Good, Better, Best, Never let it rest!

dsc_5995GOOD, BETTER, BEST … NEVER LET IT REST!

I’ve moved from a crazy culture that seems always to be in an urgent hurry, to one that isn’t.  And I’m loving it.  I tried the good, better … but was never the ‘best’ – of course!  So like a dog chasing its tail, I never got to where I (thought I) wanted to be.  I didn’t get that prized tenure, I was judged ‘not good enough’ for every job I applied for.  I saw the people that got that prize, and it didn’t look like much fun.  Because there is always another hurdle before you get to the next prize.  And another after that.

I don’t know a lot about Buddhist culture but it seems to me that in comparison to the one I’ve left, where you must achieve NOW! or at least in this life time – after all, it’s the only one we’ve got, there is a different way.  If I don’t get it right in this lifetime, I’ve got another chance.  Another lifetime.  I will try, but I won’t have lost anything by not reaching that prize.  Because I can try again in the next life time.  And the next.  And the next…

I interpret this to be equivalent to making the most out of what we have – now.  To see merit from good actions, leading a good life, rather than simply to judge and be judged on ‘success’ or ‘failure’.

Slow down.  Live a good life.  Be kind.  Be generous.  Do the best you can. And forgive yourself.

Day 1: First Day in Vientiane, Lao PDR

Thursday 1st September

Adjusting from the end of a rather mild Melbourne winter to a steamy hot Lao end-of-wet season climate.  I think I’ve been craving it for weeks (years?) now, and hey, you get used to sweating and washing a few times a day.  Loving it!

Breakfast buffet of cold eggs and French bread, sour mandarins and banana on offer.  I should get used to the more filling rice and vege type Asian breakfasts – smelt good but my psyche says No!  And weak coffee with powdered milk.

Opened bank account…

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Lunch with my colleagues and Steve (my sister’s friend from Perth here on business).  Bank, set up phone, kip for spending Aaah, cool breeze, reasonable temperature ~27 degrees.  Everything is making sense.  Loving it.

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Our guided tour with Seuth [Lao Horizons Travel] – an excellent English speaker who worked as a teacher before.  And spent 7 years aged 13-20 as a monk learning ‘morality’.  He thinks it is very good that schools are now building moral teachings into their curriculum.  A very informative afternoon.

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Stupa and statue (update with proper name!)

 

 

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Lots of old French Colonial influences
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Dried Squid – from Vietnam

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Beer Lao 640ml (5% alc/vol)                        10,000 kip

 

Honghua cigarettes (20)                               3,000 kip

A grand total of 13,000 kip (about $2AUD) and I’m one happy chappy!

First Post from Lao PDR

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All so good, all so happy!!!  My Room with a private balcony at Hotel Lao.  Perfect.

Started off at 3.30 am on Wed. 31st August with my baggage for a year.  Met up with Susan who will also be working in Savannakhet and almost 24 hours later, put my head down on the pillow in my French Colonial style hotel room for a dead to the world sleep.  Phew!  No disasters, just lots of queuing, waiting, walking (never knew how big Bangkok airport actually was!) queuing, and transiting.  Oh, and more queuing.   Some thoughts I noted down on the trip…

It’s been difficult staying set on my goals with all these goodbyes and unknowns.  Matilda and Pol, dad, Rob and Helen and Rani this morning – they all matter so much to me and there’s no promise that I’ll see dad again – he’s so tired…

2hrs from Bangkok:  I’ve been dozing for hours.  Thoughts slowing down.  I remember feeling guilty, no, selfish.  Dad seems to have come to terms with me leaving by concocting a story that I was working for the govt., taking on a very important role as a representative of Australia and tax payers.  He made me out to be generous and altruistic.  I’m glad he’s made sense of it this way, but when I reflect I can’t help but think that I’m simply being selfish.  I’m going where I want to go and doing what I want to do, and deserting my family in the process.

In fact I dread the idea of living at a snail’s pace [in Melbourne] simply to keep things humming along in the same way.  My ambitions have never been to simply succeed and maintain the status quo, or to get the most excellent job and work my way to the top.  Sure there’s been moments when I’ve applied for jobs and imagined such a life but I never get it.  And if I did, I can imagine the initial interest/passion would soon wane.  [Life is too precious].

Last leg – Flight to Vientiane

I’m not quite ‘getting’ that I’m embarking on a year away, working in a strange country and culture, away from familiar ‘comforts’ of home.  Yet I’m excited but I’m sort of resigned to it – I decided this was what I wanted to do, and now I’m almost there.

This is where I wonder about my selfish motives.  But then again, it is not as though I ignore the potential impact it may have on my kids (I actually believe it is a wonderful thing for them too).  I probably ignore, or just cannot know, the impact it might have on me [or them].  I don’t have ‘planned outcomes’ – generally it is unknowable.  Like so many other decisions we do or don’t make – we don’t know how it will turn out, or impact on all those involved.  But business/management – even teaching/education, is full of ‘outcomes’.  A ‘good’ project will be one with specified outcomes and steps to achieve those delineated results.  Is that really what life is about?  And why is it that I am always so keen to talk about ‘life’, rather than career, earning potential, possessions, reputation?

 

 

 

 

 

One Week Pre-departure

I have just spent four days at my ‘pre-departure briefing’ – information, advice, networking, and an absolute brain overload!  And too much food.

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As the departure date looms, I just have to maintain the pace – fill in all those little bits, tick off the ‘to do’ list (that really only exists in my overloaded head) and go through all the doubts, worries, trepidations and fears that are to be expected before setting off on a big journey.

During the four days of the briefing I learnt all of the rules for what I (we volunteers and ‘representatives of the government of Australia’) should and shouldn’t do, say or think.  What to say and what not to say, how to behave and how not to behave.  We learnt that there are people employed to support us on our ‘missions’ (my word, not theirs) and there is in-country, international and support from home if we find ourselves in need.  I learnt that our roles involve ‘capacity building‘ (the new catch cry for international aid).

Overall, I learnt that a hell of a lot has changed since I volunteered 22 years ago.  That changes in line with neo-conservative government have far flung consequences that have a significant role in how we might attempt to live a meaningful life.  That our ‘freedom’ only extends so far in what we are able to do, to say, to choose.  Or to share.

I have organised two ‘see you later’ parties to share with friends and family.  I have spent time with my gorgeous children and organised for their trip to come and see me for Christmas.  I have said farewell to my dog, my house, and my life in its current state.  One of my colleagues at the briefing said ‘oh, but it’s only a year’!  I think of a year in my child’s life and it is huge.  I want my year to be huge too.  We only have so much time in this life – I want to make the most of all of it.

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One Month Pre-departure

Got my motorcycle (scooter) licence

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Ready for the op-shop pickup

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All vaccinations completed…

Put on weight (thanks dad)

Read up on Laos history

Met up with my new Lao volunteer colleagues 🙂

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Joined Savannakhet expats Facebook group

Burned 20 yeDSC_0283ars of tax returns, bank statements, bill payments

Celebrated my son’s 21st birthday

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Expatriates – blogs, advice, adventures, (tbc…)

A blog that caught my attention early on, Mundane Chaos -Misadventures in Southeast Asia came up with a search on my destination (Savannakhet Teacher Training College).  Stephanie Crabtree wrote about her experiences there in 2012/13 with lots of amusing anecdotes, observations and experiences that I really enjoy reading (and writing!).  These are the sorts of stories I like to share/hear about and can give all sorts of insights about expat life.

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I responded to Stephanie’s blog and she kindly emailed back, saying she’d almost forgotten about the blog (don’t you love that they just ‘hang there’ forever?) since returning home 3 years ago.  But she sent me some contact names and some helpful advice which is great!

 The Culture blend thoughts on  expatting, repatting, transition and life is another blog I’ve enjoyed, from an ‘expert’ expat named Jerry Jones who writes with a thoughtful, humorous  and wise approach.

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The ‘expat’ comes in all shapes and sizes (and income levels).  I like Jerry’s ‘crawl in the hole’ advice (link below) because it pretty much rings true to my own (earlier) experiences.  I don’t think you can ever become an ‘expert’ inter/cross cultural participant because everyone is looking for different things, and that not everybody gets a ‘thrill’ out of being out of their comfort zone.  But … as an older and hopefully wiser participant, I hope that I can retain not only my sense of humour, but the ongoing interest in, and passion for difference.

culture blend
http://www.thecultureblend.com/

Love to hear about more examples – I will add them as I discover them myself!

Another site with great links and photos about the wonders of Laos!

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http://www.mappingmegan.com/why-you-should-travel-to-laos/

#T1D – medical supplies for a year?

(I’m now up to update number 5 on this post … and off to see my member of parliament – this is despicable!)  

Final Update!  see final post… and come visit me in hospital if that’s what it comes to…

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Over the 365 days I will be out of Australia, I require:

  • Blood glucose testing strips x 1,850= 37 containers
  • Tubing and insertion devices for pump x 124 = 13 boxes (x2)
  • Insulin @ ~40 units/day = 14600/yr = 146 1ml bottles = ~30 boxes
  • Additional ‘spare’ supplies (pens & needles) for any malfunctions

and then of course there is all the other medication I have to take daily (currently 5 different tablets)  x 365.  Aside from the fact that all of this is pretty damned expensive, it is very difficult to get ‘permission’ to get subsidised medication and supplies to take out of the country in such large quantities.  (Strangely enough, I have never had problems with customs in any country I’ve been to – often my hand luggage is actually a cool pack full of medication!)
ndssNDSS – After have no success or helpful information from any source, I sent the following message to NDSS (all diabetes ‘comsumables’ are subsidised and need to be ordered through them) :

I am  volunteering overseas for 12 months in Laos and require 12 months worth of supplies (pump and blood testing strips) to take with me. However, both the pharmacy and the phone line have informed me that I cannot take more than 6 months worth. This is a huge problem for me. I thought that I could get a letter from my doctor to enable me to get extra supplies but nobody can tell me if this is correct. My sister (also a diabetic) is visiting in 6 months time, but apparently she cannot request supplies for me, or on my behalf. Financially, this is also very difficult to pay the subsidised cost in full, but clearly necessary to maintain my health.
Could you please tell me what my options might be?
Thank you, Annabelle Leve

Looking more closely at their website  I see that :

The NDSS gives you access to a large range of subsidised products that help you to affordably self-manage your diabetes. …
There are limits to the nuliving withmber of products you may purchase on the NDSS. These limits are:
  • 900 strips …
  • 90 cannulae and/or
  • 90 reservoirs/cartridges
per 180 day period. …
Access to the NDSS is only available while you’re living in Australia.
If you’re travelling or living overseas, the NDSS is not permitted to send products to you. Before travelling, please review your product requirements. You can buy up to 6 months’ worth of products to take with you, but is also advisable to have a letter from your doctor to ensure you get through customs.

There is also an additional page with some useful information for travelling – but not for 12 month trips obviously!

OK … I’ll be patient – no response yet, to either phone call or emailed message.  I’m still WAITING!!!  I’m getting CONCERNED!!!  I need to get this SORTED!!!

As for the prescribed medication, I’ve been told different things (again) by pharmacist and doctor about “Regulation 24″ which apparently entitles me to 6 months worth – pharmacist advises me to get doctor to write TWO regulation 24 scripts – doctor unaware of such a thing … still on hold for next appointment.  

Oh, did find out that the 2 prescriptions should NOT be dated the same day – the next day is fine, just not the same day (der??) – advice from Pharmacist, but she wasn’t sure either…

UPDATE (12 days later)

Aside from having my arms jabbed at least 12 times over the previous month, and collecting a bag of 12months of malaria prophylaxis, I am in fact none the wiser about how to get my 12 months worth of everything else.  I’ve asked more people, but nobody seems to know!  The doctors don’t know, NDSS won’t respond except for a big NO, where to next????  Can anyone help /advise me here?  I have two more appointments, one with Diabetes Clinic (and no, the diabetes educator doesn’t know either) and one with my GP, over the next two weeks or so – hopefully it will get sorted!

Perhaps, on either the 31st August, or six months later, I’ll just have to say oh, sorry, I’ve got to go home now because I’ve run out of my life-saving medications.

UPDATE 2 (29th July – one month pre-departure)

Finally got through on the phone line and was once again told only 6 months worth… Yes, I know that, so what options do I have?  Well she says, all I know is that you can only have 6 months … ah, yes, so what happens when I run out?  Well to give her credit, Angela went away to find out, and came back to tell me I could get 20% extra.  Hmmm, ok … and then?  Apparently when most people go overseas they find out about supplies available in-country, I somehow don’t think there would be many diabetics in Laos on insulin pump therapy – maybe I’m wrong but …

So now I have an email address and contact name to write to with my request.  Clearly my other email got lost somewhere along the line.  Again, wish me luck?

Email sent 29/7/16:

Att: Geeta

NDSS Membership No: 00xxxxx
I understand that NDSS supplies are limited to 6 months worth, however I have particular circumstances that necessitate a 12 month supply as follows:
  1. CONTOUR NEXT – Blood glucose testing strips x 5/day= 1,850= 19 boxes (x100/box)
  2. MiniMed Sure-T Paradigm 60cm, 8mm:  10per box: 1 every 3 days = total 122 = 13 boxes
  3. Medtronic Reservoir Paradigm 10per box: 1 every 3 days = total 122 = 13 boxes
My local NDSS pharmacy is: Chemmart

Some additional information in support of this request:

Annabelle Leve  is a volunteer who will be travelling overseas as part of the XXX program managed by XXX.

The XXX Program aims to strengthen the mutual understanding between Australia and countries in Asia and the Pacific, as well as make a positive contribution to development as part of the XXX program.

I would appreciate your consideration of this request, being mindful of my departure date on 31 August.

Thank you and regards, Annabelle

Later… A very quick response this time… as follows:
(not once have I been given an alternative – even if it means paying full price…)

Geeta Srinivasan <GSrinivasan@diabetesvic.org.au>

16:19 (2 hours ago)
to Mark, Angela, me

Hi Annabelle,

With regards to your request of products for 12 months;

The Commonwealth limits are a maximum 6 month supply, this equivalent to PBS regulation 24, which allows a script and 5 repeats as a maximum supply. There is NO provision under Commonwealth guidance for supply greater than 6 months for any registrant, regardless of circumstance

Any further enquiries need to be directed to Diabetes Australia on ndss@diabetesaustralia.com.au

Kind regards,

Geeta

Primary Care Engagement Officer

Diabetes Victoria

570 Elizabeth Street

Melbourne Vic 3000

Mobile:  0477 102 099

Fax: (03) 9667 1779

gsrinivasan@diabetesvic.org.au

Update 3 (5 August)

I have sent an email explaining my situation to the company that supplies the product, Medtronic Australasia – they responded on 1st August as follows:

Thank you for your email. It has been forwarded onto the Diabetes department and a representative will be in contact with you.

No news yet.

Tried making a complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman – they suggested diabetes Australia, NDSS, or maybe the health department?  Nicole said she would call back … but no.

Just wrote and sent the following email to Diabetes Australia:

To whom it may concern
I have copied below, an email I sent to NDSS and the response I was given.  I have been trying to resolve this issue for awhile now due to the circumstances described below.  I have received no assistance or advice as to what my options might be.  I am not in a position to return to Australia within 12 months from departure (31st August) but remain an Australian citizen with diabetes management requirements.  I’d appreciate some help/advice on this matter as soon as possible please.
(copy of email to NDSS Vic as advised after a number of phone calls, and their response)
So… I guess I’ll just have to keep waiting…

Update 4 (8 August)

A slightly more informative response from Diabetes Australia, but still a blanket no, unless: “if you were overseas as an employee of the Commonwealth, where product can be delivered to a consul or commission”

Good Morning Annabelle

Thank you for your email. Diabetes Australia administers the NDSS on behalf of the Australian Government. This includes oversight of product supply and implementation of limitations that apply to the provision of NDSS products as a Commonwealth program.

As you have outlined below,  you will be leaving Australia for a period of 12 months from the close of August and will be required to exit Australian territories with the medications and consumables to manage your diabetes.

All Australian citizens are able to exit Australian territories with a maximum of 6 months’ supply of medication or consumables as provided by a Commonwealth program, such as the NDSS or Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Once you leave Australian territories, you are unable to access the NDSS or PBS whilst overseas. The only exception that would apply is if you were overseas as an employee of the Commonwealth, where product can be delivered to a consul or commission.

In your circumstance you are able to exit Australia with the maximum 6 month supply of NDSS items as outlined by the Australian Government.

There is no provision or allowance for a greater supply of NDSS items. This will equate to the following maximums:

  • Blood Glucose Test strips –  900 strips (9 x 100 pack)
  • Insulin Pump Infusion Sets – 9 boxes (90 units)
  • Reservoirs – 9 boxes (90 units)

If you have any further questions, please contact myself or my team directly.

Regards

Darren

Update 5 (10 August)

Well, it’s about time this saga came to a close!  I had a most informative talk today with Dr Bob Cass, my sending organisation’s chief medical adviser.  Apparently he has been fighting for such cases for years and the government bureaucracy stymies any efforts to make any changes to the system, for any (legitimate) reason.  So now I know, that our government will not allow more than 6 months medical supplies to be obtained by any Australian citizen/taxpayer, which has the following potential impacts:

  1. Anyone with a chronic condition that requires ongoing medical intervention/treatment is effectively prevented from volunteering/working/travelling overseas for more than 6 months at a time;
  2. Is put in a position where they may cut/alter/change/stop medication because it is either unavailable or unaffordable to obtain;
  3. Risk their long term health outcomes and potential need for emergency care or evacuation back to Australian Health care providers;
  4. Break the law by ‘doctor shopping’ and filling prescriptions in different locations;
  5. Stockpile medications in any way possible;

Next stop, my local Member of Parliament….

Final Update  (19 August)

Best advice?  Stockpile.  Eke it out.  Get as much as you can to take with you.  Use as much of the insulin as you can get out of the vial.  With the pump, extend to 4 days per change if possible.  Other meds – maybe I can halve my dose to last double the time.  Maybe I can buy some things in Thailand.  Maybe I can get any visitors to bring some supplies with them.  Or hey, self fund a return trip to pick up my next entitlement in 6 months time – an expensive and really quite unnecessary option.

But overall, none of this is ideal.  I am forced to play with my health in order to ‘serve the country’, as per Australia’s overseas aid contribution, for 12 months overseas because our health system will not allow for any reason to obtain more than 6 month’s supply of medication (or pump supplies).   In the long run, I suppose Medicare will pick up the bill for any long term health consequences.  Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.