We look down at the near century old corpse. We all laugh. The beret’d Sergeant tells us to shut the fuck up and concentrate. At the bottom of the pit lays the skeleton of the previous occupant. A cheap burial perhaps? The wood has mostly crumbled into dust. It’s been 99-years and they are getting moved on. The coffin lowers into the six-foot hole with a quiet concentration. Later that day we will lower the corpse of my very good mate. It is both a moment of gravitas and levity.
There are seven of us. Six Other Ranks (ORs) and a Sergeant. The Sergeant and four of the ORs are from the Regiment. Two Signal blue from Townsville. Might have been an even number of beret’d and Signal blue? We all know each other or are known to each other. A good set of blokes. It is an official burial with a catafalque party in Perth, WA.
We finish the practice session.
On the return to Campbell Barracks we read the paper. In the pages are the latest updates on the third murder. A serial killer was stalking the streets of Perth. Three girls. All similar. Young. Good sorts. The first two in 1996 then a big gap until last month. No idea who was murdering them.
One of the Boys tells us that the WA ‘coppers’ have visited the Barracks recently. They haven’t ruled out it might have been a soldier who was knocking off the women. Just a friendly interview at this stage just to rule the Regiment out of it.
Opinions rattle and roll around the bus. It’s good banter and it takes our mind off things.
I rattle off a quick-fire set of statistics. I don’t yet know it but my brain has changed in the last month and I am now recalling information differently than before the MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. At the end I opinion that it was highly unlikely for a Regiment guy to be the killer because most US serial killers historically kill after they leave the services. Not always, but mostly. Think Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a lot of criminal investigation books in those days.
Everyone is impressed with our wisdom until the Sergeant comments out of the side of his mouth.
“Fuck off you idiots”.
We all laugh. Another moment of levity before the tension of the day.
To the Lost.
Image: The West Australian
Mefloquine wasn’t just given to Diggers [Australian slang for Other Ranks]. Colonels and Generals got it too. They get sick and they die. They don’t believe the diagnostic overshadowing of PTSD makes any sense either. Some are even voicing their concerns.
Here is a list of Colonels and Generals who either received Mefloquine on Operations OR (more telling) refused to take it. Correct as at 20th October 2019. I’ll update accordingly.
Confirmed Mefloquine Exposure and Symptomology
18th October 2019 (Canada): Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire. UNAMIR (Rwanda 1993/94). Via W5. Romeo Dallaire joining lawsuit against government over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:
In a W5 exclusive, Dallaire announced that he is joining a lawsuit against the Canadian government and Defence Department over an anti-malaria drug that he, and other soldiers , were forced to take on missions to Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Dallaire, who led the international peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994, has become the highest ranking soldier to join an unprecedented legal action by veterans over the use of the anti-malaria drug Mefloquine. He joins nearly 900 other veterans who claim the Canadian government and Department of National Defence “willfully ignored and concealed the risks” of the drug, which is marketed under the brand name Lariam.
Dallaire has been hailed a hero, both for his attempts to stop the genocide in Rwanda, but also for his outspoken admission that he struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
30th January 2019: Colonel Timothy Dunn (USA). Deployed (Sep – Dec 2006). Via the Military Times. ‘I plead with you to look at this very closely,’ retiree tells panel studying health effects of anti-malarial drugs. Excerpt:
Timothy Dunn, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was among those who told the committee they’d be willing to provide information.
” I open my self, my heart and soul and medical records to you,” Dunn said. “You have to do something to look at this closely and make a fair and just determination … there are many more than I who have had this problem.”
Dunn said he still suffers from insomnia, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.
22nd May 2016 (UK): General David Julian Richards. Operation Pallisar (2000). Via the Independent. British armed forces set to ban most prescriptions of controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam. Excerpt:
Lady Caroline Richards, the General’s wife, had also taken a keen interest in matter for a long time. She added “Wives and partners of people who had been affected by the use of Lariam approached me and described what had happened. There were some terrible, sad stories of trauma, of relationships ending, psychological problems. We heard about other forces which have stopped using Lariam, so this is obviously something which needed looking into.”
23rd November 2015 (UK): Major-General Alistair Duncan. Sierra Leone (1999). Via the Daily Mail. Has this highly decorated hero been driven mentally ill by an anti-malaria drug tourists are still given? Excerpt:
Today, however, he is locked up in a secure psychiatric unit near his home in Somerset. Tragically diminished, he has been incarcerated for ten months. He has lost the capacity to read and write; outbursts of aggression are punctuated by periods of torpor. He can be sweet-tempered and affectionate; remote and belligerent by turns. His wife, and a growing body of expert medical opinion, believe his psychiatric disorder has been caused, in part, by the controversial anti-malarial drug mefloquine, or Lariam, which he was given for six months in 1999 before being deployed to West Africa.
31st August 2016 (UK): General Francis Richard Dannatt. Refused Mefloquine. Via The Guardian. Ex-army chief apologises to troops over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:
Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son’s experience with it.
Dannatt said his son Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa in the late 1990s. He was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the drug by his father’s army doctor.
This is a weird one, even by my standards.
I have bought a type writer over the weekend. It is a Lemair Deluxe 850TA. It comes with a travel case (so I guess I’m travelling at some stage). It comes with an additional ribbon. It is ancient like me.
I’m going to practice thank-you letters before I start writing my mefloquine memoir. No one will read my memoirs but I don’t care. I write for myself these days.
On my wall sits a photo of a beautiful young actor. Dakota Fanning. I ripped the page out of magazine a day before I get hospitalised in March. It has occupied a place on my memory board for months. I don’t know why I do some things but they all tend to turn out in the end. Vogue Australia has titled this cover ‘Full Bloom’.
As I wonder who to thank first I look at my memory board and I am taken back to early the early 2010s and a package I received from Naomi Bloom.
I’m still doing Workforce Planning at this stage but also thinking about exiting. She is a legend in the industry. On the cusp of retiring. Although I have never met her you get a real sense of who she is via her online presence. She is small and smart. Rather than pursue a career in astro-physics in the 1960s she writes one of the first programs for Human Resources. Before that is even a thing. Back then anything to do with technology was for men only. She trail blazes a career in this male dominated hegemony. When she retires in 2016 the internet is full of interest and kudos. She writes still. Her most recent piece is on the importance of memory. How they sustain you in the tough times. How true!
When I meet her online I am trying to convince my final workforce planning organisation to use its data in a much smarter way. I am trying to embolden them to use Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) rather than their dated technology and processes. I’m not having much success.
I must have lamented to Naomi Bloom at some stage because after that she sends me a copy of her book on the subject which she wrote in the 1980’s/90’s. I go through it with some amazement. It is her Magnus Opus. Her little bit of history. The technology she talks about in her book becomes standard practice across the world of Human Resource Management in the decades that follow. It is an amazing piece of writing which gets lost in the rush of history. She also sent a copy of her book to one of the young up-and-comers in the industry. I’m sure his copy has a proud place on his bookshelf.
Her book and short letter comes as a surprise. They are a tonic. When she mails these books, the world is in a hurry but she has made time to send them all the same.
Those small acts of kindness throughout my struggle have kept me going. Naomi Bloom, you probably don’t even remember sending that book to me but thank-you all the same. Your book is currently in storage but I am looking forward to returning it to a bookshelf soon. It is a part of my history and a good memory.
Good memories sustain you in the tough times.
14th Oct 2019: Naomi kindly commented on Twitter about my post. I had to add the Magnus Opus part. A new memory!
What does acceptance mean when you start to lose your memories?
The cruellest of memories is not having any. I’m glad for those that I have.
An old ‘soldiers-five’ on Mefloquine. When I first thought I was given Mefloquine I wasn’t sure where to look first. I initially got some good and some bad information. I’m not the tree of knowledge on Mefloquine but here is a suggested reading list and resource guide concerning Mefloquine. I’ve focused on veterans because that is my lived experience. Remember, this is a guide only. Consult your doctor.
Last updated 7th October 2019
World Health Organisation
8th August 1989: World Health Organisation. The original warning from WHO way back in 1989.
Consumer Medicine Information
9th October 2017: The Consumer Medicine Information guide for Lariam (linked here: 171009_ConsumerMedicineInformation_Roche_Lariam). A veteran mate has underlined the important health warnings.
Mefloquine Articles (non-specific)
27th April 1996: New Scientist. Malaria pill stands accused – Lariam fends off malaria more effectively than any other drug, but growing evidence of disturbing side effects may soon land its manufacturer in court (via 960427_Article_NewScientist_Mefloquine). Thanks to the veteran mate who sent this through. He was given Lariam in 1994 and 1999 without the serious side-effects.
Mefloquine Articles for Veterans
27th January 2003: CBS News. The Dark Side Of Lariam. How Dangerous Is It? One of the first ‘deep-dives’ into mefloquine by a news outlet. Discusses the Fort Bragg suicide cluster where mefloquine was a factor.
19th September 2013: CBS News. Elite Army units to stop taking anti-malarial drug. The US Army’s Special Forces banned from using mefloquine in 2013.
25th September 2013: Huffpost. Mefloquine: The Military’s Suicide Pill. Dr Remington Nevin writes about mefloquine including the 2013 FDA’s ‘black-box’ warning. The world is waking up to the dangers of mefloquine. Dr Nevin is one of the leading experts in the field.
12th October 2014: Army Technology. Mefloquine – the military’s deadly malaria treatment. Dr Remington Nevin discusses the downside to mefloquine including his own personal deployment experience with the drug.
11th August 2016: Military Times. Malaria drug causes brain damage that mimics PTSD: case study. A different take on mefloquine exposure from the USA.
22nd August 2016: Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Defence force admits soldier shouldn’t have been included in East Timor anti-malaria drug trial. One of the first articles I read. Also includes a link to a 2016 7.30 Report about the Australian mefloquine/tafenoquine trials.
30th August 2018: The Irish Times. Vivid nightmares and suicidal thoughts – ex-soldiers blame drug for destroyed lives. An Irish perspective. With a standing Army of approximately 10,000 they have still administered Lariam to approx. 5,500 – 6,000 over the years.
12th June 2019: The Medical Republic. TMR podcast: Can this anti-malarial drug really cause “brain damage”? Thanks to my GP, Dr Mary Lamond for sending this to me. Along with other subjects the podcast covers mefloquine/tafenoquine exposure and its risks in simple language.
23rd January 2014: ‘The Answer to the Riddle Is Me’ by David Stuart MacLean. The Washington Post book review can be found here.
Official Mefloquine Sites (Information & Policy)
Dr Remington Nevin (USA). Possibly the leading expert in the field of Quinism in 2019 when I suspected my exposure. US Army (Major – Retired). A Vermont-based physician epidemiologist and expert consultant in the adverse effects of antimalarial drugs, particularly mefloquine and tafenoquine.
I’m ready to heal yet I still need to count the cost. Others have made the attempt and fallen short. It might be my most important piece of epidemiology to date. It might pan out to be nothing. At least now I can do it systemically and at a slower pace.
It’s personal for me.
The chart above is still a work in progress. I’m starting to get some good feedback from other veterans… If you want to add to this chart please reach out.
Last updated 12th November 2019
10th September 1999. Brigadier Jim Molan & Ian Martin directing the evacuation of Dili, East Timor. Source: Twitter (John L. Gould)
When I find out in March 19’ I send myself over the edge. I have pushed too hard. Way too hard. I’m almost 500-days free of alcohol. I’m using St. John’s Wort to assist with sleep. It also heightens memory recall. I’m going through the horrors. I’m writing in a note book. I ask a simple question. Did the Army turn me into the Batman or The Joker?
I go insane again in late September 19′. This time I’m drinking. I made 537-days before I just gave up. It’s too much. I’ve accepted that I turned into The Joker back in the day. ANZAC Day 97′, I launch at a group of other AJs [Army Jerks]. I have no fear. I’m beating one of them to death in a nightclub because he has been impolite. The guys grab me. Put me in a taxi. The next day I’ll be in hospital. Anaphylaxis is mentioned. Allergies, they ask? I’m calm by the time I hit the hospital. I love medics and nurses.
I bury a friend a month after my MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. I tell the Land Commander the radios are killing us. I farewell my Dad on a bed covered in blood. My face turns red in 2014. Psoriasis. It’s an accepted condition of Mefloquine. My Dad doesn’t die and I don’t talk to him for 20-years. I’m lucky. I speak to him on the phone in 2017. He dies the next year. We never say our goodbyes face-to-face. Another regret. He leaves me $10,000. I use it to get sober. I start getting my memories back. My head is a horror show.
Anyway, this will be my last horror story. I now live quietly in a small cabin with no hot running water and an outside dunny. I isolate when I feel The Joker coming on. I love the peace and the silence. Being disconnected is part of the disease.
As I watch The Joker I see the similarities. I have written similar notes. I’m adopted. I wash my Mums hair. I have a different laugh. A different dance. The same crazed run from the cops. I’ve been running for 22.5-years.
I write. It will help some, hurt others. There’s a bit of Batman in there. It doesn’t matter. Do I look like a guy with a plan?
I have grief. I have pain. I have no regrets.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
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.
This mefloquine memory kicked off in 07’. Then again in 11’ and most recently in early October 19’.
I don’t keep more than a hundred photos or trophies from my decade of soldiering. Especially in the 1990s when photo’s meant going to a Kodak shop and paying for them to be printed up. Photos are expensive. When I deploy with the ODF [Operational Deployment Force] to the USS Tarawa in 1992 I’m glad that they are handing out brochures as we board in Freemantle. I stow it away in my pack somewhere. It survives long enough to be added to my 1992 photos. I look at it every couple of years and some memories come back.
The first real memory hook is actually a book. We have a bookshelf at Mincom for people to add or to take away as they please. The consultants at Mincom travel the world. A lot of them are ex-AJs [Army Jerks]. We are all still readers in 2006. I feel at home at Mincom. I spend almost five years with them.
Although the first book in the series was written in 2004 I happen across World at War 2.1: Weapons of Choice in early November and finish it by the 11th November 2006. I buy the third book outright at an airport somewhere. The series was that good. I finish the third book on the 5th January 2007. I keep notes on each fictional book I read. I count the dead. John Birmingham writes ‘splodey’ books. War. Fast paced. Easy to read on planes.
John Birmingham is talking about Gatling defence systems in the first book. Ceramic bullets. Next generation shit. It reminds me of the Gatling defence system I see on the USS Tarawa. No drones yet. The missile they shoot down is towed behind what looks to be a private jet. It’s impressive. A rip of bullets shreds the missile to pieces in seconds. They fall into the sea. Everyone on the Australian side is impressed. We don’t have that level of protection as yet. I’m hope we do now.
I relate the story to the author in 2011. He talks about the importance of having strong female characters in his speech during his government funded book tour. After dinner, we are both telling our little war stories over a whisky in Canberra in the same pub. He has an ability to both talk and to listen. I’m a total nerd after I get out. I wonder what we talk about in our mild alcoholic daze hours later. Certainly ceramic bullets. I’m fascinated by the new technology that our Army is getting these days. He is fine company.
The mefloquine memory I got in early October 19′ was of a different story. I was down the corner store looking for a Pepsi Max. They have moved the store around to limit shoplifting. Where the Pepsi’s once were are now Dr Peppers. I remember my first Dr Pepper. It was in the Recreation Room on the USS Tarawa.
The ship is so big it has its own PX store. We all buy souvenirs. I buy a pair of Oakley’s which I’ll never wear. My best friend and I play the old-school arcade games. The HMAS Tobruk has nothing like this. We watch the US Military news channel in the small cinema. I ask M* would he like a softdrink. I have a pocket full of quarters ready to go. I get him a Mountain Dew. I get myself a Dr Pepper.
As it turns out Dr Pepper is disgusting. Too much corn syrup I think. I prefer the Mountain Dew. M* agrees to swap. The news channel bores us so we go back to the couple of older arcade games the ship has. We chat with the Marines. I always think fondly of Marines after this trip. Marines are awesome. These guys have just recently sailed from Kuwait.
M* and I start chatting with another group of Marines. They are amazed that ‘In Living Color’ is one of our favourite shows. White guys shouldn’t like that sort of humour but we do. Australians are pretty cool too. One of them offers to buy us a round of soft-drinks.
“Don’t make it Dr Pepper mate, that stuff will kill you”, I say.
Everybody laughs. The Yanks love our accent.