All of us after the game. NOT a coincidence that I'm on the ground.

All of us after the game. NOT a coincidence that I'm on the ground.

I seem to have had a string of bad luck concerning my health. After spending 3 weeks in Iowa to see specialists regarding headaches and rashes I was having for 2 months, I was sent back to Colombia to resume my duties as a Teaching English for Livelihoods Volunteer at a public school in Barranquilla, Colombia. However, my joy of returning was short lived and replaced by sleepless nights and limping. It all started with a game of soccer. An EPIC game of soccer.

I asked all the Colombian Volunteers what they wanted me to bring back from America. The unanimous answer? Twizzlers. Photo credit Monica McNichols.

I asked all the Colombian Volunteers what they wanted me to bring back from America. The unanimous answer? Twizzlers. Photo credit Monica McNichols.

It just so happened that my arrival coincided with our 3 month reconnect seminar. I arrived at my Colombian home on Sunday and reported to a hotel on Tuesday morning. It was a perfect way to return as I shared stories with my fellow 20 or so Volunteers and also got to hear about what they had been up to at their sites. We, of course, had our typical training sessions (which as PCVs and RPCVs know can be rather uneventful), but each night was an hour or two at a restaurant swopping jokes and sampling everyone’s food. I had also been collecting my Volunteer pay while I was med evac’d to the U.S., while still collecting $32 a day for expenses in America. This allowed me to enjoy myself and not worry about saving money. (I had been rather stingy before leaving Colombia and it felt pretty good to splurge a little on food.)

Much smaller than a real soccer field, places like this combine the feel of the game with the skillset of those who are out of shape to play soccer.

Much smaller than a real soccer field, places like this combine the feel of the game with the skillset of those who are out of shape to play soccer.

Wednesday’s afternoon activities were shrouded in secrecy. We had all been informed to bring “comfortable” clothes and shoes for an event that afternoon, with speculation ranging from a physical activity like rock climbing to some sort of field trip. If I remember correctly, we all knew by Tuesday evening that the “comfortable” attire would be used in an EPIC soccer match between the first Peace Corps Volunteers to return to Colombia in 30 years and the staff that supports them. This was unexpected news to receive, which made everyone, especially the male volunteers, very excited for the next day. A few of my female Volunteer friends were also realizing the “comfortable” clothes and shoes they had brought with them were not what would have chosen if they’d known soccer would be on their plates. But, some sort of clothing exchange was figured out which gave everyone that wanted to participate what they needed for the game.

Talk about a goalie that's ready for soccer.

Talk about a goalie that's ready for soccer.

As I’m sure is the case with a lot of staff related activities, our budget didn’t allow for an EPIC soccer match, so the staff split the cost of renting an indoor soccer field just steps away from our Barranquilla offices and a quick van ride from the our hotel. I had never been inside one of these rentable soccer fields before, and the one the staff had chosen was definitely top of the line. As I wrote about earlier this month for PeaceCorpsWorldWide.org, I had just brought back quite a few items from America, including an HD helmet-mounted camera and a flash kit for my Canon SLR camera. All the media you see here is a result of those two, excellently conceived purchases. They may be the two most useful items I have.

One volunteer after the slaughter that was the office staff.

One volunteer after the slaughter that was the office staff.

For a more detailed account of the game itself, it’s best to check out my YouTube videos, but I will note here how much of a slaughter the game turned out to be. When I first heard that the mostly 20-something Volunteers from Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Cartagena would be taking on our office staff ranging from 30 to 60 years of age, I foolishly assumed the game would turn out completely in our favor. In retrospect, not only did I completely forget that Colombians can dance and play soccer better than I can walk, but the male staff members of our office hide their muscular physiques behind stafford shirts and khaki pants. It was almost as if they planned the massacre that was to take place? Ha.

In the end, I’m still not sure of the score, but I think it was around 8-2, which is a slaughter for a soccer match. But, everyone had fun, and it was the highlight of the entire week. It was also definitely the highlight of my week. Just take a look at this video and you’ll see what I mean.

And then this.

Another dive from earlier on in the game. I was diving a lot that day.

Another dive from earlier on in the game. I was diving a lot that day.

That second video happened with less than 30 seconds left in the game. It sounds so cliché, but I literally tore the cartilage in my left knee on the last goal of the game, just moments before time ran out. And, oh, was it a whimpy goal. As seen in the video, the shot went to my left, I dove for it, and immediately noticed the effects torn cartilage can have on the human body. But what is not so evident in the video is that I actually first went right, saw the shot was going to go to my left, and made a quick, and ill-fated, decision to switch directions to make the block. My left knee didn’t make the adjustment as well as the rest of my body, resulting in the situation I’m still dealing with now.

The MRI was actually very relaxing, minus the 30 minutes of machine noises. I had no idea it took son long.

The MRI was actually very relaxing, minus the 30 minutes of machine noises. I had no idea it took so long.

Who could have thought an MRI would be so much fun! It was actually very soothing, minus the 30 minutes of machine noises. The bed was very comfy, though.

Who could have thought an MRI would be so much fun! The bed was very comfy, though. I almost fell asleep.

Those are some handsome looking bones.

Those are some handsome looking bones.

The next day (after a crappy, sleepless night of pain as the injury seemed to be getting worse with time) I got x-rays and an MRI. My doctor (who attended med schools in NY and Pennsylvania, thus learning to speak some very good English) informed me that the MRI indicated my very painful injury was only a small tear, I most likely wouldn’t need surgery, and the best medicine was ice pretty much all day. And I mean all day. Every 30 minutes. And interestingly enough, even though I was limping and making audible noises with every movement I made, he never once brought up using crutches. It was now the end of our conversation, and seeing how I wouldn’t be needing surgery the biggest thing on my mind was how much it was going to hurt to walk back to the car, I was itching to get me some crutches. However, as you may know, the Peace Corps doesn’t buy you medical stuff unless a professional says you need it. With this in the back of my mind, I figured I had to get him to tell me I needed them or I was out of luck.

Two ice packs that used to used to keep vaccines cold were my leg's best friend the first week after the injury.

Two ice packs that used to keep vaccines cold were my leg's best friend the first week after the injury.

Apparently some Colombians do use crutches, after all!

Apparently some Colombians do use crutches, after all!

I don’t know if it’s a Colombian thing to not use crutches unless you literally CANNOT walk, or if that detail had just slipped his mind, but this reminds me of the sickest I had ever been in my life up to before I came to Colombia. I had a really a horrible cold in Germany, and my doctor REFUSED to give me medicine, even though he called it a “bacterial infection”. Germans love not taking medicine unless you’re about to die because of the belief that too much medicine makes your body week. Needless to say, I disagree. Luckily, my English speaking Colombian doctor thought reducing the amount of horrible pain in my leg was a good idea, and I ended up getting my first set up crutches EVER later that day.

Some kids at my school think I'm faking it because I'm so good at using my crutches, evidenced here as I climb a mountain. Photo credit Fabian Padilla

Some kids at my school think I'm faking it because I'm so good at using my crutches, evidenced here as I climb a mountain. Photo credit Fabian Padilla

Fast forward two and a half weeks later. I’m down to one crutch, the pain is more manageable, and I’ve been sleeping well for quite some time. My doctor recently told me that it might be even as long as three months before I’m fully recuperated and able to play sports again. I get around pretty easily and even walk without a crutch around the house. I even sort of climbed a mountain! (It was a flat path that wove around a small mountain that a co-workers church went to for Holy Week before Easter. But hey, a mountain!) I still look back fondly at the game, because truth be told, it was just so much fun. I learned I really love to play soccer, at least if I’m goalie. I’m much too chubby to do all that running.

The last photo of the now infamous soccer game.

The last photo of the now infamous soccer game.

Here’s a link to a podcast episode where I talk about my injury: http://www.spreaker.com/user/peacecorpspodcast/tearing_the_cartilage_in_my_left_knee