Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

Tag: Australia

10. Mefloquine Dispatches: Acceptance, 2019

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.

 

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.

Random Analytica: A ‘Soldiers-Five’ [trans. Basic Reading Guide] on Mefloquine

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.

Podcasts

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.

Books

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)

Last accessed 7th October 2019: Department of Defence (Australia). Mefloquine. An excellent resource. One of the first sites I visited. Mefloquine Loading Doses are also explained.

Experts

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.

 

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.

Random Analytica: Mefloquine Use by the Australian Defence Force (1990s)

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.

191112_MefloquineUseByADF90s (UPD)

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

Notes:

191112_MefloquineNotes (UPD)

 

990910_Photo_JMolan_OpSpitfire

10th September 1999. Brigadier Jim Molan & Ian Martin directing the evacuation of Dili, East Timor. Source: Twitter (John L. Gould)

 

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.

9. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Joker, 1997 & 2019

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.

191021_Image_Joker

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.

8. Mefloquine Dispatches: Dr Pepper 2.2. 2011 & 1992

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.

1111 - John Birmingham (1)

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.

ddmm1992_Brochure_USMC_USSTarawa

 

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.

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.

060310_Picture_Passport

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.

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.

191021_Image_NAB

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

191021_Image_HarleyQuinn

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.

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.

190909_Tweet_Requests

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.