One for the Road: Realities of Foreign Service Life

Jessica Hayden had been married less than 3 months when she moved half way around the world with her new husband, and soon found herself in a tent in the middle of Kyrgyzstan, heavily sedated on pain killers and hooked up to a WWII style medical contraption. It sounds like some sort of extended honeymoon trip gone horribly wrong, but in fact, it was all part of Hayden’s introduction to life as a Foreign Service representative.

Her story, along with 28 others, appears in the AAFSW’s second volume of Realities of Foreign Service Life, a collection of personal experiences from members of the U.S. diplomatic community. Focusing on the “realities” faced by diplomats and their families outside consulate walls, the authors explore topics such as schooling and housing abroad, intercultural marriage and employment for accompanying partners. Those who have already served in this capacity will surely discover tales they can relate to within the pages of this book. And it can serve as an excellent reference guide for folks contemplating a possible career in the Foreign Service.

Jessica was kind enough to share an excerpt from her story, “Your Health Abroad: What you Need to Know about Medical Evacuations”:
I generally consider myself a pretty healthy person, so when I started to experience pain in my abdomen about a year ago, I didn’t think much of it. We had only been posted in Kazakhstan for a few months and I figured my system was still getting used to the changes in my diet. I had, after all, spent the last few weeks experimenting with the local fare, eating Central Asian delicacies like kazy and kumus, otherwise known as horse sausage and camel milk.

But after a few days of increasing pain, I decided to make a late night call to our Regional Medical Officer (RMO), Dr. Kim Ottwell. It would be the beginning of my introduction to the world of medical evacuations, or what most refer to as “medevacs.”

Over the next week, I’d endure various forms of prodding (some of which I’m convinced would fall under the Geneva Convention on Torture) during my medical evacuations to Manas Air Force Base in Kyrgyzstan. I would also brave surgery in a makeshift military tent by Korean doctors who didn’t speak English, spend a week of recovery on a cot, and ultimately return home to Almaty with my appendix in a jar.

Yikes! Sounds like an overseas diplomatic duty disaster, and makes me wonder why a Foreign Service reality T.V. series has not yet surfaced?! This is the next best thing — Pick up a copy of Volume Two (2007) to learn the outcome of Jessica’s medical misadventures…and consider grabbing Volume One (2002) as well.