Random Analytica

Charts, Infographics & Analysis without the spin

Month: September, 2019

7. Mefloquine Dispatches: Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos, 11th March 2006

It’s the second day officially. My first call-up. My first overseas adventure. I have befriended a colleague from the United States the night before. He is impressed by my local knowledge and my willingness to learn Spanish. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Salvador Allende, Augusto Pinochet and the 1973 coup. With a small baby at home and a job that eats up to 60-hours per week it’s a struggle but I manage to get the basics before we fly-out from Brisbane. N* is happy for me, she knows I’ve been waiting for a call-up all my life.

As we landed the day before you could feel a mood in Chile. It’s a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Michelle Bachelet flew into the country the day before as well. Our driver excitedly pointed out the reason why he had to move lanes. I see the fast cars first. I’m good at scanning for danger, looking for threats. It sparks a memory. Once upon a time I might have been in those fast cars. Not anymore. It has been nine years since I received my MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. I’m just an observer now. The motorcade screams by. I am witnessing history and I love it.

General Augusto Pinochet is not yet dead. He is just a sick old man who has been under house arrest for some years. He will be dead by years end. My American colleague, C* is explaining it all over a glass of excellent Chilean wine. It’s very late but that’s how the South Americans roll. I’m an owl anyway. We agree to catch up the next day. He wants to take us on a tour but if you go to Santiago you must have lunch at the Mercado Central (the Fish Markets). He will organise a driver to show us around a bit.

I’m very happy that C* is doing the tour on Saturday. He has been in Chile many times before. He first visited Chile in the late 1980s when the General ran things. He remembers seeing the APCs [Armoured Personnel Carriers] lined up each morning ready to go out for the arrests. He remembers when Santiago dripped with fear.

The car comes to pick us up. There are four of us. We drive out of Las Condes toward the old quarter of Santiago. The driver is an old man. He doesn’t speak English but C* has excellent Spanish. Our driver is very happy today. In a few hours Michelle Bachelet will be sworn in as President. He is a big fan.

Though he is happy you can tell by the shape of his shoulders that he has been bent by the weight of the things he has done and seen. On his rear view mirror hangs a necklace with a small grain of rice in it. On that grain of rice is the face of Salvador Allende.

C* is translating. The driver is telling us his story as we pass the Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos. A part of the stadium is still smoking. Someone tried to burn it down in the last couple of days. It is a football stadium. For nine months it was a concentration camp. The driver and his wife were picked up by the military in 1973 and were held in the bowels of the football stadium/concentration camp. They were picked up because they actively supported Allende at university. Thousands of people were held in that stadium. The driver’s wife was picked out one morning and executed in front everyone in the middle of the football pitch. It was done professionally. One bullet to the back of the neck. Quick. Our driver was tortured there, then moved along. He was one of the lucky ones. He has lived with fear all his life but he now has hope.

The two girls who are travelling with us are horrified by this small piece of history. The driver looks in his rear view mirror directly at me. A tear of sorrow has spilled down his cheek. We share a moment. This is his story and I heard it with the reverence it deserved. I feel his sadness today as I remember it.

The moment passes. We drive off to the Mercado Central for lunch.

I am so very grateful that I was born in a country like Australia. A country that accepted Michelle Bachelet on her way to East Germany and exile. A country where old Generals just sign legislation. They do not re-task football stadiums and turn them into concentration camps. Nor do they delegate death warrants to the Colonels.

I live in a country without summary executions, military death squads or concentration camps. For that I am very grateful.

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A memory…

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

6. Mefloquine Dispatches: @WHO, 8th August 1989

When it was issued by the World Health Organisation I was still at school. I wasn’t interested in global issues. I should have read it but I don’t. I’m getting my final paperwork ready for the Army. I’m failing school. The Army accepts Year 10 and I have good grades to that point. School seems so pointless. Something is kicking off in the Middle East. We are going to smash Saddam Hussein in the fucking teeth. I don’t want to miss out on any action. I’m still too young in 1989 but I am slotted in for Basic Training early next year. I am 16-years old. I am so Green.

I’m good judoka. I’m not interested in black belts, I just love the training. I train twice during the week and on weekends if we get enough interest. My Sensei is amazing. He is a psychiatric nurse. He is tough. We laugh as he tells us the story of the bloke who tried to jump him in the supermarket. It supposed to be a joke but W* throws him. The checkout chick is terrified. It’s a great story. I meet him a year or two later. I’m home on leave. I’ve put on 15kg and I’m Army tough. As we train one of the kids clumsily kicks me in the balls as we practice sacrifice throws. It’s an accident but I’m in agony. W* tells the story to the other bouncers at the nightclub he is working at part-time that night. I’m still tender. We laugh. I get free entry and a drink voucher. I feel like a God in the early 90s but that hasn’t happened yet.

I’m working in a greasy Indian restaurant on weekends. The Indian family who own it treat me like one of their own. I get paid $10 per hour cash-in-hand (which is big money back then). I smell like sauce as I go to school on Mondays. The smell lingers till Wednesday. Indian food smells when you do the dishes. It takes me years to get coached into an Indian restaurant with my best friend and his girl. The food is amazing. I’m catching up with another friend and her man next week. We are eating Indian.

I’m so busy. I’ve been training for years to get this far. I’m an accomplished Venturer. I teach others how to abseil, orient a map or whatever. My Venturer leader is an amazing soldier. He is old but still fit. He smokes constantly. Under the stars one night he tells me how he started smoking. He is on patrol in Malaysia back in the day when his best mate cops the full blast of something. He is covered in his blood. Bits of flesh drip off him. When he gets in front of a medic they think he might be damaged. His mate cops the full blast, he walks away without a scratch. The medic puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. That was his first smoke. I’m sixteen and this amazing man is sharing his real story. We have a moment. I’ll meet other amazing soldiers in the future. Men and Women. We will share moments. I’ll forget it all.

It’s been 30-years since the World Health Organisation issued their warning.

1989_WHO_Mefloquine

I wonder why they never followed up on it?


WHO~Mefloquine

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

5. Mefloquine Dispatches: @NAB, 20th March 2019

The ground is dirty. It is covered by cigarette butts and bottle tops. It is the remotest place in a very tidy hospital. Workers gather here to catch a few moments of peace. The patients have their own area. It is in another corner. Far enough from this place that no one has to cross pollinate or feel uncomfortable as they take a few moments for themselves. If staffer or patient still smokes these are the last places they can go. It has been banned everywhere else.

I gather what little I have. There isn’t much left. On Sunday I tell my former partner I’m glad I know. I tell her I’m ready to travel to Switzerland. A nice dinner and a pill sound wonderful. In reality I don’t know the sheer scale of it. At this stage I know just enough that it has finally tipped me over. I’m laughing a lot again. She talks me down. I agree to get some help.

My psychiatrist is moving heaven and earth to get me a hospital bed. He doesn’t believe me yet. In time he will. He just see’s someone who needs help. The DVA has introduced a white card. Apparently it’s for guys like me. Even though I’m not a veteran. How the world has moved on from 1999. It is Monday. The next bed is available on a Wednesday. I just need to lay-up for two days. The DVA white card is a life saver.

I go back to my Kaczinski Cabin. There is no hot running water. My hot shower and toilet are a walk away. It is messy which is unlike me. The year previously I was practising minimalism and people free days (PFDs). I love it here. It is so quiet.

I have to get my admin in order. I know how sick I am. Might be gone for months. I make calls, I visit only who I absolutely have to. I use the last $500 in my bank account to pay for three weeks rent. It is Tuesday now. Just two more calls tomorrow before admission. The DVA have organised me a car in the morning. I can finally get some kip after that.

As I stare at the cigarette butts and the bottle tops the Centrelink call comes in. I explain the situation. I am very heightened. They step me through the process. My voice rises and collapses but the girl who takes my call has had some training, might even have taken a call like mine before. I apologise at the end of it. She wishes me luck and hopes I get better.

My last call is to NAB. It might be my first call. Time has fragmented but I’m still staring at those cigarette butts as I make the call. I think it would have been the last call because it should have been so easy. All I need to do is postpone my payments on a small personal loan. I’m always paying ahead of time. In fact I’m a couple of weeks ahead.

I start to explain my story but when he hears what needs to be done he reverts to process. Questions must be asked and must be asked in an order. The calm I had when I hung up from Centrelink is gone now. The questions are just so fucking irrelevant and I have an excellent banking record. I ask for another person. He declines. I’m screaming down the phone until he adds a disclaimer. Something along the lines of postponing payments will hurt my credit score. I’m laughing now. For all the talk by the Bankers they don’t have any training in this. They are still worried about their Royal Commission.

“Like I could give a fucking shit”. I might be screaming this, I might just be laughing. It will be interesting to hear that call again.

I still get it done. I get a three-month breather. There is nothing left to do now. As I walk back to the hospital I tell myself that NAB was the worst call I had to make all that week. It really should have been easy.

It is around 10am on a Wednesday morning on the 20th March 2019 when I finally admit myself to hospital.

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Image: NAB. They won’t own the blood

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

4. Mefloquine Dispatches: Harley Quinn, 1997

I’m told by my GP that PTSD is just like shrapnel. Only this year did I learn that I had shrapnel in my arm back in the 90s. I don’t believe in PTSD. Now I’m trying to remove it from my head.

Not all memories are awful. Some are wonderful.

It’s late 1997. I’m doing my Secret Squirrel course in Melbourne. I’m seeing three different women in Townsville, which is unusual for me. I am operating on muscle memory and I’m certainly not looking for love.

We meet in the gym. I feel underweight for Special Forces. I’m eating seven meals a day. I work out morning and night. I still don’t feel right.

She is with two friends from other postings. I know her friends well enough to walk over and start a conversation. One of the girls is a great rugby player who also happens to be gay. She doesn’t make a big deal about it because homosexuality is still banned by the Army. The other girl has a beautiful face and a kind smile for anyone. A decade later I hear (third-hand) that she got ‘schrapped’ in the Sands on patrol with the Boys. Her face is now damaged.

I feel so sorry for everyone who carries scars now.

It’s late 1997 again. I start to chat to Harley Quinn. I know her but not well. Like most people in the peace-time Army everyone knows everyone after a few years, especially in your own Corps. I think we last caught up in Darwin in 95 but I can’t quite remember. I take a break from my work-out. We start to talk. She gets a constant stream of interruptions. She is not classically beautiful but she has a natural attractiveness that draws admirers. She knows everyone. She talks easily with those who deserve it. Dismisses time-wasters. She commands attention. She is in the prime of her youth. I get a lift from our conversation. By her presence. We all agree to meet at the mess for dinner.

A fortnight later we are in a trinity of nightclubs. It’s just Harley Quinn and me. Our friends cannot keep up. We move from one nightclub to the next and then back again. We dance for hours. We laugh with absolute joy.

We leave the building with our friends. We are both spent. The sun is out. The light surprises us both. I think we have both fallen hard. We hold hands. We really hold hands. It’s a special moment. The future looks bright.

Tears stream down my face as I have this memory yesterday. I use movement to guide the memories. I remember back to 1997. As I dance away I still don’t know anything about mefloquine. I certainly don’t know I was given it six-months previously. My face hasn’t turned red yet. That doesn’t happen for another decade and a half. I’m slowly turning into The Joker but I think I’m fine.

I get more memories of my Harley Quinn. We break up in 1999. It’s a hard break-up. A horror story for another day. She has been deployed to Bougainville on Operation BEL-ISI. The Australian Defence Force is testing a new anti-malarial drug on the troops. The Generals are excited about its potential. It’s called Tafenoquine.

It has a nickname too. Mefloquine 2.0

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Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

3. Mefloquine Dispatches: Raven, 1990s

It really kicked off in early 2019. The vivid memories have been replaced by flashbacks. It’s hard to describe. I try to explain it to 11M. It comes and goes in waves. He is both interested and worried. As far as they know I never went to war. I’m almost certain they are right but I’m trawling through the evidence now. There isn’t much. I never kept many photos. I certainly didn’t share them with the kids. Now, all of my memories are questioned. It was so long ago.

My 14M gets involved. We get side-tracked. We are discussing Bruce Lee for some reason. My mind flips to another memory. I remember his son dying on the set of Raven.

“Raven”, I say excitedly. We used Raven radios after we got rid of the PRC-77s. The terminology is coming back because my advocate wants me to apply for my back and hips.

The three of us jump on the computer. 14M loves electronics and Army radio’s make for an interesting breakfast topic.

I type in ‘raven radio Australian Army’. There are four lines of pictures shown. I’m explaining to 14M about how the Army was finally starting to go digital in the early 90s when my 8M comes up to give me a hug.

“Look at this guy Dad”. He points at a young soldier talking on a radio. It’s on the second line of photos.

I look. “It’s ME!” A ghost from 1992 I think. I haven’t seen this photo for almost 30-years. I get an image of CPL S* straight away. It’s the hill behind the Squadron. He isn’t in this picture but he will be close-by. The last time I really talked to him was at Campbell Barracks in 1997. He touched base via social media a few years previously. We talked about dead friends. I closed that social media account not long after. Too many ghosts reaching out.

“The chopper is on the next hill, Digger…”

Grange

Image: Google

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

2. Mefloquine Dispatches: My Daughter, 2016

Today, I’ve made a real effort. The boys are excited to see me. We might even go out somewhere later.

My daughter has her hands wrapped tightly around 11Ms leg. She stares at me with the child’s wariness of the stranger in her eyes. She is somewhere between two or three years of age at this stage and I might have held her a few times. I’ve been living in pubs or house-sitting or living rough for the past two years. She doesn’t know me.

Why should she really? When she was born I didn’t visit. When N* was ready to leave the hospital I organised the boys and drove down to Nambour hospital to pick her up. As N* packed up the last of the hospital swag she asked if I wanted to take her down to the car. I readily agreed. Carrying babies is easy. Tightly fit them to the curve of your body and start walking. For all intents and purposes it might have been a bag of shopping really. I get to the car and walk back and forth holding her until N* arrives. She puts my daughter in her brand new baby seat and gets the strapping sorted. After four children we both know that I can get highly stressed around baby seats in cars.

Two and a half years later I’m staring at this child thinking I really do have a daughter. N* and I have been working on me having the boys every two weeks. It’s been working out ok and she thinks I might be ready to take my daughter on. The raw anger of separation has faded away and it’s now about the kids.

“How about I pick you up and hold you”? I ask. I hold out my arms to her.

She tenses up. She holds on to 11M tighter. “T*…”, she wails still in her baby voice. She doesn’t want to be held by a stranger. She has her brother. Her brother has kept her safe and warm for years now, consoled her when she cried and got her treats when she was hungry.

“Don’t worry Dad” 11M says. His voice has always been older/wiser than his years. “She just thinks I am her Dad, she’ll get used to you eventually”…

160814_Photo_SDancinginIGA

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

My Request to Darren Chester

Dear Minister,

A few things.

I’m politely requesting access to the comprehensive health-assessment you said would be up and running by 1 July 2019.

I’m formally asking that your Department reach out to the Company Group that was assigned to Operation BARITONE redeploying from Tandem Thrust 97 then on to Garbutt on the 22nd March 1997. We were stood down a few days later. On the 30th May 2019 I provided compelling evidence that we received mefloquine via my Red Cross records.

Also… We weren’t the only Operation deploying to a malarial zone on short notice or by plane, let alone Butterworth! Are you reaching out to veterans? I’d suggest you might want to reach out to the advance party for Operation SOLACE as a starting point. Don’t worry about contacting my Troop Sergeant though. The last time I saw him was maybe a decade ago. He was screaming at me like some emaciated ghost in a train as we were arriving Roma Street. ‘GIVE ME YOUR F****** HEART GRANGE, YOU HAD A PRETTY GOOD HEART YOU C***’ while I held my son against a wall for safety.

I didn’t help him. I simply fled with my son. For years I thought it was another nightmare.

One of the Boys told me last week he is now dead.

I leave it to your conscience.

 

My request via Twitter dated 9th September 2019.

Note: The past six months have been a roller-coaster since I found out that I was given a mefloquine loading dose preparing for an insertion into Port Moresby on the 22nd March 1997. After providing countless people and organisations the information needed to get the rest of the Boys the help they deserve I have struck out alone.

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Background documents provided via Twitter 10th September 2019.

Note: My SRCA determination circa 2000. The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) process back in the 1990s was absolutely brutal. Recent improvements to service delivery such as the access to a White Card for any veteran and the Opens Arms network are fantastic and life-saving initiatives.

 

First set of background documents provided via Twitter 11th September 2019.

Note: If the SRCA process was bad the appeal process put in by the Army in the late 1990s and early 2000s was downright draconian. Days after I kick-off in late 1998 I collapse into a complete blubbering wreck, completely alone and a danger to myself. I’m desperately asking for help. They send me a priest to talk me down and hand myself in. Never once was I offered counselling or given a mental health assessment. It’s 1998 and the ADF isn’t worried about its operational tempo. It certainly doesn’t talk about mental health; it’s just a disciplinary matter.

It is a peace time Army.

 

Second set of background documents provided via Twitter 11th September 2019.

Note: Only today (11th Sep 2019) while working on this update did I have a distinct memory of verbally giving the medic my Date of Birth on Discharge for my full body rash. They had only just introduced a new computerised system into the Lavarack Base Medical Centre (LBMC). Before that you used to have to add your own pages and write your details down but for blokes like me who were always in a bit of a rush you pre-filled a couple while you were hanging around the Regimental Aid Post (RAP).

 

Background documents provided via Twitter 13th September 2019.

1. Mefloquine Dispatches: The First Asylum, 1997

I wake up. I’ve managed to snatch a few minutes or hours of blessed sleep. I haven’t slept in a couple of days. I’ve got a whole body rash. In and out of baths. Can’t stop scratching. If that’s not bad enough I can’t sleep. Don’t know why. I blame the itching but I’m pretty wired. My hands are covered in fine scratches. Don’t know what happened there?

I’m bored. I look around for some alcohol swabs. There’s none near my bed but the little box is in its place, it’s just empty. I find another bed, same story. I don’t want to pinch the other bloke in the wards stuff but I’m desperate. I peek over. His are gone too. Curious I go out for a walk to find the duty medic. I know her. We lived together in the same Barracks when I was posted to the BASC unit the previous year.

“Hey T*, you got any alcohol swabs?”

“Sure” she says. She comes over and checks my hands. “Ouch, I saw these when you came in”. She smiles. “Must have been a bit of a scrap”.

I just smile. It’s all a bit fuzzy.

“Anyway, I shouldn’t tell you… but you know that that bloke in the ward with you?”

“Yeah” I reply. I’m interested now. I’ve always loved gossip.

I lay my hands flat on the counter while T* gently cleans the fine wounds. It stings a little.

“Ok, the reason why you don’t have any alcohol swabs is that bloke has been chewing them all. We had to take all the alcohol swabs out of the ward. Must have a big drinking problem”.

I shrug “Makes sense, I suppose”.

Not really but I see lots of silly shit in the Army.

– Recent memory recall. I believe this is me talking to Private T* on either 27th or 28th April 1997.

—– —– —– —– —– —– —– —–

My 9-year old son recently asked me whether I was stupid to have joined the Army. I told him honestly that I loved the Army and I would still have run towards those planes. I say this even after everything that has happened since.

It’s not all negative. I’m not just interested in Mefloquine. You cannot mention mefloquine in Australia without talking about Tafenoquine. It might be just my binary nature but I’m also now also interested in all things that might end malaria. Always end on a positive.

If you or anyone you know of a veteran who needs help I would strongly suggest you reach out to Open Arms 1800 011 046.

They have been a lifesaver this time around.