) This guy is recommending injections to the knee which will let it last a little longer but that ultimately (within the next five years) what I’m looking at is a knee replacement. Arthroscopic surgery will just make matters worse according to him.
So now the recommendations and the disc of the MRI are sent to the Peace Corps Medical Officer and we will get some kind of decision. All I know is that I am in pain and I want it gone! With any luck I will know something by the end of the week.
I think I need a bottle of wine!
Wait, wait, wait and wait some more. The waiting is killing me and my knee hurts more each day. The cold weather aggravates it and the uneven surfaces upon which I must walk don’t help one bit! I begin to wonder what is taking so long but remember that the mail service in this country is less than stellar and the CD with the MRI had to go via snail mail–or what was supposed to be AirMail via DHL. Keep on waiting.
FINALLY an answer! Starting next week I will begin receiving cortisone shots in my knee. The Orthopedist in DC will further review my file but at long last there may be some long term (i.e. not relying on pills) relief on the horizon. This is not a long term solution but it is a good interim one that lets me remain in country which is what I wanted more than anything. They are pretty certain that there will be surgery needed down the road but for now, steroids will have to do the job.