10. Mefloquine Dispatches: Acceptance, 2019
by Shane Granger
My acceptance story actually started a month ago when I penned my first letter. My Request to Darren Chester. I’m not sure if he read it or not. I honestly don’t care. I laugh and I cry as I write my stories. I write for myself.
I have some AMAZING people helping me with this.
I used to hate the RSL. I didn’t understand the sub-branch setup when I first go in. I got dragged in by a job services provider. I had slept in my car the night before. I was so embarrassed by my situation I didn’t return for a year. I was off the grog by then. Was holding down a part-time job in a bottle-shop. Lived by myself in a cabin. Was restoring my relationship with my kids.
My RSL advocate is an ex-Navy man. He was on the HMAS Melbourne after it had sunk two of our own ships. The HMAS Melbourne was indirectly linked to 161 allied sailor deaths. Plus all the trauma afterwards. His hands shake. He has a condition which makes him shake to some degree all the time. Yet, he chooses to come in and help out veterans like me. He takes extra time too. All of his folders are fatter than other advocates because he does the due diligence. After I first meet him I kick-off in his small office. He still invites me back again. The second time I’m shaking like a leaf. It’s my pattern. He gets it.
Then there is my GP. She is an older lady. Has an amazing brain and a thousand stories. She is still a country GP in a world that doesn’t respect the connectivity that a Doctor can have with a community. She first worked with veterans in the 1970s before there was even a DVA. One of her first patients was gassed in the trenches of WWI. Changes of light would kick him off. He died screaming because the systems we have were set up for the projection of war power, not the assistance required for the men and women who stand on the wall. She has had her own struggles. She gets it.
She points me toward a Psychologist. I didn’t go to him for help on this. I thought I might have some PTSD but I’m unsure. He listens quietly at times. Interjects with his own stories as well. He sees the PTSD but also something deeper. The second time I see him I am shaking so much it takes me an hour to calm down. He is like me but older. He flew into Vietnam as a specialist at the end of that war. He jumps out of a chopper on a hill and still carries the bursitis today. He has a girl’s name! Everyone mistakes him for a girl when they first write it down. Think on that for a moment. He soldiered in Vietnam with a girl’s name! How tough is this guy.
When I finally pinpoint the Mefloquine I immediately admit myself to the local ER [Emergency Room]. I’m ready for the long sleep but I’ve made a promise to be there for the kids. My ER doctor is a combat veteran. What are the chances! Of all the doctors I get when I find out about this I get a combat vet. I tell him my suspicions. He takes me seriously. He shipped into Timor Leste in 2006 with Op ASTUTE. I know nothing about this operation. I avoid all things East Timor. He tells me they dropped mefloquine in 03’ because it was sending everyone crazy. That line alone saves me. I start to dig. Then I start to dig deeper.
My psychologist points me toward a psychiatrist. We don’t know who to choose because my thing is a bit of an outlier. I get an older gent who moves heaven and earth to get me a bed. When we first talk I’m on a different planet. I look at the puzzles he has adorning his rooms in fascination. At a much later date I meet another psychiatrist. He is originally from Pakistan but calls Australia home now. He takes the time to read my stuff. Talks me down. Explains why it is important to accept that my condition has a mental health element. They are both the smartest men in the room and yet they don’t get it, not yet anyway.
Yesterday I sat down with my first ever Occupational Therapist. She is young but not too young. She is professional. Her partner is an ex-AJ [Army Jerk]. His time was spent in the Sands. Didn’t do the malarial zones. Has had his battles too. I tell her I’m glad. It means I don’t have to explain absolutely everything. She writes copious amounts of notes as I rattle of my disjointed tale. She explains the process, where we go from here. We agree to not use the word rehabilitation. There is no cure for what I have. It’s all management from here.
I’ve accepted that I won’t be cured. The disease has already done too much damage to the person I once was. The person it has created is interesting though. He can be intense, he can talk too much. When he kicks off he can be a terror but most of the time he just quietly sits at the back of the room or at home when he muses and writes. He has accepted the disconnection. Enjoys the silence. Or the music when he has the headphones on. I think I can do something important with this. I don’t know what it is yet but I don’t want to go to the grave SCREAMING. Not like my old troop sergeant. He was such a good bloke.
I don’t want to be one of those veterans who screams at the injustice of it all. Hell, when I signed up possibly dying for your country was part of the GIG.
It’s been a long time since I signed that paperwork in 1989.
I know everyone’s experience with quinoline is different. There are no first prizes here for suffering. We are all on our own journey and doing the best we can.
My new journey started this week. I have stopped screaming. I have accepted my fate and will make the best of what I have left.