Bureaucracy, American-style

mosquitoThere is an inordinate amount of bureaucracy involved in leaving for six months.  The kind of bureaucracy that I usually avoid, with endless phone trees and twelve transfers to different representatives who don’t really know how to answer my questions.  It is reinforcing for me the fact that what we’re doing is Unusual and Not Something We’re Set Up to Handle.

A driver’s license that expires while you’re gone?  I’m sorry, ma’am, but you can’t handle that on-line.  You’ll have to come in person to the DMV, to stand in signage-free lines with the unwashed masses watching the world’s most boring game of Keno — “Now serving A077 at window 23” — while behind-the-counter staff disappear and reappear with no discernible purpose and get scowlier and growlier if you ask them how their day is going.

I “worked from home” one day last week (I often actually work from home, where I accomplish work-related things at a pace and efficiency level much higher than in the office, but this particular day was definitely a “work from home” day only, where I checked email occasionally to make sure no one actually needed me).  Instead, I spent the day on the phone with USAA (bank, credit card, homeowner, car and life insurance) and Kaiser (health care and insurance).

Here is a snapshot of how that particular exercise went: Kaiser has a travel clinic but, before getting an appointment, you must share your entire immunization history, which isn’t a big deal for the kids since they are young and have been at Kaiser for years.  But for me, this required (a) finding and then (b) reading aloud over the phone my mimeographed (no kidding) California public school admission form and the tattered yellow record that lists all the rabies, yellow fever, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, etc. that I got before our last adventure.  We almost shut down the system because I had three separate dates for my measles, mumps and rubella shots, and the sweet yet incredibly linear nurse couldn’t figure out how to fit it into a single MMR box, because I guess no one born before the invention of the combined vaccine has ever traveled anywhere before.

She also require the exact weight of the children and a detailed itinerary of where we will be and for how long.  The idea of not really knowing that almost made the rule-following, protocol-driven nurse’s head explode.  She read me the names of every region of Colombia where we would have to take malarial medication — in case you’re curious, everywhere except Medellin, Bogota and Cartegena — in painfully slow Spanish.  I, of course, was on the CDC website’s malaria map and kept trying to interrupt and say that the issue wasn’t which regions, but our complete lack of plan.  She didn’t seem to believe me.

So now I have to make up a lie about our plan that gives us just the right amount of medication for when we really need it — we’re not bringing a separate bag just to house six months of doxycyclin for four people, a drug that I’m sure is available over-the-counter in Colombia — and listen very carefully for the protocol so we can self-medicate when we need to.  I’m thinking of calling back today and trying for another nurse with a more flexible mindset to help me out.

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